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Hornbill Music Festival Prepares For a Total Makeover

Nagaland’s Task Force for Music & Arts is now touting Hornbill as an ‘experiential festival’ held in Dimapur and Kisama between December 1st and 10th

Anurag Tagat Nov 04, 2019

The crowd at Hornbill Music Festival in Dimapur, Nagaland in December 2018. Photo: Courtesy of TaFMA

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Now an advisor of the recently instated Task Force for Music and Arts (TaFMA) in Nagaland, Theja Meru has been pushing music in the state and pushing out Naga talent to the rest of India and the world for over a decade now. The chartered president of the Rattle and Hum Music Society who organize the annual Handshake Concerts to promote peace and goodwill knows all too well the public perception of Nagaland.

He starts by talking about how the road from the Nagaland state capital Kohima and the nearest city with an airport – Dimapur – is a rough one. Meru says, “It’s bad, but we’re getting there to improve it.” Later, Abu Metha – adviser to the Chief Minister of Nagaland Neiphiu Rio – mentions that there are often misrepresentations of the state in the media. Metha says, “Unfortunately, Nagaland has, in the past few decades, in the eyes of the media, been seen for the wrong reasons. There’s insurgency and violence, but it’s not as bad as the media makes it out to be in the past decade. Somehow we’ve got publicity for that. We want Nagaland and Naga people to be known for the right reasons.”

Just as the rest of India awaits the signing of a new agreement that may give birth to an entity called Greater Nagalim with a separate flag and constitution, TaFMA is keen on highlighting Nagaland’s soft power – music and arts. Meru says, “Music is the soft-power of Nagaland. It tells a right story for Nagaland. We’re known for a lot [of] bad reasons, often. I feel music and the arts, which is so much part of our DNA – every second person can hum a tune or strum a guitar – I think there’s a story to be told there. This is the beautiful and bright side of Nagaland.”

Hornbill Perfect Strangers

Bengaluru rock band Perfect Strangers – winners of the Hornbill International Rock Contest 2018 – with their prize. Photo: Courtesy of TaFMA

The hub for all things art and music is presently at the Regional Centre of Excellence for Music and Performing Arts (RCEMPA) in Kohima district. It recently played host to a piano festival as well as post-rock band Aswekeepsearching and Nagaland’s rock act Polar Lights. Meru and TaFMA are currently planning the next big move – overhauling their long-running Hornbill Festival (December 1st to 10th).

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Best known for its rock contest that offered bands from all over India a chance to win Rs 10 lakh and more, Hornbill Music Festival is now moving past the contest format. They’ve now incepted Ticket To Hornbill – a band competition that has so far taken place in New Delhi and will head to Bengaluru on November 7th and Mumbai on November 14th. It’s spun off from their Hornbill On Tour contest, which had taken place in 2015. Additionally, TaFMA has selected 11 bands from each district in the state to perform at Hornbill. From the New Delhi edition held so far, singer-songwriter Sanjeeta Bhattacharya has been selected to join the Hornbill Music Festival lineup.

Meru says they wanted to scrap the Hornbill International Rock Contest – whose last winners are now Bengaluru rock band Perfect Strangers from 2018 – because it was time to evolve. He adds, “It can’t be a competition forever. There’s still competitions at different levels, but as a flagship music event of the state, it was time to move into a full-on music festival and get the best of the best come in. That way it’ll have more footfall, more corporate sponsorship, more involvement from local communities and the tourists. This format is preparing us for the future.”

MONT Hornbill

K-Pop group MONT at Hornbill Music Festival 2018, Dimapur. Photo: Courtesy of TaFMA

The Hornbill Music Festival – which takes place in Dimapur and at the Kisama Heritage Village in Kohima – promises to host headlining bands and DJs from all over the world, K-pop artists (they had boy group MONT last year) and host the second round of their Music ThinkFest. Meru says there may be a specific focus on bringing down bands from South East Asia, taking into consideration the Indian government’s Act East policy to link parts of North East India as a gateway for tourism and industry from countries such as Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. With experience from organizing the Handshake concerts in different parts of the world, Metha says TaFMA have been strengthening their networks for years now. “We’ve taken Indian musicians – not just Naga musicians – and getting them to perform,” Metha says.

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The festival is already a showcase of talent and culture from across the North East but Meru hopes that with this edition of Hornbill Music Festival, there’ll be a stronger push towards being on India’s music festival calendar. He adds, “Like any other product, we have to keep evolving. Otherwise, there’s a danger of being forgotten. That’s very real in this present day and age. The goal is to evolve fast and evolve big.”

Ticket to Hornbill: Bengaluru edition takes place on November 7th, at Hard Rock Café. Event details here. For more info on Hornbill Music Festival, visit TaFMA’s website.

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