Naga musician reviving dying folk musicOctober 4th, 2009 - 2:29 pm ICT by IANS
By Madhusree Chatterjee
Jodhpur, Oct 4 (IANS) Meet guru Rewben Mashangva, the Imphal-based musician, who has brought workday folk music from the villages bordering Nagaland and Manipur to the Rajasthan International Folk Festival (RIFF) under way at the sprawling Mehrangarh Fort here.
Mashangva is reviving the “dying” traditional Naga tribal folk music — especially the variety sung by his tribe of Thangkul Nagas — among the GenNext in Manipur and Nagaland which swears by contemporary western rock and pop music.
He sings with his eight-year-old son Saka.
“The Naga folk songs from the villages are on the verge of extinction because of changing lifestyles, poor rhythm, lack of beat melodies, monotony, absence of written texts and insurgency,” Mashangva told IANS at Jaswant Tada, one of the open-air venues of the Oct 1-5 festival.
Mashangva has adapted the age-old Naga folk songs handed down the generations by word of mouth to Bob Dylan-type blues and ballad rhythms.
“I had to put guitar and string riffs and rhythms to the songs to make them sound contemporary,” said the musician, as he strummed his one-string instrument, “tingteilla (fiddle)” made of dry gourd shell, wood and animal skin, while his son played a improvised cow-bell percussion instrument.
He followed it with a “yangkakhui”, a four-hole bamboo flute.
All the three indigenous instruments - the fiddle, flute and the percussion - are the musician’s own creations.
Mashangva later switched to guitar and the mouth-organ as he sang English translations of Naga folk blues at a dawn concert Saturday.
“The Nagas have songs for every occasion — births, deaths, weddings, festivals and everyday chores. The origin of Naga folk, however, lies in the fields. When the villagers plant rice on the fields, they sing together in groups. When they winnow the grain, they sing in rhythm with the mortars and pestles. But with agriculture on the decline, rapid urbanisation and the inroads of western music, the folk songs are rarely sung now. Only the village elders know them,” the musician said.
Mashangva, who takes off on Bob Dylan, is often hailed as “king of Naga Folk Blues”. Winner of the Manipur State Akademi Award 2005, he has been conferred the title of “guru” by the union culture ministry.
He has toured the country and Southeast Asia with his music and will perform in Japan in December. Mashangva has two albums, “Tantivy” and “Creation”.
Dressed in the traditional Naga black-and red short skirt, bead ornaments and a matching jacket, Mashangva sticks to tradition even in his style statement. He wears his hair, shaved on either side, in a long ponytail from the centre.
“That is how the Thangkul elders in the village style their hair,” he said.
According to Mashangva: “The lyrics of the Naga folk songs are simple, used by the villagers every day. The songs are more like chants, expressing emotion and the nature of the work.”
The “guru” started young. “In the 60s, when we Thangkuls converted to Christianity, my elders took me to the Church on Sundays. I listened to the choir and learnt to sing. As I grew older I realised that I was missing out on my traditional music. I visited the remote villages, met the elders, learnt the songs from them, adopted their clothes and hairstyles,” the 48-year-old musician said.
“Despite the innate joy of Naga workday folk music, my mind has been indelibly scarred by the decades-old (60 years’ old) insurgency and bloodshed in Nagaland and its border along Manipur. Though I feel love inside me, I cannot compose songs of love. All that comes out of my head spontaneously are lyrics of war, violence, appeals for peace, religion and environment — all that are burning issues in the two states. Insurgency seems to have put limitations on my creativity,” he lamented.
Mashangva’s music is also the subject of a semi-documentary film, “The Lonely Village”, about a Naga village that disappeared from the planet. It is being shot by national award winning Manipuri filmmaker Oinam Doren.
(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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Tags: animal skin, bamboo flute, births deaths, changing lifestyles, cow bell percussion, english translations, everyday chores, gennext, indigenous instruments, inroads, international folk festival, mehrangarh fort, mouth organ, nagas, own creations, percussion instrument, pestles, plant rice, rapid urbanisation, string instrument