If there is any region of India that can lay claim to the axiom of being the rock music capital, it has got to be the North Eastern region comprising the Seven sister states. As a travel writer for the past two decades, I have been a witness to the stupendous growth of Rock & Roll as a tourism product, especially in countries like USA and UK, where exclusive and thoughtfully curated Rock & Roll tours are de rigueur.
There are two key reasons why I have decided to pen down this feature concerning the North Eastern Rock & Roll legacy, which no other geographical region in India has. Reason No 1 is Moheener Ghoraguli, the first Indian Rock Band (Bengali) launched from Kolkata in the 1970s and I am a proud Bengali myself. Reason No 2; I was born and raised in the gateway city of Guwahati, the pulsating metropolis that has been the breeding ground of great Rock Bands and has over time evolved as a much sought-after concert venue.
This region is unlike any other Indian destination; life out here is happy-go-lucky and blessed with some of Mother Nature’s choicest creations, ranging from the wilds of Kaziranga to those formidable snow-clad Himalayan peaks in Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh; and under the such, a fabulous natural setting is the native musicians who truly Rock! Where music is a language and the entire region, is a living museum of Rock & Roll. As a past native of India’s North East, I can guarantee you that the Rock & Roll phenomenon will never fade away from this ravishingly beautiful region blessed with equally beautiful people, whose fashion sense and innocence are the envy of metropolitan crowds.
I am in accord with frontline correspondent Eshwar Sundaresan, who rather evocatively portrayed the region’s Rock music scene in a recent edition of the publication thus:
People here, it will be observed, have always wanted an identity contrarian to the mainstream identity, and Rock and Metal were as far away as one could get from.
Those who are better informed will be aware of the role played by the student agitations in Assam, Mizoram and Meghalaya in the 1970s and 1980s. When the army was called in and curfews were common. During those interminable evenings, according to the legend, the region’s youth began listening to the stereo and strumming on the two guitars that every household here is mandated to own. This probably explains best why metal and rock fared better than pop and jazz in the region.
As somebody who spent his formative years in the North East from the period of 1970s to the 90s, easily one of the most volatile periods, with the entire region embroiled in terrorism; ULFA in Assam, NSCN in Nagaland, MNF in Mizoram and what you have... I have had a first-person experience of the region’s booming Rock & Roll phenomenon.
It has been twenty-two long years since my family shifted to metropolitan Kolkata, and yet, our umbilical connection with North East remains strong, treasured and precious as ever. I owe a colossal debt to Guwahati, my birthplace and the picturesque hill station of Shillong (98 Km. away), the cities’ Rock bands have had an enormous impact on my admiration for Rock music.
I still vividly remember the night of 12th December 2007, when I was one amongst the crowd at Shillong’s iconic Nehru stadium where the German Rock band Scorpions performed in front of a crowd in access of 30,000!
With Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s focus on developing India’s North East, his commitment to catapult this region as India’s “Engine of Growth” and with five ministers from the North East finding a place in his cabinet, North East has never had it this good, viz-a-viz representing the region at the centre (New Delhi); and it is perhaps the most favourable time to seek for the official recognition of “Rock & Roll” as an integral element/part of tourism in the North East!
If the mandarins of India’s Tourism industry, inclusive of the Ministry of Tourism and the Seven Sister States’ Department of Tourism work conscientiously towards the objective of bestowing official recognition to “Rock & Roll” as a form of niche tourism in the North East, it will go a long way in restoring the region’s belief in the country’s governance and a perfect culmination in the direction of redeeming the *“Lost Pride” of the region’s hitherto neglected Rock & Roll musicians.
As Indians, we are living in an era and are by now quite accustomed to seeing the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi being accorded Rockstar receptions in places like Madison Square. Who will forget the “Howdy Modi” event at New York’s Madison Square Garden, in the aftermath of his thumping win in the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections?
Thanks to Prime Minister Modi’s soaring popularity on the world stage as a statesman, India has gained tremendously from “Brand Modi”; be it the foreign direct investments, his meetings with global CEOs and engaging the Indian diaspora in the nation’s development of people worldwide have started perceiving India as a much-preferred country to do business and invest in its economy. The latest accomplishment is the G20 Presidency conferred upon India for the 2023 summit to be held in New Delhi.
According to Rock music aficionado Kit Shangpliang:
There is still a great longing for rock concerts among people here but marketability is the issue and many promoters choose digital music over live events. Every day, they are reaching out and finding a community of their own. They are not waiting for big events and bright lights and not going for big cities to find their audience as most rockers do nowadays.
This is where government recognition is crucial and if Rock & Roll is endorsed by the Ministry of Tourism, it will have a positive rub-off effect on the musical fraternity of North East.
If you travel to places like Seattle and Cleveland in the US, visitors are encouraged to embark on trips to the various musical hubs close to the city centres. In Seattle for instance, no vacation is ever complete without a visit to the iconic Edgewater Hotel which once played host to the legendary Beatles and Led Zeppelin... There is also the opportunity of staying for a night or two, just to soak in the ambience of a bygone era. Another city that fascinates me is London. The way the city’s many musical wonders have been preserved and showcased to discerning visitors is always inspiring and worth pursuing. Be it discovering the “Swinging Sixties”, or trips to those famed recording studios and residences of Rockstars, London truly epitomizes the free-flowing musical spirit.
London’s exclusive guided “Magic Mini Bus” tours offer visitors opportunities to appreciate the city’s stupendous musical history and once you purchase a London Rocks membership, the whole of London’s musical legacy is yours to savour.
Despite the infrastructure bottlenecks, Rock bands of North East India have carved a niche for themselves in India and the hugely competitive global Rock music landscape. For instance, Girish and the Chronicles (GATC), a Sikkim-based Rock & Heavy metal band, recognized for their “soaring vocals, biting guitars, thunderous bass and pounding drums” have been pioneering the Rock & Metal space for a decade now. Metal Injection, one of the world’s authoritative Rock & Metal music publications thinks that:
India has been churning out some seriously awesome metal lately! Formed in 2009 by vocalist Girish Pradhan, Girish and The Chronicles (GATC) are known for their electrifying and energetic performances on stage. With a mixture of the sound of power ballads and the hard rock and that 80s classic metal sound, they give us a sound that not many bands today can capture. GATC’s latest album: “Rock The Highway" (2020) has been an outright hit worldwide and speaks volumes about the inherent musical talents available in the musical ecosystem of India’s North East.
The Tetseo Sisters from Nagaland is another musical brand that has surpassed all the obstacles and come out blazing with their signature fusion folk music with concerts taking place in cities like Detroit and Chicago. By dint of their spellbinding music, Tetseo Sisters are kind of Brand Ambassadors of India’s North East. The rich musical ecosystem of the region has meant that despite hard times, there are still Rock bands like Liberated Minds, Lucid Recess, Vinyl Records, The Lynx, and Thunder’s Cave... Who is belligerently keeping the Rock & Roll culture alive?
Danny Marak of Adam’s Apple was spot on with his take on the Rock music scene in North East;
The saddest part in our state is that there are many talents in all genres but there are no promoters or even a platform. This is frustrating for artists many of whom quit… The promoters must work hard to support young musicians.
This is where the government's endorsement is so vital. If this burgeoning Rock & Roll legacy is offered financial and logistical support, a new Tourism vista will open up for India Tourism. With a Prime Minister like Narendra Modi at the helm, music lovers globally expect that as the great nation India, takes giant strides in the league of nations, North East musicians who are carving out a niche for themselves at the altar of Rock & Roll, will be given the recognition they deserve, thereby heralding the dawn of an exciting era in India’s Tourism landscape.
Let me quote that immortal phrase:
Rock & Roll is not just music, it is a way of life, and it has its own spirit!
And, so be it for India’s North East.