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Music Rules in Northeastern India

November 2007
Music Rules in Northeastern India

Northeastern India—a diverse, sprawling region that includes the states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura—is known for its rich folk cultures and distinctive mores. Some of these places have experienced political turmoil over the decades, hampering economic progress. So it may be surprising to learn that Shillong, Meghalaya's capital, is the stronghold of Western music in India, rather than a cosmopolitan city like Bombay or Bangalore. This vibrant scene encompasses not only rock ‘n' roll but also jazz and country music, among other genres. "Cabbies play Deep Purple and Jethro Tull on stereo as they weave in and out of diesel fume-spewing traffic, muscled bikers roam around town in AC/DC tee shirts," according to the BBC. "The place teams with bands with names like Mojo, Meghalaya Love Project, Ace of Spades, The Honey Drippers, Euphonic Trance."

Foreign bands tour the Northeast regularly, and music festivals are held every year to honor the legacy of the two ‘Bobs' (Marley and Dylan). One reason for this affinity for Western music is the presence of a large Christian population, although native traditions also play a role, along the works of pioneers like Lou Majaw, who has been an influential performer since the ‘60s. The 60-year-old Majaw, who heads a Shillong-based band called The Great Society, is widely seen as the Grand Old Man of Rock. But, of course, it's not just Western music that has made deep inroads in the Northeast. Hindi music, too, is very popular among the young. And as the recent Indian Idol contest showed, passions can run high when it comes to music. Rival groups clashed after Prashant Tamang, a young Kolkata-based constable, got more votes than Amit Paul for the 3rd Indian Idol title. Interestingly, both the winner and the runner-up are from the Northeast.

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