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Why Akhu needs crowdfunding

Lalitha Suhasini Apr 10, 2013
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Akhu Chingangbam at the Folk Nations showcase in Mumbai. Photo: Prashin Jagger

What happens to real songwriters? They get lost in the din sometimes.

Akhu Chingangbam has a chip on his shoulder. At a recent performance in Mumbai for Folk Nations, a showcase of folk music artists across the country, he played a 50-minute set of originals. Before he launched into one of his most well-known tracks “Eche,” he told the audience that the track was about Irom Sharmila, the Manipuri social activist who has been fasting for 12 years to protest against that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which grants the Indian armed forces the power to execute any individual suspected of militant activity. “Does anybody here know who Irom Sharmila is?” asked Akhu in an indignant tone that implied that he wasn’t expecting an answer. Akhu, who by his own admission, feels out of place playing a club gig, wanted to believe that the audience inside the South Mumbai club did not know or care to know about Sharmila. Or musicians like him who have written songs for her.

I’m tempted to believe that this is true. Akhu doesn’t get too many gigs. He lives with his parents in Imphal and like most other musicians, paid out of his own pocket to record his debut as well as his yet-to-be-released second album. “My friends also help me out. They’re here at Blue Frog at the gig,” said the singer, who also has a doctorate in physics. A 12-year-old boy was among seven civilians, who were killed by the Armed Forces of Manipur in baseless encounters during 2009 and 2010. The news didn’t get too much “traffic” or whatever it takes to outrage the opinion makers of young, urban India who lead insular, protected lives mostly on Twitter and Facebook, but will find a mention when Akhu takes to stage next, I’m sure. “People think I don’t like India but that’s not true. I sing about these issues because I belong here and they bother me. I also sing about what’s happening across the world ”“ the killing of Tamils in Sri Lanka, the Shahbag movement in Bangladesh,” he said.

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Not that social media doesn’t have its pros. Hell, it’s crowdfunding albums, which got me thinking about Akhu’s state of near penury. His show in Imphal today just got called off because of the ongoing bandhs linked to the murder of a 31-year-old research scholar. “She was found dead in a paddy field. It seems the body was also partly burnt”¦” wrote Akhu in an e-mail. Akhu is one of the voices that is speaking up for what’s wrong with the system through his music. We’ve had Rabbi yes, but we haven’t heard much since that single spark with “Bilqis” and we also have Delhi Sultanate. Relevant songwriting, especially the kind that feeds protest music, is a rarity and since government support along the lines of what’s happening in Norway is a distant dream, I only see crowdfunding as the way out for the likes of Akhu. That, or a fantastic manager who will ensure that he makes a living as a musician.


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