Monday, 25 August 2014

Woodstock in a wooded place!

Earlier in the day it had rained. Rained so much we were wondering how the rock show would go on. Not far away, the Apatani farmers were harvesting rice; it was September.

Meanwhile I saw an old Apatani man walk by with a board that read 'king', he had picked up one of the boards which said 'No parking' and carried away the half for shelter from rain; picked the right half too! Aparajita Datta and I were in Ziro valley in Arunachal Pradesh in September 2013. The Ziro music festival happens every year and that year, twenty bands from all over the country were playing there over three days. Till then, the Ziro valley in my mind was a picture of lush paddy fields in the valley encircled by hills etched with pine trees and evergreen forests. But the two pictures; one of a rock show setup in a big city and another of a quaint village with fields and forests in the background merged and we were at once comfortable and transfixed with the music; it was a Woodstock in a well-wooded place.

Omak Komut Collective opened the day; they were a fusion of Adi folk songs with elements of rock and we were suddenly transformed to the Siang region of Arunachal Pradesh. I was particularly hooked to their music since there were words familiar from my field site in Bomdo village that I could hear Omak Komut sing and I felt at once at home. The band next was Purple fusion, a band from Nagaland that featured Naga phrases and great riffs topped with powerful vocals that almost seemed like they were echoing off the valley.

Omak Komut singing the traditional Adi way
(photograph from
Next, after sundown, Peter Cat Recording Co., a four member band was on stage. They walked in heavily disoriented with rice beer in bamboo mugs in their hands. The sound poured in and they sounded fabulous. Meanwhile, I saw a fellow run in front of the stage towards the crowd almost hurling to the ground. I soon realised that it was actually the vocalist of the band running towards the crowd just to be sure they did sound good! He almost crawled back to the stage, slung his guitar back, strummed and started singing, quite a feat! Their music and the vocals sounded to me very much like 'The Doors'. They played for an entire hour and throughout I felt the familiar adrenalin-rush you feel at a rock show when good live music is pumping into your ears. I also realised a lot of Indian music had gone lot more digital and electronic. There were several bands like Your Chin (one guy accompanied by a laptop and an ipad), Digital Suicide (band from Guwahati with two folks, one of them wears a fake thermocol monitor on his head during the entire show, and keeps adjusting the screen to see the audience!) and Sulk Station who came to the stage accompanied by Macintosh computers with mixes and singing along. It was often difficult to know who or what is playing what, but they did sound good!

The highlights of the entire show for me were two bands; Skyrabbit and Menwhopause. Skyrabbit features superb vocals with great music and abstract lyrics whereas Menwhopause was one of the bands I remember had nothing electronic about them and featured unadulterated rock, which was great to hear. After their performance, we literally begged for one more for more than five minutes! The Menwhopause folks are a real down to earth bunch who invited Aparajita to come over with a team and have a parallel workshop or a session with Apatani kids about wildlife and forests. That's how we ended up at this rock show!

Kids from the school at Ziro painting their forests and the hornbill (photograph by Ngunuziro NGO)
Aparajita made a small presentation for people at the rock show who were interested in wildlife. Sadly she was not even given a microphone while 100 metres away a band was blasting away music, but Aparajita did rock! Later we had a painting contest for the local school kids that went quite well; the north-east kids are very aware of their surroundings, the wildlife and their forests; most kids drew a forestscape with pine trees with fields in between.

The Ziro music festival this year is from the 25th to 28th September, if you are around or even if you are not around, do get to Ziro if you want to have a real awesome time over four days! There's even food and local alcohol from north-east served at the venue. Cheers!


Manu Bharadwaj said...

Hi Karthik,

I am planning a bike tour to Arunachal Pradesh.I was looking forward to go to 'JENGING'
but i am unable to find a route on gmaps if you could guide me regarding this.


karthee said...

hi Manu, please mail me at and i can mail you the details. I have been to jengging a few fact this blog has some posts about jengging, awesome place...