When a singer is known by many names — that too of the likes of ‘Bob Dylan of the Nagas’, ‘King of Naga folk blues,’ so on and so forth — you know he is going to be a force to reckon with.
And that’s exactly what Guru Rewben Mashangva is — a talented singer, songwriter, folk music researcher and maker of many traditional musical instruments. The Manipur native’s specialisation lies in intertwining traditional folk music elements with modern music, making it more appealing to the younger audiences.
In the recently conducted Majuli Music Festival, Mashangva — who got the honorary title of ‘Guru’ from the Union ministry of culture — swayed the audience with his mesmerising numbers. To delve deep into his world of music, VibesMojo sat down for a casual conversation with the iconic singer.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
Growing up, did you always think that music would be your life?
I’m from Manipur, Ukhrul district, [and I belong to the ] Tangkhul Naga tribe. When I was young, I didn’t know that I might become a musician or whatever, but I liked artwork, craftwork. My father is carpenter, so I also learnt carpentry through him. Later on, I learnt folk music from the village elders. So slowly, I tried to play the folk instruments like flute, folk fiddles and many more. Then slowly, I started to play the guitar after buying it and started learning myself without any teacher. I listened to people, and songs in radio. So gradually, I became a folk singer.
Given the fact that you try to put traditional folk music in the forefront, how important do you think is music for storytelling purposes?
Our forefathers had no written records as books, hence they store them in songs. We followed them like that. Our forefathers didn’t teach us how to write or how to read, they just kept on passing the songs ear to ear, eye to eye and mouth to mouth. I really like the folktales and the folklores, so I always follow the village elders and sit down when the time comes, be it in the evenings or mornings or during festivals. During my younger days, I just listened. I liked to sing, I wanted to know how to sing. So slowly, I started to establish myself.
I know a lot of folk music from the villages. But now, the generation is changing due to the media, TV, which came very fast. Our folk music is going down, underground. So I pick up the old and make new music for the younger generation, so I start bringing in guitar. I put the folk sound, not the regular folk song but the folk sound. So I’m trying to create new forms of music and practise them a lot. Then lastly, due to this, people recognise me as well. That’s why I’m traveling to music festivals happening everywhere. I start playing guitar and I sing the folk music, the folk songs. It becomes a surprise for people because people think it is a new song. Actually it is not a new song. But I don’t want the folk genre to die, I don’t want it to go underground, so in another way fashionable music. Folk music is folk music but the youngsters are not attracted to it because folk is not powerful but it has history. Youngsters are more into the modern music which is powerful as it depends on electrical instruments but folk music is more knowledgeable and it comes from the heart. This is my job, my voice. That’s why I’m traveling to get more folk stuff.
So do you think festivals such as the Majuli Music Festival helps in recognising and promoting folk music culture?
Now, the world is so developed. Without music festivals, youngsters may not know about the different kinds of folk songs because they invest more time in studies and other works. It is mainly because the world is changing. Hence, if music festivals occur in an area rich in culture and folklore, the youngsters who come will listen to that music. Moreover, during those times, the singers must sing at least one song or two of their own folk music. Then you can multiply it into more songs and then you can get the audience more interested to learn the folk music and one can safeguard it as well. Hence, music festivals as such are very important. I also request all the people to please sponsor these kind of festivals as music gives us peace, music give us good feelings. One can also meet and connect with people through music.