A Creative Appreciation of Hornbill Rock Fest

Susan Waten Naga

Bobby, of the rock band “Zero” from Mumbai, the 4th judge on the final night (7th Dec., 06) of the rock show announced that it was “insanely difficult” to choose the first three winning bands. Much as I hoped that the winner of the “4 lakh” booty would be a local band, the prize was given to “Joint Family” from Delhi. On winning, Clement of “Joint Family” had a look of utter disbelief on his face. He confessed, “When they were announcing the winners, I was just packing up to go home.” I enquired, “Do you think you deserve to win? And under what criteria do you suppose you won?” He answered, “Our winning is so unexpected. I guess we won because they liked our music.” Simple as that! But it takes more than mere liking to crown a winner. We’ll see!

As one of the eager spectators, I was wondering if I heard correctly when Clement, in the first two minutes mentioned the name of “The Lord.” Then he started to sing the very familiar Sunday school song, “this is the day that the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it.” At first I was suspicious: was it a publicity gimmick to win audience response from a crowd that was predominantly Christian? After their performance, I ran backstage and asked him, “Are you a Christian?” He replied, “Yes, of course, I’m a Christian.” I had to admit, “WOW, the Lord sure acknowledges those who acknowledge Him publicly.” Besides that, “Joint Family” also sang 4 “original compositions” out of the 5 songs that were performed. Incidentally, I had a brief conversation with two members of the Mumbai band Zero the night after their performance on the 6th centering on “original compositions.” As a band for the last 9 years with three albums to their credit, they had performed once in Shillong, but Kohima was their biggest show in the north east. Bobby gushed, “It was our first performance in Nagaland and the peoples’ energy was kick-ass fantastic. It’s a brilliant start and it can only get bigger.” Rajiv, the vocalist said, “Its not easy for the crowd to respond when songs are new and when unfamiliar and original compositions are played; but the response was just awesome.” Time to strike! I probed, “Do you mind that you’ll be paid only Rs 1.5 lakh as a guest band playing original compositions, and that the winner who may play cover songs would receive Rs 4 lakhs?” He replied, “It doesn’t matter.” 

But as events unfolded, the winners were the ones who sang 4 original songs out of the 5 performed. Hear Nagaland, and take this lesson to heart. Quit being professional copycats and make original music. With the 4 lakh, the vocalist of “Joint Family” said, “We’re going to produce an album.” Wonderful!

I was the happiest person in the audience when Danny Boy of “Syndicate” won for the Best Original Song. The song touched my heart and I sensed that it was testimonial (his life story). The lyrics went “I’m not the same anymore,” “Love found me.” He is one among the veterans of modern Naga musicians, who for a decade or two, had not been given his proper due. His late brother Jimmy, one of the fastest drummers in Nagaland, never failed to astonish visiting musicians to Nagaland. I admire Danny’s courage to stand on stage as the oldest performer, with a brilliant history of ups and downs, and a great potential to shine as a “life-lesson-learnt” example for the Nagas. A standing ovation to a true fighter and winner!

When some friends suggested that “Faith” from Assam might be the winner, I was adamant. After all, 4 lakhs cannot possibly go for “safe, un-experimental and predictable” songs. But fair enough, they won for Best Showmanship for they sang for the crowd and involved them in a dialectical frenzy. In contrast, Nagas, known for their stoicism, prefer to “bottle up” and not emote too much on stage. Ashish (a graduate of London School of Music), one of the judges rightly observed that though Nagas are musically very gifted, they do not express emotions on stage; showmanship is very important to make a winner. We can see from the winners of the “individual prizes” (Vocals for “Devine Connection,” Guitar for “Cypress,” Drums for “Daughty Growthy” and Original Song for “Syndicate”) that Nagas possess maximum talent. What we need to understand is that a highly emotive and theatrical body language speaks volumes for aspiring winners.

Anga of “Eximious” made an interesting observation. He said that many of the great and talented Naga bands did not perform as good as was expected. The reason: either something went slightly wrong with the mike or the drums sounded too loud or the guitars were slightly inaudible or flat sounding. In other words, things were given over to “chance” or luck (known as “gopal” in Nagamese.) It’s true that “gopal” or luck may play a part in winning, especially when all bands are equally competitive and brilliant. But reliance on gopal may be dangerous. It can symbolize an attitude of defeat, or excuse for carelessness and laziness. More important than luck is attention to detail and sensitivity to technical perfection. More important than gopal is perfected skill and talent and killer instinct determined to win. 

Kudos to Lui Tzudir, the youth with maximum vocal talent (winner of the Best Vocalist in the north east held recently in Mizoram), who did the opening act on the 6th evening. Like many of his contemporaries, there is much raw talent in him, waiting to be distilled, refined and wisely marketed. The guest band “Zero” from Mumbai performed for 2 hrs flat on the 6th with un-diminishing stamina and ever-growing audience rapport from their 3rd album, “Procrastination.” I couldn’t help but reflect sadly at how our local musicians, with rare God-given abilities, throw away their lives to tobacco, drugs and alcohol abuse. The musicians from other states, especially the vocalists, looked nothing like Greek gods to behold. Some were skinny, some chubby, and some short and stout; but the “persona” they created on stage was simply magical and larger than life! Their confidence and enthusiasm, and stamina and cultivated physical prowess were quite remarkable. Indeed, Naga talent needs to be nourished and pursued, not abused or destroyed by unhealthy food intake and destructive lifestyle habits!

The “F” word had the band “Medusa” from Mumbai disqualified from the final competition. But the poetic justice of the judges brought them on stage to perform on the last night. Many young people adopt fashionable slang’s and socially objectionable words into their daily vocabulary and use them quite unconsciously. Our young boys too use the word “Laura” (meaning male organ in Nagamese) very carelessly. When Elton John performed for polite British society, he discovered that half the hall became empty due to his use/abuse of the “F” word. I appreciate the disciplinary measure, but more so the merciful consideration of the judges.  Thanks to Theja Meru for inviting a very repentant and humbled “Medusa” to perform in Dream Café. The “F” word put them short of winning the 4 lakh although their music (a unique mixture of trance, neo-progressive etc) was simply mind blowing.

David, vocalist/guitarist of “Ygg Drasil” of Assam said, “The competitions very tough. It doesn’t matter if we don’t win. The experience itself is a learning experience. We’ve learned how to perform by watching people on stage, and also how to manage the sound system so that we produce good sound.” That’s the spirit! The group consisted of very young college goers. Another learning experience could be in the area of “language clarity.” Naga vocalists need to brush up on accent and pronunciation, in order to produce sharp, crystal clear and distinct words. Perhaps they can visit Noel Manuel’s “Phonetic” classes. Kudos also to the winner of the Best Vocalist from “Devine Connection.” As many opined, and rightly judged by our 4 wise judges (Ashish, Bobby, Alfred and Wenitso Kapfo), he truly possesses a divine, golden voice!

Despite criticism and opposing views from different quarters, we must acknowledge the efforts of our CM Neiphiu Rio for giving the youth a great platform to express themselves. Rs 47 lakhs were shelled out to support the whole event. Music can become a respected platform and revered/aspired profession for the Nagas. Lezo, bass guitarist from “Eximious” expressed, “In the earlier years, music as a profession did not have much scope. There is progress now. It’s my dream to open a home studio and earn my living through music.” Lilanda, guitarist of “Point Blank” from Imphal expressed gratefully, “I’m 110% satisfied with Nagaland for providing this great platform for us musicians. It’s the greatest event of the north east.”

I must admit that “Daughty Growthy” pulled out a spectacular performance. Though not a fan of trash metal/acid rock, the group’s down-right intensity and thundering passion was quite impressive. Their music can give a weak heart palpitation as they sang of “war for territory” and other similar (with very little variety) numbers. I jokingly told friends they they’re singing with “mojing ain,” meaning power of the devil in Ao, yet I strangely wanted them to win! Although I knew half way through that none of the local bands would win that coveted 4 lakh booty, I didn’t want to admit it. However, Nagas not winning it this year is not such a bad thing. Many aspiring Naga musicians want to establish studios and produce (original) albums. All I can say is this: “keep the dream alive and make it a reality some day!”