Music

How Nagaland’s Moa Subong is making musical instruments easier

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At first, ‘Bamhum’ will seem like a bigger version of the flute. But hum a tune into its hole, and the instrument will produce a melodious tune. No wonder, it’s referred to as the ‘easiest musical instrument in the world’.

Not surprisingly, Bamhum earned its creator, Naga musician Moa Subong, a National Award for Grassroots Innovation from former President Pranab Mukherjee in March 2017. The term ‘Bamhum’ is derived from two words — bamboo and humming. According to the creator himself, any beginner can play the Bamhum. It takes hardly a week to learn the instrument.

The process of creating the Bamhum took the 57-year-old Subong many trial and error attempts over several months before finally inventing the instrument. It takes around 6-7 months to test Bamhum before it can be called a full-fledged musical instrument. The instrument can be made with simple tools like stove to heat iron rods for the holes and cutting equipment to carve it. “A tribal Naga cloth at the end of the instrument gives it a more ethnic look,” he adds.

Subong was looking to develop a traditional Naga instrument which would best complement his wife Arlena’s compositions. Since Western instruments like piano and the guitar couldn’t complement her compositions perfectly, he took it upon himself to create a unique but simple instrument.  Thus was born Bamhum in a workshop at his home.

Subong is a man donning many hats — he has tried his hand at acting, as a sportsman, audio editing as well as video editing. He has also composed originals, tried his hand at singing and plays multiple instruments. Apart from Bamhum, he is also the inventor of Tikzik.

In collaboration with his wife Arenla, he founded the musical band Abiogenesis and created a new music genre named Howey. It is a fusion mix of modern rhythms and Naga folk tunes. Arenla is the lead Bamhum player and the vocalist of Abiogenesis. She is a popular singer, composer, songwriter, musician dramatist and choreographer in Nagaland.

The term Abiogenesis means to regenerate dead cells and the formation of a new life from lifeless material. The idea of the band formed years ago when Subong and Arenla met in Mokokchung for the first time. Being in the same music band, both fell in love and got married. They became proud parents to three boys.

However, music always remained an important part of their lives. Post marriage, they together formed the band Abiogenesis and started creating original tribal music through it. They presented the music in an outlandish way as to capture the hearts of the people and make the music interesting for them. The band presents their songs in English with beautiful music.

Vocalist Arenla narrates as well as explains untold stories of Nagaland through the songs which are depth and have a soulful zing to it. The narration of stories with songs and music is what the uniqueness of the Abiogenesis band and presents an interesting and entertaining act to witness.

In addition to music, Abiogenesis also took active interest in social issues. Early-90s Nagaland was affected by youth drug exploitation. Abiogenesis took charge and worked at rescuing the Naga youth through the music as well as preserve tribal ethnicity.  The band was also assigned to construct an album on HIV issue by the Nagaland State Aids Control Society (NSACS) in the year 2002. Thereafter, it also developed a feature film named Big Time Buddies on HIV. This film was directed and written by Arenla Sabong in the year 2003. Later, Abiogenesis was also assigned by the state department of health and family welfare in the year 2004 to develop an album.

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