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Nagaland’s Music Task Force Launches Monthly Gig Series

The State government-driven MTF pushes gigs in Dimapur, Kohima and Mokokchang

Lalitha Suhasini Aug 19, 2013
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Avancer perform at Jumping Bean Cafe in Dimapur

Avancer perform at Jumping Bean Cafe in Dimapur

Athungo Nguille, the 22-year-old keyboardist of Dimapur-based experimental rock band Avancer, will never have to worry about being asked the dreaded question: “When will you get a real job?” Nguille, better known as Yan, tells us cheerfully over the phone that his father, who works at the State Excise Department, has only encouraged him since Avancer formed in 2009. Says Yan, an arts graduate, “He told me: ”˜If you get stuck with a job, you won’t be able to focus on your music.’” It’s no surprise then that Yan’s younger siblings ”“ two brothers ”“ also have their own bands. Adds Yan, “My parents bought me two keyboards and also attend my shows.”

There are several reasons why Nagaland has turned into a model state of sorts as far as alternative music is concerned besides band members getting the sort of encouragement that Yan gets from family. The Music Task Force, an organization set up by the state to push the local music scene, has been driving the Hornbill Music Festival since it launched in 2006. That the state chief minister’s manifesto lists a budget to promote music, according to unofficial sources, is also telling of the faith Nagaland places in its musical talent. Adds MTF’s director Gukhato “Gugs” Chisi, “The Music Task Force has been sending bands and artists for training [in sound engineering, recording and instrumentation] to places such as Delhi since 2006. We spent Rs 50 lakhs [to support musicians and the scene] in 2006. Last year, we spent about Rs 3.8 crores.” In May, Gugs kicked off the MTF Series, which would sponsor a gig a month across three cities including Dimapur, Kohima and Mokokchang. Avancer performed at the launch gig at Dimapur’s Jumping Bean Café and sure enough, Yan’s parents showed up to cheer him on.

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Even though bands receive generous aid in terms of funds for gear and training, there’s little support from the local audience. Says Yan, “They don’t want to invest in their own bands and don’t like to pay to watch us. They’d rather go for famous international acts.” Sarah Pongen, who set up Jumping Bean Café in Dimapur with Nokcha Aier in 2008, says that gig goers in Nagaland are finally warming up to genres other than metal. Adds Pongen, “They’ve begun accepting pop rock and other alternative genres. In fact, they like it. I think bands such as Avancer and Polar Lights have managed to break through to the crowd.” Over 200 bands have performed at the popular music venue so far and in 2009, when Pongen realized that they could no longer afford to hire a sound system, they approached MTF, who were quick to sponsor one. Says Gugs, “We’re looking for economic pointers with the MTF series and how both bands and venues can profit from gigs. We also want to turn venues into friendly hubs for artists and their audience.” Besides Jumping Bean Café in Dimapur, MTF has picked The Cosmos Hall in Mokokchang and Dream Café in Kohima to host the monthly series.

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As is the case with most events in the north east, the turnout at a gig too depends on the political climate at the time. Says Pongen, “Strikes, insurgency all of these affect the number of people who show up at a gig. It could be anywhere between 50 and 100.” Despite all odds or perhaps because of them, music has always been the biggest source of entertainment in the region. How else do you explain a state-sponsored series of music gigs that audiences can attend for free? 

This article appeared in the August 2013 issue of ROLLING STONE India.

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