the clouds to the hills

the clouds to the hills
Somewhere in Imphal

Friday, August 19, 2011

Rewben Mashangva - the man i admire for every reason

It was in 2000 that I bought "Tantivy" the debut music album of Rewben Mashangva and since then i have been a great fan of his music. But later I got to know him personally. I got the chance to drink a couple of pegs with him every time he performed in Delhi.

Listening to him talk about his early life is like watching Akira Kurosawa's black and white movies. He is the son of a carpenter. His first guitar was made by his father. He too did a bit of carpentry in his childhood days. He didn’t do too well at school staying back for years in class seven or eight in school. Then he gave up education and started working with his dad. He started performing gospel songs in the early eighties in the Ukhrul town hall. But later he started questioning his beliefs and nearly two decades of research and quest told a different story of how Christianity had invaded his culture and the lives of his folks. His music can politically and locally address issues of ethnic conflicts in North East India as seen in songs like 'Winning Peace Together' and 'Our story' from his new upcoming album yet to be released by Times Records. However at the same time it can be about something universal too. Most his political songs are written by Chamroy, an Ukhrul based social activist and writer. For me Chamroy is a poet of a class. His lyrics can make you fly with the clouds above Siroi Hills. For me no one writes better odes on the silent mountains of Manipur than him. His writing is fresh like winter morning dew very much like Rewben's husky voice and altogether they haunt the listeners’ soul.

Recently, after his performance at the IHC folk music festival, we sat and drank together at Dilip Oinam's place who is an artist by profession and a guitar enthusiast. We ended up singing his new Tangkhul folk song 'Ashangla'. The song is in English written by Chamroy but the tune is a Tangkhul folk tune. No matter where he sings he just gives his best shot. He said "I want to stand up, I’m bit drunk and want to sing like I’ m on stage " and then he started "Ashangla! I love you..." and then we all joined him in the  chorus part. Later he told us Ashangla is a name of a girl who belongs to Ao tribe of Nagaland. Again a few days later we gathered at Dilip's place for dinner. Rewben cooked pork for all of us. The curry was like the best pork curry I had ever tasted in my life. He said he put only ginger and chilly powder. I kept telling him there must be something else too and he kept saying "no". But later he told he brought the chilly powder from his village. So it was a very special chilly powder. It takes days to prepare it. You have to dry the green chilly ('hao morok' as he said) and then pound it on shumban (a wooden thing used for pounding ) and remove the powder with pigeon feathers so that you get everything out of the shumban.

I am confused as to what to learn from this guy. Should I learn how to cook this pork curry pounding that green chilly or should I learn his way of looking at life very honestly and doing the things he wants to do? He is a man who has really lived his life beating many odds. He told us that he said to his wife "I have a dream so support me to make it happen".  And his wife did it. He said he is so glad that he has been living that dream today. He didn’t say what dream he had. But I could figure out what he meant. His dream at this point is telling the world a different story that no one had ever tried. Today he represents the Naga folk music and folklore. Looking at his hair cut you can tell a story. Listening to his three feet long bamboo flute you will be reminded of how simple lives were with paddy fields and cattle and local booze. Seeing him play his Tengtela with his foot stomping the stage would remind you of hunting. Looking at his son Saka perform with him gives you hope to bring out more of our lost tradition and culture amidst all the conflicts and violence.