Festival Review: Rongali Festival, Guwahati, Assam
The third edition of the annual event witnessed hip-hop, homegrown talent and a generous dose of nostalgia courtesy Nineties bands
The fact that Indian hip-hop artists have arrived on the scene became more than apparent during a stopover at the New Delhi airport en route Guwahati. Two teenage girls who had boarded the flight from the Capital couldn’t believe their luck that they were seated just a few rows behind Vivian Fernandes aka Divine. Excited phone calls to friends and selfies with the Mumbai rapper soon followed. Divine was scheduled to perform that evening at the third edition of the Rongali festival, a smorgasbord of music, culture and adventure spread over three days at the Veterinary Grounds at Khanapara in Guwahati.
The festival did experience its share of glitches, considering the magnitude of the activities and performances. But for the man behind the ambitious project, Shyamkanu Mahanta, who also organizes the annual North East Festival in New Delhi, the goal is to make Rongali the biggest festival in region. And if the third edition is anything to go by, he’ll hit the mark pretty soon.
Divine sets the mood
The main stage opened with a set by Mumbai-based Assamese singer Joi Barua followed by Divine who set the groove for the night with his Gully Gang hits. Ash King’s performance, on the other hand, was a tad underwhelming. Despite his playback singing success, his live vocals failed to impress. But his fans couldn’t care less; they had a ball. The final act by New Delhi electronic artist Zaeden was shifted out of the venue into the nearby Taj Vivanta where he played to a packed dance floor teeming with weekend regulars and festival walk-ins.
Since the sun sets around 5PM in this part of the world, it took a little getting used to. Although the activities started in the afternoon, the festival only picked up pace during the evening when hipsters and teenage girls in ripped jeans moseyed into the venue to catch their favorite acts at the biggest event happening this time of the year. Rongali has something for everyone and Guwahatians of all ages could be seen on the venue, chugging potent rice beer and digging into tribal delicacies. The venue had also recreated the traditional houses as found in different tribal communities such as the Bodo, Mising, Karbi, Dimasa, Tiwa among others. For shopping enthusiasts, stalls selling trinkets and other Assamese souvenirs were a goldmine.
Blast from the past courtesy Euphoria and Parikrama
The second day clearly belonged to the veterans of Indian rock, Parikrama and Euphoria. Both bands went on to prove why they’re still one of the most sought-after acts on the circuit. Parikrama frontman Nitin Malik was in his element, holding his Brian Johnson-esque high notes on their riff-heavy original “Vapourize” while guitarist Sonam Sherpa cluster-bombed the audience with his solos. Their showstopping violinist, Imran Khan, too wooed everyone with his catchy melodies. A track that stood out was an instrumental rendition of “Saare Jahan Se Acha” played between Malik and Sherpa.
Guwahati-based fusion band North East Breeze connected with the crowd right off the bat while the young YouTube sensation Jairaj Kabir Singh Manchanda aka Acoustic Singh impressed everyone with set of Assamese songs and Bollywood hits. “Before I introduce myself, let me impress you,” announced the 17-year-old Guwahati-based singer onstage. And impress he did; the sight of a turban-wearing kid singing in Assamese was enough for the audience that had previously only heard his Bollywood covers online to go a little crazy.
Nineties Hindi rock act Euphoria were, like always, quite the stars as they took the stage dressed alike in marching band costumes. The band launched into shlokas and taals before hitting up the audience with their super hits songs such as “Dhoom Pichuk” and “Aana Meri Gully.” The night was sealed with a high-octane DJ set by Ukranian artist Teri Miko who infected the crowd with her energy and drone bass attacks of originals and popular remixes. North-East being the cradle of rock music, one would’ve expected the venue to be packed at all times, which, surprisingly, wasn’t the case for the first two days. Day three, however, drew in the most number of people, thanks to the now-famous EDM artist Nucleya’s headlining set. But the highlight of the evening was the performance by local hero and actor/musician Zubeen Garg who had the crowd eating out of his hand.
Homegrown heroes pull the crowd
The evening rolled out with a set by Dimapur-based pop rock outfit Alobo Naga & The Band, who played an impressive set that included a preview of their new music video for the song “Come Back Home.” Garg, who played the following set, won the crowd over with his jokes and multi-lingual songs. He too previewed a music video collaboration with singer/composer Barua that was part of his upcoming Assamese movie called Mission China.
Unfortunately for Nucleya, his set did not start well due to technical glitches. Plus his sore throat prevented him from interacting with the audience. But that hardly mattered to the fans who went ballistic as he picked up pace; he managed to get even the seated VIP crowd to shake their leg.
Points to be noted
Festival organizers should probably rethink their decision to have a seated audience next year if they are going to be programming rock bands. As pointed out by many artists this time, such as Parikrama, Euphoria and Alobo Naga, the lack of energy from the seated crowd was a bit of a turnoff. Due to the odd seating arrangement, the real fans, especially those who wanted to dance and gave a good time, were pushed further away from the stage. Bottom-line: rock bands hate seated audiences. Another glaring problem was the lack of loos on venue that made it difficult for people, especially the women, to hang around for longer than a couple of hours. The festival had just two mobile loos backstage that were inaccessible to the majority of the crowd.