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'Most musicians aren't politically conscious because they never ducked flying tear shells in the streets'

  • Published at 02:11 pm May 10th, 2018
'Most musicians aren't politically conscious because they never ducked flying tear shells in the streets'

Interview with Indian singer Akhu Chingangbum

Indian folk-rock artist Akhu Chingangbum, also known by his band name Imphal Talkies, visited Bangladesh as part of his 'Silent Cities Tour' in April. The tour was promoted by The Mothership Records. Akhu performed in Dhaka, Chattogram and Sylhet. 

Widely known for his protest songs, Akhu has written about critical issues like militarism and indegenous rights. “Hello, Mr President! Hello, Chief of the Army! Everytime you come, you bring curfew,” Akhu wrote after people were beaten by the police during President Pranab Mukherjee's visit to Imphal, Manipur. This song, titled 'Mr. President is Coming' is the most viewed track of Imphal Talkies on YouTube. 

Weekend Tribune talked to Akhu about his music, writing political lyrics, inspirations, among other things. 

You wrote a song about Bangladesh's Shahbag protest/movement. Tell us how that came about.

It was cowritten and composed with my friends Arijit Sen and Summit Attempt as part of my project The Imphal Music Project. We also had other session artists from Imphal, Sunil and Shankar. It was our way of showing solidarity to the people of Bangladesh during the Shahbag protest.

Writing political lyrics can be risky. Do you feel any pressure from the authorities for your music? 

Not so far. I don't have any pressure, except a few silly online threats.

Why has India become so militarized, as you often express in your songs?

India militarizes states like Manipur because it was never part of it. India can keep Manipur under its occupation only through the barrels of a gun like it has done in Kashmir. Manipur has nothing in common with India. We look different, we have different food habits, we have a different history and culture. We were a kingdom with a 2000-year old civilization. We even had our own currency.

How has been your experience performing in Bangladesh?

The shows have been really fun even if they are small shows. In some shows people even sang along.

India can keep Manipur under its occupation only through the barrels of gun like it has done in Kashmir. Manipur has nothing in common with India

Are there any Bangladeshi bands that you like and listen to?

I used to listen to Blunderware but they haven’t come out with any new music I think. Bangla was one band I used to love during my Delhi days after I watched them perform at a show in Delhi. 

Who are some of your inspirations musically and lyrically?

Musically my recent inspiration has been this gypsy Touareg band Tinariwen from Sahara Desert. Lyrically I am more inspired by poets than musicians. There are a few Manipuri poets who inspired me to write songs in my native tongue. Also a bunch of poets like Bukowski, Ginsberg inspires me.

The world is seemingly becoming more politically turbulent than before. Why aren't there  more politically conscious musicians?

I don’t know about Bangladesh but in India it is because most of the musicians come from a very privileged background or they are spoilt brats who can play some western music. They haven’t lived the life of a common man. They haven’t ducked in the streets while the tear gas shells are flying in the air. 

Tell us about any future plan or projects you are currently working on.

I am working on a music album based on migration histories of Manipuris in Assam and Bangladesh. I actually come to Bangladesh for my research on Manipuris here as part of my project. This is a project supported by India Foundation for the Arts (IFA) and I am grateful to the foundation for supporting me. Once I reach home next week I will start making music and will put out the album by Autumn this year.