IMPHAL: Despite the festive mood of Yaoshang, Cobain and his band mates in Yuthak Wah are busy jamming in their makeshift studio for an upcoming recording in April. They are hopeful that their first death metal audio CD will be widely received.
Yuthak Wah is one of the 40 or so bands based in Imphal where rock and metal music have deep roots. But the bands have never won recognition like the bands of Shillong, which is dubbed as the rock capital of India. In a state plagued with widespread joblessness and insurgency, rock and metal music serve as an avenue of expression for Manipur’s youth but a host of factors work against the bands in Imphal.
“There are no proper studios in Imphal, which is the biggest handicap for any artiste. There are no pubs or indoor auditoria where bands can perform. Then there is the onslaught of the DJ playing remixes, alongside whom rock bands cannot flourish,” said Kennedy RK, founder member of Imphal-based music webzine Soundcheck.
On a sunny morning, Kennedy rides around Imphal with co-founder Lenin Nameirakpam to look for abandoned spaces where rock concerts can be held. “Indoor concerts reduce our expenses by around Rs 20,000 per show,” he said. Rent for these abandoned spaces is paid by fan-funding.
“Manipuri youth are drawn to rock music, a new band is formed almost every day. But many go into hibernation after their first performance,” Lenin said.
Though most of the bands look to Bengaluru Open Air for opportunities to perform to a wider audience, very few of them get invited mainly due to logistical problems. “They look at us in Imphal, and they calculate the travel expenses and simply put us on hold and call a band from Hyderabad or Chennai instead,” Lenin complained.
Manipur’s rock and metal music scene had a glorious period in the late 1980s when bands such as Postmark released acclaimed albums like Stamp on You. However, things have not progressed much from there.
“Though the bands of the 1980s and 1990s performed throughout India, the present generation does not get to go beyond Kolkata,” Cobain said. With not many sponsors, showcasing talent in Delhi, Mumbai and down south are unfulfilled dreams for most bands.
However, social media has come in handy for the new wave of Manipur rock. “Through social media, we maintain regular contacts with bands in Kohima, Shillong, Guwahati, Kolkata and Aizawl. Collaboration is essential for emerging bands in northeast India,” Kennedy said.
Drawing comparisons with the Nepal rock music scene, Kennedy says that though the northern neighbour is way behind India in terms of promotion and sponsorship, the do-it-yourself (DIY) concept of giving bands an opportunity to perform in front of audiences of 200 or more helps a lot in grooming them—a concept that is completely absent in India. “Many bands from India go to Nepal for exposure. Not many Imphal bands get that opportunity though,” he said.