Of the Break Dancers, Cross Dressers, Drunkards, Exhibitionists, Shy Donors, Rose-givers and the Clowns

Impressions from a Music Concert in the Imphal Valley One November Night

Picture a music concert. Blaring speakers, a noisy audience, emcees in their finest evening wears, clinking-clanking musical instruments and of course, the stars in their larger-than-life images—exposed judiciously to the teeming crowd—are some of the obvious spectacles that would as well delight our visual-auditory senses. If you are in Imphal, add to this extravaganza in concerts a ubiquitous group of people, who are as similar as a cup of red tea to a plate of evening delicacies. This special crop of crowd is more visible in the so-called Hindustani concerts.

Why are they so ‘remarkable’? The answer seems to be unanimous—their antics. Sometimes they are funny but most of the time, they would themselves be turned off if we place a big mirror around the front part of a stage—simply because, they would then see their own clownish qualities. In rock concerts, the condition is no different as it is elsewhere in other parts of the world; there are head-banging, the love-hate relationship with mosh pits; standing a couple of hours during their favourite bands’ performance and what not. However, it is a totally different world for the ‘adhunik-kalakar-sangeet-kala’ lovers, who prefer to sit huddled together like baby chimpanzees with a bunch of bananas in a cage and if not, to go about with their monkey antics.    

On the last day of November 2015, a Hindustani concert held in my neighbourhood had re-affirmed my views of this kind of concert. Organised as a part of our local football club’s golden jubilee celebration (Sagolband United), it was a show that I cannot help but admit it was more noise than music to my ear.  

When Omoni appeared, she was visibly excited as she screamed and provoked the audience to get up and stomp their feet. Yet there was a problem.

On two levels.

First, her songs can be best described as soft rock with irritating tablas, rhythm guitars that added only clatters and high-pitched keyboard sounds, with the latter doubled as fillers too.

Second, it is not a ‘thing’ for Hindustani music to be loud and its musicians louder though Omoni seemed to consider herself as a la punk Joan Jett. Nevertheless when she was performing—regardless of her singing prowess or rather annoyance—the break dancers, cross dressers, drunkards, exhibitionists, shy donors, rose-givers and clowns came up or around the stage and they would do which they know best. Sometimes, they showered currency notes, and in others, the biggest hearted fellow gave her a rose but not before doing a literal monkey dance for five–ten minutes.
The list of performers that followed the ‘star’ was for the lack of an expression, lackluster. I chit-chatted with some of my folks and then headed back home that was just a stone’s throw away from the concert venue. It occurred to me that somehow, my distaste for local Hindustani music could have fuelled the feeling of utter boredom towards such a musical show. A long time gone are those days when we used to go to every concert, including those shows that delighted parents would organise for their newborn babies in faraway ‘leirak-khullak’, if not at the Range or the Bheigyachandra Open Air Theatre or elsewhere. However, in hindsight, I felt it is a sort of struggle; a personal struggle against the tides of the time.

The concert was organised as a part of Sagolband United’s golden jubilee celebration

One, it is an ‘in’ thing in my hometown for a group to be a self-styled authority—and the more authoritative, if it can claim a connection with underground organisations. Even pop singers have organisations that function on the ideologies of the fascists. Mussolini would have never heard about the groups like Raintime or Ufomammut in his native country. That’s not an issue but he would surely be constipated with this kind of pop-singer group inspired by him that would simply ban other singers if the latter do not fall in ridiculous line.

Two, Hindustani music is simply an outcast that a group of generous ‘adhunik-kalakar’ have not only adopted it but have also adopted as its own—our own to be precise. It is too politically correct in its form. If we talk about form and content, there is nothing in its defence. It is like banning Hindi films on the ground of cultural pollution while the current crop of new filmmakers is gladly making melodramatic films that borrow heavily from Eighties’ Bollywood. If this is not crazy, I’m not sure what is.

The same is true in other cases. For instance, in the Imphal valley where there is an established Manipuri film industry, there has been a lot of disagreement—on using non-native character names, loan words from foreign languages (read the mainland Hindi, Bengali and Sanskrit)—with contestants claiming it is killing the indigenous language. However, the whole argument is perforated with contradictions, hypocrisy and ignorance masked with racial arrogance.

Three, it is a kind of defiance not a denial. Everybody knows the ladies and gentleman from the neighbourhood and beyond, plus our break dancers, cross dressers, drunkards, exhibitionists, shy donors, rose-givers and clowns are all for this kind of music. They are as always excited about these shows. Technically too, there is a certain native sound to the Hindustani music prevalent especially in the valley region, which lends a sort of authenticity. Still we know it will be suicidal if we believe those ragas and tunes from Hindi-speaking belts of mainland India are our own, though many of us would love to believe it so. If we have to choose any, amongst others, we have Mangka and the Laihui Ensemble Co., Imphal Talkies and the Howlers, Tapta, the Godse–Bedabati genre and others, who can fill in the shoes of Hindustani artists with ease.

Right now, in a place where mindless violence is the order of the day, the trend is forming self-appointed authoritarian groups, which are hell-bent on removing individuals and groups who do not fall in their high-moral line. In mid 2015, an association of pop groups banned Tapta because the latter refused to be a part of their group (An Open Letter to AMMIK We can say they are serious but apparently they do not see the joke is on them.   

When Sorri Senjam arrived on the stage two hours later, I cannot help but rushed out from my house. I’m not sure if he is also a ‘forced’ or ‘unforced’ member of any pop singer groups or a member at all, but he has some songs I like. Besides, the number of break dancers, cross dressers, drunkards, exhibitionists, shy donors, rose-givers and clowns increase double-fold when Sorri was performing. I guess the more popular artistes were intentionally scheduled to perform towards the end to rope in the crowd. I also saw Sanaton, Bidyarani, a couple of others and a Korean-inspired R&B duo, while the latter was the last to perform. The crowd went crazy when the latter was on the stage. I heard some people say the duo is the latest pop sensation with quite a fan base in a sort of crescendo, especially among the teenagers and school kids in the valley.

Concerts are all about entertainment. In such a setting, there is no wish to be a spoilsport but as in other spheres of our life, the idea of political kettle of fish is too hard to ignore. In a public domain, nobody has the right to impose their ideologies. Regardless of the swarming gunmen from the establishment as well as its antagonist, we live in a free society. The problem arises when a group of people take the law into their hands, as the legal government leaves a power-vacuum as it is busy looting the public money. Again, it might have made some sense if this mess is, to take an example, a product of some workers’ grievances here, some trade union stuff there or the likes.

To summarise, and for the sake of repetition, pop singers and their company—instead of being partial—they are waist deep in the shit playing the game of ‘authority-authority’. One only wishes the mess gets lost in the cacophony of a concert venue. Significantly, nobody would have been surprise if they are not too superficial and their mission is valid as in producing authentic artworks. There is one thing for us now: We have a long way to go. For accuratezza.

PS I just came across an interview of Tapta Jayenta on Impact TV. He has an interesting term for the diktats and imposition as ‘getting locked’! Since 2010 the lockedness had left him with no composer but that should not be a hindrance as the show must go on. He is now glad that his son is accompanying him. The first part of the interview is linked here.



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