Dec 28, 2010

Divine Connection: Band pips MTV Kurkure Desi Rock Beat

Divine Connection puts Nagaland on India’s music map

Rock band Divine Connection has routed national competition  to win India’s biggest rock reality show in 2010 – MTV’s ‘Kurkure Desi Beats Rock’. MTV announced the reigning Christian rock band in Nagaland as winners of the nationwide rock hunt at Chitrath Studio in Mumbai, Monday December 27.

A sleepy rock band that emerged from the fading 80s rock scene in Nagaland during the 90s, Divine Connection overcame the handicaps of stammering and tripping over Hindi-songs and Bollywood masala music; stiff competition from hundreds of seasoned bands from across India and strange food, to win a one-year contract to produce an album. The contract is with Bollywood music production giant T Series and a music video on MTV – produced by the channel itself – to boot. 

The show – named in sponsorship of popular spice snack ‘Kurkure’ – has been marking high traffic and queries on the internet since it commenced in September this year. In fact, Divine Connection’s rendition of Hindi classic “Tum Jo Mil Gaya Ho” (Muhammad Rafiq) is currently one of the most sought-after MP3s on Google.

The band’s success is a dream come true by any measure especially for the limping rock music circuit in India. Divine Connection – bassist and leader Mhathung Odyuo, frontman Obed Kath, guitarist Lichen Kichu and Drummer Bendang Kichu – now come into contract with T Series to produce music for the corporate, television and yes, Bollywood music productions. The band has also been gifted with a set of musical instruments including high-end guitars and equipments by global guitar leader Gibson. 
Divine Connection beat formidable competition in the Top-10 from rock bands Kaivalya, Guwahati rockers Axis, Bhopal outfit Joshish and West Bengal’s progressive rock group Down Syndrome to shatter the 13-episode series.

Formed from the ashes of Oleander, an emergent popular rock group of the 90s in Nagaland, Divine Connection’s achievement shall remain a standard for a state still struggling to rive a music-based entertainment and tourism industry. The band’s first crack at the circuit was winning the first runners-up prize of the now National Hornbill Rock Contest in 2006. Their latest achievement has consolidated their popularity as the leading rock band in the scene 
Bollywood star Kareena Kapoor is the brand ambassador of “Kurkure Desi Beats Rock On.” Celebrated music director Pritam and lead guitarist of popular fusion rock band Indian Ocean Rahul Ram judged the performances of the bands.

Divine Connection says

Front man of Divine Connection Obed Kath told The Morung Express that the experience has left the musical perspective of the band’s members challenged and changed. Basically a Christian rock band, Odyuo, Kath and the two Kichu had to hurdle over, well, Hindi and Bollywood masala songs with a rock/metal perspective. ‘The band had problems understanding the words (hind), pronouncing them and we could not get a feeling out of the songs as we did not understand them,” Kath, also a school teacher, said from Mumbai. “It was robotic,” he laughed. Nonetheless, he admitted that the foray into a completely different form of musical expression – such as singing Hindi songs they don’t understand –  have left them nurtured and taller. ‘If we confined ourselves, then there is no scope (of growing),” he said.

Yet, the entire experience of beating a national competition of such magnitude as the MTV show has left the former Oleander singer dazed. ‘It is one of our biggest achievements till date; Bollywood, mainland India…we give glory to God for all these,” the frontman said.   

An encouraging angle to the achievement Obed referred to was that the minds of many Indians have been challenged. He echoed the common sentiments of North eastern peoples how there are discriminated and condescended in mainland India. He hoped that the band winning the show would impact good change and do away with the negative and preconceived notions many mainland peoples have about north easterners. 

Divine Connection is grateful for the support from home, Nagas in mainland Indian cities such as Delhi and Mumbai who backed the band to the hilt in many ways. It was because of their support, the band could push on determinedly, Kath said.

Read More:
Album Review: Divine Connection's album 'El Roi'  
Album Review: Lima Yanger & Bliss Logic's The Big Thaw
Album Review: Redolent's 'Infinite Horizon' 
Album Review: Jack Pucho's 'Now & Always' 
Album Review: Alobo Naga's 'Road to a Thousand dream' 

Personality: Naga classical guitar pioneer Ren Merry 
Personalities: Story of Divine Connection's MTV Desi Rock triumph 
Personality: Soulmate's guitarist Rudy Wallang
Personality: Operatic performer Asin Shurhozelie 
Personality: Guitarist Imli Imchen
Personalities: Nagaland Rock band OFF (Original Fire Factor)
Personalities: Nagaland Rock band Eximious
Personalities: Naga metal group Diatribe
Events: Nagaland bands in RockKnock fest edition 

Nov 20, 2010

Divine Connection ‘Rock On’ in Kurkure's All-India Beat

The Christian rock band is in Top-10

From the first hum of the looming cascade of agony on ‘El Roi’, I had no doubt the band Divine Connection had a very, very special debut album. They had a nastily wonderful drag that would keep them in the circuit for long. Nagaland’s currently reigning Christian rock band’s ‘El Roi’ (2008) will remain one of what I call the New Generation Naga Sound albums crafted by inspired musicianship and sleek production out from the Nagaland stable – highly optimized tones (emphasis the guitar and drums/percussion here), technical finesse and lyrically intelligent rock works.

Divine Connection’s debut joined the inspiring ‘Believe’ (Theja Meru), and of course, ‘How Many Stories do you Read on my Face’ (Senti Toy) and more recently the superb ‘Bliss Logic’ from Mumbai rocker Lima Yanger and his horde. I believe another fine Naga noisemakers Redolent led the sleek-work parade with their second offering ‘Infinite Horizon’. But then I’ll be fair here: these musicians ( Senti Toy and Lima Yanger not included) took major do with someone in the caliber of sound engineer Alfred Besii of Clef Ensemble, Kohima. I give him the credit for the NGNS sound.   

Many of the lot before these groups’ outings are total big time Naga local crap straight out of the bosti laka gana smorgasbord.

See, it’s mighty cheering to see the Divine Connection rascals pulling the drag on what they do. Since September 2004, they have been a regular feature in the Media and their music is an easy opinion of any proper rock listener that their thing is good stuff. They’d been up and about since they pipe the podium of Hornbill National Rock Contest in Kohima.

A recent gig for this band is a slot in the top-10 of Kurkure Desi Beats ‘Rock On’- a show to find India’s best rock band! The Kurkure stint sure is one helluva mighty tasty gig I gotta say – especially when the stuff is about smoking out India’s best rock band out of their dingy store-room practice rooms and onto the florescent smoke. The 10 finalists will be slugging it out with their axes and hoary voices sooner.

And, quote a reliable source here, my friend and colleague Akangchila Longchar, Divine Connection is the only non-Hindi speaking band participating in the contest. Alright, get out of my space all your racists! I have made my point. Divine Connection and AXIS from Guwahati (Assam) are the only two bands from North-east participating in ‘Rock On’, my lovely friend explains. Some dudeman also informs that at least 32-33 bands from the North East took a shot at the auditions. Keep you update on this.

(By the way – for those hungry for an international doohickey – Avenged Sevenfold adding to their punch Mike Portnoy is probably the most incredible crossover in the Progressive Metal world since the Watchtower’s debut – as if LaBrie and team junking one of the most celebrated modern drummers in rock wasn’t too noisy a drift. I’m thinking Avenged Sevenfold’s upcoming sound is the chief curiosity: How do you assume Dream Theater’s expressive musical receptivity – in character and form – would work with the classicist violence of the American metalcore group and most tantalizing of all, how would it sound like? You tell me.)   
Read the album review of Divine Connection's ‘El Roi’ (2008)

(Photo Credit: The Morung Express file)

Sep 4, 2010

OFF & Eximious: Two Nagaland rock bands far from “Local”

There currently are two rock bands in Nagaland you have read about in some dingy Page-11 inset every edition of Nagaland’s National Hornbill Rock Beat Contest. But, you’ve never really got a shot at weaving your ears around their yet-unreleased stuff – which sadly, our inimitable, complex and shitty Naga political mess (yep, mess) has suppressed for so long.

Two of Nagaland’s biggest Hornbill festival stars crunch rockers Original Fire Factor (OFF) and “new-age” progressive rock group Eximious.

The one reason I make this claim (and I am 100% right, no offense) is that even music reviewers more irascible and ill-humored than Yours Truly have a thing and two alright things to say about OFF and Eximious’ yet-to-be-albumized stash. Their biggest deal? Their music is one with totally no “local nishena” vibe so characteristic of most Naga stuff.

Original Fire Factor (OFF) 

I know the OFF guys for long and basically they are protest rock – a la Rock Against The Machine. But of course, RATM are the original angry rabble-rousers (not that OFF are anywhere near Zack De La Rocha’s horde to qualify for comparisons). I have seen OFF perform their non-Hornbill stuff and all I can say is, I’ll 100% so totally buy it if the four ever get to release their originals. In the several proper shows OFF has performed, I have come to have bearings on their songs. OFF is an angry lot – just like their fathers RATM – but a contemporary, somewhat diplomatic version of protest actually.

And surprise, surprise, the traditional funk crunch is not so much from the guitars as Tom Morello would like from OFF – I strongly feel OFF’s drum arrangements are not just an important component of their sound – it is a huge chunk of OFF’s sound, in fact; as much for the guitars. OFF usually play patterns similar to the erratic, off-beat tempos reminiscent of art progressive metal (a la Sieges Even or Unexpect). If you took away the drums, you’d hear only slabs of fancy funk. But club it with the drums and you have that heavy, funky, crunchy rhythm so characteristic of you-know-what protest rock music.

OFF, I believe, ranks easily among four of the most noticeably arty and progressive rock bands Nagaland has thrown up in the recent years – alongside Christian rock group Divine Connection, Eximious and Diatribe. With their technical sophistication, aesthetic curiosity and fine tonal arrangements, I can remember no other band who can match OFF’s musical clout.

OFF is Lui Tzudir for the vocal duties, Temjen (guitars), Akum (bass guitars) and Meren (drums).


Like OFF, another well-known name from the Nagaland rock circuit is Eximious – a progressive rock outfit. Fronted by Talinungsang, Eximious is a favorite topic amongst my peers. We love talking about when this band’s actually coming out with a proper set. Frankly, there isn’t even a miserly bit of market for progressive rock genres (unless you happen to be a Dzukou Valley-singing “Nagamese” singer) and Eximious wouldn’t do much commercially. But I trust the kind of music Eximious makes – they are a testimony to the very definition of the genre they are in, progressive rock – intelligent, progressive and skillfully eclectic.

I have heard a number of their originals and they are international stuff. Although the songs were in demo, and can be forgiven of the production quality, you can feel the very nature of their music is not something you normally come across in Nagaland.

I talked to Tali just before Eximious was to perform for a Eric Dover, John Corabi, Troy Patrick Farrell Muddy Stardust show in Dimapur in 2009 winter. Here is an excerpt of the news interview that was published in The Morung Express:

“We will be playing only our won songs; originals” he said. Queried on the direction Eximious has taken, he said the nature of music Eximious plays is “whatever comes to our mind.” In short as music gurus would tell you “whatever comes to our mind” usually mean Progressive rock. “New-age progressive rock” he explained. And the weirdly cool name ‘Eximious’? He explained that the name has Greek roots to mean ‘Choice, or selected, or and for excellence.’ The band started in 2006 and in 2008 during the Hornbill National Beat Contest they stood third. “We are very excited,” Tali informs about the prospect of playing for the Los Angeles’ rock stars.

The band is Tali (voice), Anga (guitars), Lezo (bass guitars) and Kenny (drums).

I shall be keeping you update.

(Photo Credit: Rattle & Hum Society Media Handout)

Jul 2, 2010

The Counterfeit Beatles: The Best Fake Beatles Ever

British alternative rockers Oasis are a herald of being the “new Beatles” and the comparison has yet to fizz out between followers of the forever-fighting Liam-Neol band and devotees of the original Fab 4. But decades after the Beatles went kaput, Oasis’ frontman Liam Gallagher didn’t care a toot if the four guys he was hanging out with – during one fine Christmas party – weren’t the real Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr.

The Oasis superstar was only just too happy to be basking in the vibe of ‘authenticity’ of The Counterfeit Beatles during that Christmas party. Yes, The Counterfeit Beatles, celebrated to be the most famous, 20, 000-crowd-pulling tribute band in the world – even Van Halen didn’t do that well!
The Counterfeit Beatles performed for the Oasis singer Liam Gallagher. Here’s the legend according to Peter Nash: “…he was so impressed Liam spent the whole time hanging out with the Counterfeits and talking Beatles, Beatles, Beatles like a true Beatles fan.”

Nash was right. Here is for the irrepressible scoffers and skeptics: When you are a tribute, bootleg band with not a piece of independent original rag on you, it is almost sacrilegious to be performing to, say 80, 000 in Greece or to a 24, 000 in Japan. But that’s exactly what The Counterfeit Beatles are today – BBC World called them the most authentic, best and (here’s the favorite liner) ‘most original bootleg’ Beatles tribute band in the world. They are UK’s biggest tribute band today (To deter any Bosti opinions or just plain Bostiness, here’s a note: When some guys called Metallica did Garage Inc. (after a 7-year break) to back-up Load, guess how many turned up).

And the four bob-cut guys – Peter Bailey (McCartney), Gordon Elsmore (Starr), Reuven Gershon (Lennon) and Martin Savill (Harrison) are to perform in Dimapur to a select evening at Niathu Resort, at 7th Mile Chumukedima, July 2. The lanky four interacted with Media persons at The Aier’s Enclave in Dimapur.

According to Peter Bailey (Paul McCartney), the “Fab 4444” have been swinging up their own Beatlemania for 12 years. Theirs have been a life of dedication to the values of love and peace that the Beatles advocated and a tribute to an era. ‘It is apart of the fantasy; their (The Beatles) songs are still fresh and relevant; they have not aged and they are still relevant,’ said Bailey, who for strange reason, looks more like John Lennon rather than Paul McCartney. And the one who actually looks so much like Paul McCartney is Starr (Gordon Elsmore)!

The Counterfeit Beatles are stars alright – when you cut for EMI a production of the Abbey Road album set or have a film to your credit, or get to perform alongside Coldplay, Bjork or Elvis Costello, you are. For those seeking a vibe or two how an international legend thing actually goes on the nerves, the Counterfeit Beatles are for you.

The show is courtesy Dimapur-based Finishing Touches (of White Lion and Mr. Big fame). And for those who may have to flip a Paisa or two whether to watch the Beatles or sit out for the World Cup match here’s news: Right after the Counterfeit Beatles show, DJ Gordon will host a party and yes, a big LCD screen for you to watch the match at the resort, organizers informed.

Jun 21, 2010

Asin Shurhozelie: Aria Probable

Asin Shurhozelie is the new girl in town. While I have yet to sit in an exclusive performance by her, Asin’s collaborations have been interesting. Her work with the Dimapur-based music and arts institution, Hope Centre for Excellence, is commendable. I recall the Night at The Broadway which was performed in Dimapur recently.

The girl has got a thing or two stashed way in her voice and verve. If from just few performances she has skeptics and unforgiving critics anticipating something more, she’s certainly on the right track. My only concern is her voice being ‘commercialized’ to suit contemporary hypes (I was a tad disturbed that a recent Ad campaign for the Handshake Concert attributed her talent to even singing what was called “Italian Arias”. We music reviewers are yet to even learn that there might actually be anything called stipulate genres going by terms in the like of ‘American Arias’ or ‘European Arias’ either!). I hope she stays focused; she has so much to give.

Asin Shurhozelie was part of the Handshake Concert in Delhi on June 2010. I think she’s 23 (or 24?), a good age I’d say – that’s exactly the phase the voice starts to fortify into a more tonal, mature timbre (no offense, no patronization here; just an observation). But the point I need to make is totally different: she holds much promise, if her recent shows in Dimapur are anything to go by. The Kohima native is appended with a credit from Trinity Guildhall of London. She also has a credit of Advanced Singing Certificate from Trinity.

(Photo credit: Rattle & Hum Media handout)

The Tetseo Sisters: Native Tunes

Alright, here is a bunch of terrifyingly gorgeous Naga girls the Tetseo Sisters. Azi Tetseo Mercy Tetseo, Kuvelii Tetseo and Aliine Tetseo (I’m still trying wrap my intelligence around the profuse ‘I’s in their names.) To be very frank they are a total distraction: You have four eye-poppers in front of you and you believe it is their folk music you are listening to? Go find a job, you unprincipled creep.

Yet, their looks – for all possible purpose – will most probably distract you from the inspiring folk (sometimes adapted to suit the contemporary) music they play. But one brownie I’ll hand them is their dedication to an art few Naga youth can actually carry off without sweating buckets (or flashing an embarrassed blush or two) – that they actually play Chakhesang folk music (or so-called “local” tunes). In a state as Nagaland where anything Japanese, this American or that Korean is a byword to survive with, you really won’t come across many Naga musicians who sing in native tongues – leave alone proper folk music. Or in this case, in Chakhesang /Tenyidie dialect.

(International readers, please note: In Nagaland, anything “local” (also Bosti or Bostiness ) usually denotes something which, for instance, Americans would naturally see as indigenous but to the average Naga it means you are, well, totally not cool and totally not happening and totally Bosti).

I simply wonder why in Nagaland there are only a few modern, urbane, suave and chic persons plucky enough to not get lost in the Korean or American traffic (Bad hairstyling and burgers are bad enough, for goodness sake).

Anyway, the Tetseo Sisters are familiar faces in Nagaland’s music circuit. Dressed in traditional Chakhesang finery, armed with what-do-you-call-those-strange-guitarlike- things (anyone familiar with the instrument, please do leave me a comment), the group is a delight (no, dingbat, I don’t mean their looks this time). I have seen some of their performances and a few on TV. What they sang about or in what tongue, I can only endure my ignorance and haplessness in not knowing. But the sisters have some of the most dulcet voices I’d ever heard. While, I have yet to come across an album from them, I do know with the kind of voice they have, these chicks can offer good competition. Azi Tetsoe also seems to be some sort of a rock chick (read Hornbill Rock Concert or Music Safari) when not with her sisters.

Anyway, I am told the four have been playing folk music since childhood. The experience shows, naturally: the poise, easy confidence and spontaneous expression and connection with the songs they sing. You can tell the vibe that the Tetseo Sisters are in command of their stuff. The major time Handshake Concert in Delhi on June 21, 2010, was just one city in the extensive list of places they have played in. Considering their presence in the Media, I have a faint idea they have played in every place in between Kohima and Bangkok on the Map.

(Photo credit: Rattle & Hum Media handout)

Read More:

Breaking Blog News: Neiphiu Rio Vs Alobo Naga Vs Tetseo Sisters

Band in News: Firehouse in India
Album Review: Divine Connection's album 'El Roi'  
Album Review: Lima Yanger & Bliss Logic's The Big Thaw
Album Review: Redolent's 'Infinite Horizon' 
Album Review: Jack Pucho's 'Now & Always' 
Album Review: Alobo Naga's 'Road to a Thousand dream' 

Personality: Naga classical guitar pioneer Ren Merry 
Personalities: Story of Divine Connection's MTV Desi Rock triumph 
Personality: Soulmate's guitarist Rudy Wallang
Personality: Operatic performer Asin Shurhozelie 
Personality: Guitarist Imli Imchen
Personalities: Nagaland Rock band OFF (Original Fire Factor)
Personalities: Nagaland Rock band Eximious
Personalities: Naga metal group Diatribe
Events: Nagaland bands in RockKnock fest edition 

Jun 20, 2010

The Handshake Concert: Delhi

On June 21, in New Delhi, cultures will weld the kinder aesthetics in a convergence of candid rock and sublime opera, of regal native musings with electronic inspirations all a-shine under a single spotlight. ‘The Handshake Concert’ on Monday will soak the venue of the event, the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi, with the likes of Grammy winner Vishwa Mohan, Meghalaya’s veteran jivers Soulmate, Nagaland’s own crunchers OFF, opera singer Nise Meruno and even a rising star in the state’s classical circuit, Asin Shurhozelie. That was just a few of them, actually.

But more than another major music PR exercise to please armchair peacemakers, the Handshake Concert  is a magnitude of its own in purpose: ‘It is one handshake at a time; we need more handshakes in this world’ explained the indefatigable Theja Meru, chief of Rattle& Hum Society.

The drift on what the Handshake concert envisages to achieve is not lost considering the weighty support and partners heaving the June 21 event. When you have a publication such as the Rolling Stone (yes, Rolling Stone) or a stage production that costs Rs. 28 Lakhs “only” for the riggings alone, the significance of the objective the concert hopes to attain is not lost in the breeze.

Theja Meru implied that the Handshake concert essentially bears on its shoulders the aspiration to connect the peoples of Nagaland and greater India. The isolation and the sense of own alienation can be breached through musical ‘dialogue.’ ‘Friendship; we all need each other; we cannot alienate ourselves from all the good things outside. A handshake at a time; we need more handshakes,” Meru said. Yet, the creative ambition could well be two-pronged. Meru said the event is also an opportunity for Nagaland to show to the world (or at least to India for now) the incredible musical capital Naga youths are so much attributed with. Through events such as Handshake Concert, the organizers are hoping that the featured Naga musicians ‘make best use of this platform’ to show what they are best at – music.

Meru’s hope cannot be far-fetched: One of the several Naga musicians billed for Handshake is the Cultural Vibrants. Guess which Naga musical group caught Nazeruddin Shah’s eye for a Bollywood flick recently.

The expectations are all too justified. The weight of the event itself says so: Grammy winner Vishwa Mohan Bhatt needs no introduction a lot less Grammy nominee Lama Tashi, the ‘Singing Monk.’ One of Mumbai’s biggest noise-mongers and India’s better elemental rock bands Medusa and Meghalaya’s Soulmate will paint the evening with the legends. The spotlight will (however) be on the thicker crème of Nagaland’s musicians: Cultural Vibrants and the Tetsoes – two groups of “ethnic” singers whose performances have spanned every place in between Kohima and Thailand; two classical performers Asin Shurhozelie and Nise Meruno. 23 year old Asin Shurhozelie is widely regarded as one of the most promising classical performers to emerge from the state in the recent years. Then there is Nise Meruno, Nagaland’s own classical-Opera totem; and OFF, one of the most sublime rock bands in the state led by the Rastafarian-ish renegade Lui Tzudir.

Rattle & Hum’s ambassadorship is not unknown: The Kohima Band Fest in 2004 was one of the earliest and one of several major musical events organized in Nagaland by the group. The break came in 2008 with the North East India Music Festival in Guwahati. The Handshake concert is set to precede a dream to go international “with God’s grace”. A Bangalore date is also being envisaged.

Rolling Stone writes
When Rolling Stone and Rattle & Hum rigged up the Mumbai Handshake edition, its success wasn’t so much the number of eager music fans as was for the reverberation that rippled across Delhi and Bangalore. Publisher & Editor of Rolling Stone Radhakrishnan Nair wrote: “…most of the musicians told me that they wanted to play more concerts of this kind in the city again.” The diplomacy in exchanging melodic handshakes look promising.

May 14, 2010

Jumping Bean: Fresh New Beans

Circa 2007. My friend Nokcha (Aier) and I were yakking away unstoppably on hyper-mode on Facebook chat. Somehow we got around to actually chatting about some pretty serious stuff like life, Save-the-Whales and our normal the-world-is-full-of-pain thing. Then she goes “but we’re working on something right now; it’s about music and stuff and coffee…” and dash dash dash. I was like ‘Wow, that’s awesome! Now when are you going to go out with me on a date?’

In November 2008, in big, bad, hot and sticky Dimapur, a café with the cutest, cuddliest name ever in the Baby Donald Duck dictionary came into being: Jumping Bean.

Since then, things have been more than jumping – more of rodeo I’d say – for Jumping Bean. And her owners are eating miles by the week (I prefer referring to Jumping Bean with a ‘her’ than an ‘it’. ‘He’? You’re major nuts). Jumping Bean’s two gorgeous proprietors Sarah Pongen and Nokcha Aier are probably two of the most harried best friends on the circuit.

Jumping Bean came into being on November 25, 2008 with big promises and even bigger dreams of turning Dimapur’s ho-hum music and food scene into some sort of a bucking howler. Two years running, JB’s grown into this big, gorgeous and hardworking girl now: From week-one, she’s been housing live gigs, bands and soloists, local and national outfits at least twice every month, to good response. But the start was a little tottery.

Freakingly Bad Hangovers

Sigh, memories with a girl (Jumping Bean, you dingbat) you have been with long, can be major heavy thing. I still recall a not-so-wonderful news report a local newspaper in Nagaland published about on Jumping Bean’s launch: “…the café also serves alcohol, cocktails…” Finish. Kaput. Poof. Goner.

When I recall this goof-up the newspaper made, I get angry. Technical mistakes, grammatical errors and bad English will always be a synonym for Indian print Media but one thing so unforgivable is reckless, negligent, false and capricious reporting. The false report nearly killed Jumping Bean at birth. I still remember a much blanked-and-dazed Sarah on the phone, the afternoon the report was published. You could see that the report had completely pulverized her beauty to glory. Oh, that poor, poor thing (BigHugs*).
But thank God, notwithstanding the almost expensive goof-up, little JB’s come so far today. Alright, am I a proud “uncle” or something. Whateva.   

Clarifications and rejoinders made, the matter fizzled out faster that a busy fart.


Jumping Bean is today probably the most happening music hangout in Dimapur. Of course, there are thousands of others, but one brownie point you cannot take away from Jumping Bean: she was the first café in Dimapur to commit its entire platform to all and any musician or artist – for free. And for those of you yet to step yer dainty toes into the café, here are some info: Check out the café’s Friday Acoustic theme nights. Friday Night Live is held every second Friday of the month. The night will have you listening to special guest bands from India and the north-east states performing at the café. I have lost track of the number of bands HB has hosted – but lemme tell ya, them performers are no armatures.

The Big Chomp

I’ll be honest with you here. I am no foodie and there has yet to be anything from Jumping Bean found its way into my mouth save coffee, lemonade and your omnipresent Cha-ha (Tea, dingbat). The reasons? There has yet to be a time for food for all darned causes – my interaction has been limited to rush-yer-nuts-to-JB-fast-fast for news reports. Café food is luxury for journalists, man.

So for obvious reasons here are my only takes on JB’s food: JB’s chomp department is manned by another of Jumping Bean’s eye-poppers Asen Aier, Nokcha’s younger sister. The coffee is good but give me good ole’ cha-ha any time. The lemonade is well, I dunno. My experience with lemon and its juices is limited – just about 2 glasses over the past 20 years.

Short take on the ‘Long’

But I liked this something-strangely-called “Short Bread” Asen offered me. The cookie thing looked suspicious, initially. I sniffed it; poked it left and right; cajoled it; weighted and made sure the “Short Bread” was truly dead before I decided on chomping it. I’m uncertain if bread ought to be ‘long’ or ‘short’ but with ‘short bread’ I’ll go the distance. And oh, for your General Knowledge, Asen’s ‘Short Bread’ is actually a biscuit.

So there, I don’t know about JB’s food so you gotta hunt down her patrons for a recipe or two. 

Jumping Bean is today a busy café. It is running successfully. But I will rephrase another of JB’s, well – you got it – lovely little things, Asu Aier (I’ve never met her actually). Asu explained about the café: ‘Given the many problems they have faced in running a business in Nagaland, (Jumping Bean) has managed to maintain its quality in the business and promises to hold onto it.’

I believe you Asu, I believe you. Interacting with hundreds of youngsters and readers over the internet everyday, I know what they say about Jumping Bean. Here’s to the café and her wonderful, beautiful people.

And oh yes, cough…cough…Nokcha has still yet to say that Yes thing; I’m still trying; I’m still trying.

(You may want to read the News variety, Jumping Bean's PowerCafe Girls, I wrote on Jumping Bean’s Nokcha Aier and Sarah Pongen and published in the December 12, 2008 edition of The Morung Express.

Here are the blog updates on MetalStone: American Progressive/Technical Metal group Watchtower.
Album review of Watchtower's Control and Resistance (1989), album review of the first proper Progressive Metal album Watchtower's Energetic Disassembly (1985)

Laughing with Petra’s John Schlitt

(This blog, originally published in United Colors of Nagaland’ is the interaction and interview the writer had with John Schlitt, singer and front-man of seminal Christian rock group Petra. The CCRM star was in Dimapur, Nagaland the summer of 2008 for a show with Stone Java, a side project of Schlitt.)

If you have never heard of John (William) Schlitt (or, Petra) you are most probably a freaky sun-burnt, Bangladeshi illegal immigrant. I hope to high heavens that the Ao Students’ Conference or the Angami Students’ Union would capture you one fine sunny day and straight away pack you off to Godknowswhere.

For all you spike-haired three-chord Limp Bizzing late-comers, Petra is to Christian music what Metallica is to the metal world. And basically, John Schlitt has pretty much been at the front of the entire Christian music push – all the way to that snob-nosed Grammy.

Beyond My Belief

The first time I heard of “Beyond Belief” (Petra’s 1990 magnum opus) was as a tiny, round, dirty school kid, with my unhinged half-pants permanently hanging down 190 degree south, and pretty much obsessed with wiping my nose with a convenient swipe of my tongue. But the motivation just seemed too compelling when years later my brother Joe gifted me with Petra’s smash 1987 ‘This Means war’ album. So there on, my musical adventures during school and college would never be complete without a “Creed” or a “Beyond Belief” or just about any of the 30-40 of them Petra chart biggies. Come on I still boast of the biggest Petra music collection, and others as well, among my metal peers (Ahem! Ahem! Cough! Cough!). Anyhow, during my formative years in my mind Petra, Bloodgood and Stryper were the ultimate, who’d just down right snubbed those mainstream poppies and rockers to the Grammys.

Decades later, May 14, 2008, I’m with my Idol. Here’s this tall, pale, blond and handsome guy so full of music and Jesus, asking me what my name meant and go “Hey ‘Al’ sounds so Texan!” and laugh like he was your best beer buddy. Of course, nothing like having Louie Weaver or Bob Hartman in the living room if Petra was still around. The band disbanded in 2007. But hey who’s complaining, with nothing to complain.

Trust me, it took all of my hybrid Naga pedigree to pretend I wasn’t at all affected by my childhood idol right by me, alone, alive and chatting like two hoary, drunk school mates. Man, it was amazing – see? I told you journalism has all the right perks.

Idol Bantering with John

He was all blond, shoulder-length hair, pale and lots of cool. Nonetheless, our unique Dimapur heat dented his composure a bit, I observed. He was in this white Tee, a Bermuda and these really hi-fi Godzilla looking pair of runners decorating his feet. Well, enough rock starts are like this? I really tried not to faint at the whole vibe. He’s monumentally cool.

And John was gracious. And very, very humble. When I entered the living room he was like “Hi, I am John” and I was like “yeah, sure, John, I know you ever since I was born.” There was none of that hey-baby-I-am-million-selling-grammy-winning-and-Christian-music’s-biggest-superstar thing. We shared the laugh and he was incredulous “you mean you know me since you were born!?” And I was thinking like “Basically, and I messed up my pitch doing ‘Creed’ during a college concert years ago.”

One of my colleagues, Merina, informed him that I was one of his biggest fans and in all probability I’d straight away blank out in unbridled throes of star-struck stuff. John was like “Really?” And mind you, he was genuinely surprised. And I was like “Yeah, I am a huge fan, John. But I’m not gonna be star-struck by you because I have changed my musical tastes.” We shared a good bout of laughter. That guy’s amazing, mind you. There was no air about him, no sermon, no-save-the-world-save-the-forest thing and no superstar smorgasbord. He was an amazing guy, people. No wonder, someone said ‘a truly great man is the humblest of creatures.’ I want to be like him. And I shall be.

So whatabout Nagaland, dude?

So how do you like Nagaland? “Nagaland? This place is so cool and we are just having a ball, we are having a ball, it’s amazing!” he gushed. And as a natural curiosity so natural for us to query people from abroad, who visit us, I was tempted to ask John “have you gotten a taste of Akhuni, Anishi or Bastenga” or something in that nature. Of course, the poor guy would have been stumped for response even if he dare tasted one of our smelly dishes. Out of political correctness, he most probably would have replied ‘yes, they tested interesting’!’ if at all he’d tasted our tasty nose-killers. Thankfully, I could muster no courage for such questions over the said matter.

We talked about a lot of things, his faith, music, and the motivation behind his stint as a harbinger of Jesus Christ’s message and of course, his Petra days. “I don’t want to be considered Petra number 2” he confided, obviously disturbed at the regular confusion fans have between him and the legendary Christian rock band. “I’m not here to preach but to say, hey, it’s cool and Christ is cool!” Man, that guy’s sure is modest considering he and Petra are considered the undisputed pioneers, and one of the terribly few Christian rock bands to be accepted by mainstream, secular market. (The others are Stryper and Bloodgood). You see, my darling reader, John Schlitt’s the man who fronted a band with whom 4 Grammys, 10 Doves among other awards, and then induction into the Hard Rock Café and Gospel Hall of Fame were had. And trust me, I won’t mention the Gold and Platinum albums that went with the entire gamut.

Apart from his Petra feathers, John has under his illustrious belt two successful solo albums 1995’s Shake (with that unforgettable and cover bands’ favorite Inside of You and heady ‘Wake the Dead’), 1996’s Unfit for Swine (Which Naga band has not done ‘There is Someone’?) and his latest The Grafting is out. So be ready for another dose.

After our chat, it was time to go have some chow.
“Would you be there for the show (Dimapur concert), Al?” he queried. I responded, “Why OF COURSE, I’ll be there big time!” I love journalism.

May 13, 2010

Sweet Cup of Careership: The PowerCafe Girls

(This ‘blog’ was originally published in the December 12, 2008 edition of The Morung Express as a News Feature, by Al Ngullie)

Go get a clean cup, a cleaner spoon and consider this gourmand formula: drown a spoonful of social statement that has little patience for the inevitable consequences of arrested development; then, add a pinch of business smart; for taste, add half-a-spoon of social-consciousness and finally, add a sprinkle of active effort and imagination for flavor. What do you get? Jumping Bean…

Barely a month-old baby, Jumping Bean is already your foodie version of the hyperactive 12 year old. Theme nights (check out their retro nights – but the spandexes and pink lipsticks are truly terrifying for the fashion-illiterate male); performances from nationally known rock groups like the recent Tuesday night where Medusa performed. And plans are actively afoot to activate the children’s book and reading club.

PowerCafe Girls

If you happen to visit their cafe at Khermahal in Dimapur, the two lovelies Sarah Pongen and Nokcha Aier most possibly would distract you dizzy from the all-important ingredients. With two young and pretty businesswomen tending to your coffee in a café that has a name cuter and cuddlier than your sister’s youngest daughter, you’re in monumental danger of overlooking the toil and the purpose that went in your cup.

The duo has this modest estimation: “Jumping Bean cafe's main objective is to create a place full of activities that’s fun and entertaining for all age groups and we hope to maintain that for as long as the business runs”. They explained a desire to take up “some sort of business” together. And to boot, being best friends was an added advantage for Nokcha and Sarah. So they jumped the idea of launching Jumping Bean to cater to the hungry stressed souls only a noisy, ill-tempered and fickle urban jungle like Dimapur city could offer.

“We were sort of disappointed that Dimapur, the commercial hub of Nagaland, didn't have any nice place where friends could meet up or just hang out. It was even more annoying when our friends from outside Nagaland would visit us and we couldn't take them to such places” the duo explained as a matter-of-fact. .

For Sarah and Nokcha, the most frustrating aspect of the entire gamut was watching their little cousin brothers and sisters get wasted in boredom and their turning to other unhealthy activities just so to ‘keep themselves engaged’.

“That’s when we suddenly thought why don’t the two of us try and do something about it even if it’s on a very small scale, hopefully many others will pick up on the trend and follow suit” they explained. That’s where each of the two secured a loan and went for the prize “knowing the risks that might be involved; and we're glad we did”.

That’s exactly where the headaches activated their war drums for the two first-time-but-determined businesswomen. Neither of the two has ever been in the service industry and so basically had to start somewhere by using their experiences from the travels they had undertaken. Also, they informed, constructing and designing café from scratch was a colossal challenge. Nonetheless, friends and families stuck out their hand in assistance and support.

“I don’t think we could have achieved what we had in mind. But we have learned immensely through this entire experience and hence we are extremely glad time and again that we decided to go ahead with this idea” the duo explained.

You could have called your café “Chai Paani Corner” or something locally strange, no? “As for the name, we wanted something that symbolized what our cafe would be all about” the two entrepreneurs explained. The two young entrepreneurs added: “We wanted it to be fun and approachable but at the same time one would know it was a cafe where people can do what they normally do in cafe's – hang out with friends and catch up over a cup of coffee. Hence the name Jumping Bean Café: ‘Jumping’ for something that’s full of activity and jumping for joy and ‘Bean’ for the coffee beans.”

On the flavor of unemployment

Apart from the stated objective to offering a calming facility for citizens to ponder away the quite minutes, Jumping Bean is as much a testimony of ‘making a difference’ as it is a personal reaffirmation that there is way in the face of will.

To a query if they have ambitions for the civil services – like a good several Lakhs of Naga youths have – Sarah and Nokcha aren’t exactly your anti-NPSC lobbyists. But they aren’t receptionists of the proverbial Devil’s workshop either. “It is every parent’s dream to send their children for the state civil services and we admit that it has crossed our minds in the past due to the constant topic that’s about on every Naga’s lips they say.

Nokcha, a Livingstone Higher Secondary School and Shillong’s St. Edmund’s alumnus has given a shot at the civil services and part of it. But Sarah “has always been against trying for it”, for the reason that her interest still hugged the private sector. No wonder she has qualifications in retail, marketing and arts management.

Personally, what are your opinions on the issue of unemployment: “We feel that one of the main reasons why unemployment is so prominent in Nagaland and perhaps the northeastern states of India is because of the immense pressure and craze that most people have for the civil services. The government can only provide a limited amount of position in its office as compared to the millions of people applying for it” the two best friends opined.

But it is unfortunate that most Naga youths still perceive the civil services as the only career option: “Most bank on it alone hence wasting their precious primetime youth away while all the good jobs get taken by other people their age across the country. It would have been ok to pursue it if only an alternate arrangement or option was at hand while doing so. But people in the northeast tend to take it as their only career option which is really sad” Nokcha and Sarah explained in clear terms.

Another reason, they said, is Nagaland being a developing state compared to the rest of the country; job opportunities are scarce in the private sector. However, the two explained, all that is changing with many multi-national companies entering the state. They, have a word of caution, however: “But in order to make use of these opportunities parents need to encourage their children to work part time on vacations and become self sufficient in whatever way they can”.

“We in Jumping Bean Cafe are trying to encourage that with the youngsters in the state through part time jobs and gaining experience through it so that they are in par with other major cities when they head out of Nagaland to pursue higher degrees” the entrepreneurs explained.

More plans and bigger dreams are cooking for the two. Notwithstanding the struggle and difficulties they encountered on way to making the Jumping Bean dream, they have no regrets at all. Yes, none at all. It has been a cup of tea, not easy, but because they look to the future.

Here’s to Jumping Bean.

May 6, 2010

Bobby Cash: The Cowboy from India

For a man — from the land of ear-blistering Bhangra and soulful Ghazals — boasting of three full length albums, a clutch of best-selling singles on international charts and a documentary on him by Discovery Channel, it’s no big deal really – unless you happen to be an Indian, from India (yes, India). And a ‘cowboy’ (yes, a ‘cowboy’). And warbling not Bhangra, but, yes, crooning country songs (yes, you heard it right again – country songs).

Cowboys and Indians are stuff every boy’s dream of the ultimate adventure is made of. But Bobby Cash is one cowboy any Indian would do the-what-jump at, in surprise. The ‘What Would You Do’ and ‘Tumbleweed’ hit-maker is in Dimapur. Country Music Association’s (CMA) Global Artiste nominee for 2005, Bobby Cash, will be playing at Niathu Resort to a select evening. The Stetson-hatted man interacted with The Morung Express tonight in Dimapur before his scheduled April 17 show at Niathu Resort.

The first ride

‘I started performing at “The Rodeo” in Delhi and slowly build up a following. I learned quite a lot during that Delhi phase,” Bobby said. Bobby Cash saw his childhood in NE India. Said to have been born to a family of royal lineage Bal Kishore Das Loiwal became ‘Bobby’ from his father calling him “Babu.” And from where did the ‘cash’ flow in? Well, ‘Kishore’ turned into ‘Kesh’ for his friends and family. And ‘Kesh’ gradually turned into ‘Cash.’ There, Bobby Cash.
His international career began when Australia’s Tamworth Music Festival invited him to perform at the biggie. Before long, he was playing to packed houses in Tamworth and for Bobby, an amazing journey began. Soon he was all over media, appearing on television and radio. He quickly became the subject of a documentary in 2003 by Discovery Channel. The Documentary was ‘One in a Billion: The Indian Cowboy.’

Bobby Cash is India’s one and only proper country music performer – add his international credentials to it. Often referred to in one breathe with Remo Fernandez and Gary Lawyer, Bobby is literally ‘one in a billion’ as described by music fans who are not really convinced of India’s credibility when it comes to country music. He showed them all.

‘Cowboy at Heart’ was released in 2003. ‘Cowboy at Heart’ included duets with Australian country music singers Smokey Dawson and Tania Kernaghan. Since then, he still is galloping across the globe with his trusty acoustic guitar. Bobby became the first Indian to enter the top 10 in the Australian country music charts.

Still Riding

‘I am always learning; learning and always hungry to grow to the next level,’ The 6’5’ something skyscraper said. The performer has no regrets in his life.
In fact, every moment has being special and the highest point in his life.’ He played the Indian National Anthem at Sidney for the Australia-India test tour in Sidney – ‘that was special.’ He was nominated for the CMA Global Artist award – ‘that was special.’ He has three hit singles on the country charts – ‘that was special.’ “I believe in excellence; if you watch a master at work, you know how his skill is,” Bobby said. The man must know – being an Indian, and receiving recognition in a genre of music identified only as the Americans’ won cultural legacy. ‘I have played in Texas and they know country music; it’s their music; you can’t fool them; you have to be good,’ he explained, to press his point that one must seek excellence in whatever he does.

In 2005 in Nashville, US, Bobby Cash was nominated in the Global Artist category by the CMA. Bobby got a standing ovation from the President of the CMA, Ed Benson, who called him the ‘real deal’ at the Global Artist Showcase on The Stage, Broadway. He has also appeared on WSM Midnite Jamboree and done a jig in Dallas, Fort Worth.

On a personal level, Bobby said hold his family above all priorities. Aside from music, he said to be involved in the church and the Holy Bible is his favorite book. Aside from country music? ‘Cricket!’ he confesses. “The best is still yet to come; everything I went through was a step forward,” the country singer said, referring to his future.

Bobby Cash has these words for those who are still trying: “All things are possible…don’t give up. If I can do it, anyone can.’ Here’s to the man.

Cowboy at Heart

Bob Marley's Saga and the Jumping Bean

A rousing and joyful chaos of music, dancing and jollity it was on Saturday, February 6, at Jumping Bean with a teeming mass of buoyant music lovers celebrating Bob Marley's 65th birth anniversary, for the first time in

Nagaland. Themed 'Stir it up' the Jumping Bean event was truly an energetic evening of thumbing reggae from two bands, Roots Reggae Band (Meghalaya) and Daniel & The Soul Rebels (Arunachal Pradesh). The two bands rode with the happy confusion of the gathered "rocking" youths by enlisting the services of the legacy of the man the music world calls the Rasta Man.

The evening's mass of humanity at the tribute concert was a colorful mingling of tourists from Argentina, converse-toting fabulous Goth girls and trouser-dragging hip-hop youths, punky kids and elegantly dressed women and their hefty husbands and of course the odd drunk singing his own special unique tunes at strange timings.

Daniel & The Soul Rebels

Daniel & The Soul Rebels took the opening gig for an already-filling-up Jumping Bean. The youth and music hangout is run by two young entrepreneurs Sarah Pongen and Nokcha Aier. Daniel and his soul comrades ran through a stimulating routine of Marley classics, rehashes, renditions of the iconic number Jhonny B Goode and of course, a Peter Josh or two. Reggae biggies such as 'Stir it up' certainly validated the evening's theme. Of course, the audience was the lead vocalist in almost all the classics that Daniel and his soulmates - 'Stir it up,' 'No women no cry' and even the odd 'Wild World' as sung according to Jimmy Cleff. Notwithstanding to the stumble-and-trip-over lyrics and in the process, mumble some other interesting lyric, the gathered fans gladly joined in the tribute. So did a number of foreign tourists. Americans and Argentineans.

From Argentina, Sebastian is a photographer, a juggler and a self-professed wanderer who has traveled the world in his quest for photography and music. Shrill with a remarkable

Latin American accent, Sebastian disclosed that he was in Dimapur with four other of his friends. Not accidentally, they are all reggae devotees - and what hoarse joy than to dance and enjoy the evening away with 'No woman, no cry.' Aside from instigating the café's patrons into having fun, Sebastian juggled a bit or two, much to the patrons' delight.

Roots Reggae Band

By the time Roots Reggae Band took the gig after Daniel and his group, the café was already filled and sparkling with gaiety and shouts of "Redemption Song!" (A Bob Marley classic). Of course, the band obliged the back-benchers' demand. And with other else too - 'No woman, no cry' and 'stir it up' included. During the Roots Reggae Band set, the gathered crowd was the lead vocalist in all the songs this time as well.

Apr 8, 2010

Alobo: First dream; now await the second

Artiste: Alobo
Album: Road of a Thousand Dreams
Genre: Contemporary
Studio: Pheto Music Studio
Ratings: Good Listening

Dunno if this Alobo guy’s the same poppy-rock Alobo from Patkai Christian College who did a rousing jig during 2004 Summer Jam (Or was it the 2003 ANCSU beat?) – And stole the limelight from the guest metal bands. We were a guest artiste there and the crowd’s buzz said Alobo (“notun singer” back then) was good at his shot. The chicks seemed to dig him mighty too.

I have little patience for musicians that pop in with a pile of embarrassingly maudlin songs, play at a shitty government function and pop out forever. Gosh.
There’s no way to saying if the dude’s gonna pull more punches or vanish after a song or two, but ‘Road of a Thousand Dreams’ holds promise. The CD arrived for the review and I dispatched him a message that if his album is one of those local Naga tragedies, he’s in major Media shit – and I expect Patkai alumni to be good. I like my set to be at least ‘fair’ ratings; it’s a recompense for me because I hate wasting time on shitty, half-baked (or burnt) freebies.

One reason you’ll cozy up to ‘Road of a Thousand Dreams’ is its fun factor – here’s a performer who’s just having fun – no lofty musical ambitions, no flashy arrangements, no grandiose guitars, no overdressed contemporary frills or Angst shay shays selling anything; just basic (if a little too simple) tunes, radio-friendly choruses and tonnes of exaltation for Jesus. Jesus rocks big time, you know. Another plus is the host of experienced war dogs – Neise Meruno, Sosang, Sunep Lemtor and Kashito and that talented rascal Joey Woch and all.

Get your take: ‘Road of a Thousand Dream’ is a very nice, frisky, threadbare, Latinish (credit the Tamba?) pie. ‘Make me whole,’ is one of my top picks. I dunno, it is a very earnest song evoking vivid images of total surrender – I’m struggling with Christianity today. Then there is this powerful ‘Hold on,’ a rehash of the opus instrumental, redone with lyrics. My pick.

But the one unforgettable highlight was ‘Kumzujulo’ – a resonant ballad in Sumi. No so much for the merits of melody as for the way Alobo delivers it. He shines in this song – so beautifully crafted was the Sumi lyrics that we’d actually though he was singing in French. Honest. Listen closely and you’ll realize. Awesome stuff, because it’s highly dulcet too.

My only problem with ROTD? It’s a very, very safe album – safe and please-all-offend-none sorta. Serious time listeners won’t really scratch the itch. Alobo has some big surprises stashed away in his voice – if only he would break out from that comfort zone of idiosyncratic classicism that so oppress artistry. With a timbre like his (and those musicians of caliber behind him), I’m really interested to hearing him do some proper Jazz or say, rock fusion.

For instance I’d heard Nise Meruno’s “Hallelujah” and I was like ‘man, that one’s epic’. How do you swing intricate symphonies of chorales on an item technically attributing to Aria? Or take for instance Theja Meru on that soaring ‘Believe.’ The man wasn’t even trying except at being honest. Alobo possesses that punch too, but hasn’t pulled it yet. I’m convinced the guy has much more to offer – just stop dipping yer dainty toes, man. Wade in.

Mar 1, 2010

Review: Shutter Island and The Departed? Chicken feed

Shutter Island’s box office intake seems to be another victim of the Hollywood punter’s review-driven idiosyncrasy. Hollywood ratings go past the typical “box office hit” scanner that says a film is a hit because it touched at least $ 20 Million in the “first week.” Shutter Island had no other big release challenging the Leonardo DiCaprio horror thriller.

Chicken Feed

This practically means it is too early to conclude that the Martin Scorsese-Leonardo Leonardo DiCaprio flick is ready for any historic watershed-hopping. While it hasn’t shaken the solar system, Shutter Island opened the weekend with a (measly) $40.2 million take. No bad if you don’t know how much another Scorsese venture The Departed made in its first weekly intake, production-wise.

The fact is, or according to Paramount, Shutter Island cost $75 million after tax credits. The initial cost was close to $100 million. So after the tax credits, Shutter Island will have to make a 2-month rerun of at least $25 million for each to break even.

No Good Flick Scan

‘Week-wise,’ it is easy to assume (and declare so) that the film’s production-wise intake would break even in the few following weeks. But Vis-à-vis the Titanic or The Departed, Shutter Island is a career best for both Director Martin Scorsese and star Leonardo DiCaprio. They have had no sizable hit at the box office since the duo ventured on The Departed. The Departed opened at $26.9 million in 2006. Another thing Paramount isn’t yet brave enough to tell you are that there is quite a lot of murmur in Beverly Hills about Shutter Island’s movie quality and long-run commercial potential. (The studio officially blamed the move on, according to Hollywood punters “production expenses”).

Another itch-spot is that Shutter Island looks a lot like Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio rehashed The Departed. Although the new thriller opened to $40 million, compared with The Departed ’s $26.9 million, the latest trend is that Shutter Island is experiencing a rapid domestic ticket sales decline at a studio-estimated 46% this weekend. See, The Departed dropped only 29%.

But there are hopes that Shutter Island is on way to amassing at least a $132.4 million as the final domestic gross. That brings one to this point of doubt: Can Shutter Island beat The Departed’s $157.5-million international box office total?

But worried fans (who well, won’t get a cent out of the profits anyway) may squeeze up a pinch of optimism: In 20 foreign territories so far – including France, Germany, and Australia, Shutter Island has raked in at least $34 million. There has yet to be any report on the intake from the major markets including Britain, Japan and all of Latin America.

Jan 18, 2010

A new shade of anger: Azha Usou

Artiste: Azha Usou
Album: The Last Serenade
Genre/Style: Post-Goth, Melodic Death
Producer/Studio: Alfred Besu/
Clef Ensemble, Kohima
Rating: Must-Have

Sub-genres of elemental Progressive Metal music such as Symphonic Goth, Melodic Death Metal and Classical Avangarte remain the most complex, yet the most elegant forms of metal. No wonder, their optimized form of expression and eclecticism has found comparative association with proper Classical and even Jazz (in this case, in terms of appropriation) – no surprise that elemental metal inextricably revolves around Classical adaptations. From Epica to Ominum Gatherum, Lacuna Coil to Sonata Arctica, Luca Truilli to Apocalyptica, and Dream Theater to Virgin Black – the touch of classicist intervention.

That’s the problem actually: The badge of honor elemental rock wears has also definitely inspired insufferable bastard genres – those so-called “emo” and “scremo” from Punk kids who cannot tell apart Death Metal from Sludge Grunge music (read Nagaland). Naturally, when former Black Rose frontman Azha Usou’s ‘The Last Serenade’ was handed to me promising of a totally unique, serious experience, I was like, ‘yeah, yeah, sure whateva.’

I decided to review ‘The Last Serenade’ for two reasons: (i) The album is a pointer to Naga musicianship getting more serious and (ii) The album certainly qualifies – at least partially – with the elemental metal tag (say post-Goth Melodic Death Metal) – a genre no Naga musician has put to production, not in this magnitude at least.

Let’s try the Gothic sensibilities. The Last Serenade’s intro, ‘Silent Footsteps’ is a beautifully bleak 1-minute violin foray reminiscent of Epica. Was I astounded at what the prelude led into: ‘Embrace your End’ is one of the most exquisite Goth intermissions I’ve ever listened to (Trust me, Mr. D. Thomas, I own more than 4,000 albums of the Power/Goth/Prog/Symphonic Metal genre alone, and I’m not bragging). With vocals even Dani Filth would grin in bloody glee, this song is woven exclusively around a mosaic of delicately mourning violin intermissions; grieved appeals of Azha. (Curiously my current playlist has Epica’s ‘Run for the Fall’ and Therion’s ‘Son of the Sun.’ The similarity notwithstanding) EYE is definitely too beautiful even to be Goth. Awesome.

‘Transcendentalism’ is more of a Progressive Metal staple in the vein of Spock’s Beard-meets-Winger. The guitar interludes are amazing – flowing, unpretentious and subtle but as vigorous as any Power Prog fan would like it to be. I had some problem with the voice mastering though – too much reverb? The vocal was more cultured in EYE. Otherwise ‘Transcendentalism’ is a huge leap into what power rock purists call ‘Collateral Phrase’ – a sense of Art where it was not intended. Another winner.

I wasn’t surprised when ‘Melodic Wrath’, as the name sufficiently suggested, came on – a very harmonious piece of Melodic Death Metal. Just one issue here: those “drums” are percussion Pre-sets; you can take my word that no metal download website will take it – it sounds like a video game demo in MIDI. (Or perhaps I’m too spoilt and fussy after listening to Siberian prog band Alogia. Alogia’s sublime album ‘Secret Spheres of Art,’ I should say, has refreshed my sensibility about tonal craftsmanship!) Aside from the Pre-sets, I loved ‘Melodic Wrath.’ A slab of fast, aggressive but melodic metal, any mosher would love.

Sigh. I don’t know why Naga musicians also wear wrong dress combos? Are Naga rockers so insecure that they are so desperate to prove their mettle as masters of every style? Or perhaps, you wanna please Everybody and his first cousin, Everyone. Oh gosh, after the wonderful string of elegance, Azha Usou does Funk Blues in ‘HoneyJane’ and an equally ugly technoish ‘Pretty Woodstock Baby.’ Look, I love Jimi Hendrix, Pandit Harishchandrasen, Pink Martini and Bill Vaughan. Even the Trance experiments of Omen I listen to. But when Goth metal songs are suddenly attacked by maudlin, mushy, nonsensical peppy numbers in the like of the Lady Gagas and those Boy things, the firing squad’s services are needed. Don’t forget: Children of Bodom nearly lost its entire Norway fanbase when it did a “death metal” version of…yuck…Britney Spears’ ‘Oops I did it again’ all in the name of musical artistry. Gosh.

But rejoice, Azha Usou and his horde regain their composure from the temporary idiocy with ‘Endless Screams,’ a white hot slab of avant-garde Melodic Prog reminiscent of Symphony X’s ‘Lies of the World.’ ‘Endless Screams’ is now among my Tops. I’m amazed Azha managed this awesome bit after the insufferably stupid two songs earlier. Wonderful guitar arrangements, no drum Pre-sets (no proper rock song is a rock song if without real, live and kicking acoustic drums!).
And did I mention a number called ‘Broken Rose’? I listen to everything from Jim Morrison to Jimmy Vaughan, Joan Baez to Dylan, Methanelie to Theja Meru but ‘Broken Rose’ is a half-baked Blues idiocy. Quit fooling around, guys.

Thankfully, ‘The Last Serenade’ and ‘Goodnight Dad’ follow the fine Classicism of ‘Embrace Your End’, although purely instrumental in violin and a high-head or two. One may even find nuances of Guilliani or Luca Truilli in them, but the Goth influence is clear in the mournful passages. Beautifully crafted pieces.

I am convinced that Azha’s ‘The Last Serenade’ is the sign of a new generation of Naga musicians who not only want to do good originals, but also are unafraid to be artistic. Other than the three hiccups, this album is a Must-Have for all serious rock fans. Congratulations Azha, you just broke new ground.

Jan 8, 2010

Mike Tramp's White Lion roars in India

Decades down the line, after your eyes have reduced to nothing more than two cotton balls, your ears clogged tight with the earwax of wild youth, and your teeth retired into gumhood, you can boast to your 10th grandchild: that you were there – in flesh, blood – when Nagaland stepped into the era of major time music and serious time rock stars.

Then, you can explain to your grandchild how you whistled, shouted, screamed, jumped, moshed and waved your creatively contorted yoga-friendly fingers along with thousand pairs of other hungry hands; how the band slammed you into ecstasy with one hit after another and on and on and on. And oh, you can also point out to your grandchild the exact date when you actually went super deaf at a very young age…

In a night that would be referred to as the exact span when Nagaland stepped into an era of mainstream and international music performance, eighties’ hard rock greats White Lion tonight, December 16, 2008, played to a capacity crowd at Dimapur District Sports Council stadium, a night to be remembered for so many a reason. The band sent fans into dizzy with a flurry of crowd pleasers – yep, good ole classics and none a bit of their latest materials. While the number of fans was not to the extent of what was being generally expected considering a band in the stature of White Lion, the concert was rousing and the fans couldn’t ask for more.

After a wee bit of delay and waiting for the evening to darken, the show finally got off with Dimapur’s own noise makers XTC and Native Rising. Quite strangely the two popular local bands – “opening acts” – pulled off barely 6 sets between them. Native Rising performed a number while XTC did two. The widespread whisper inside DDSC stadium tonight was that, the entire evening and stage had already been surrendered to the blonde rockers from New York – and more so considering the main act is not only an international band but also the first ever band of stature to be performing in the state.

Notwithstanding random theories that find birth in the minds of impatient rock fans, White Lion’s Troy Patrick popped out from the band’s dressing shed and shouted to the XTC bandits to sing a couple more. So XTC’s frontman Moanungsang mobilized the crowd again and did another, this time with an acoustic slung across his mane. Notwithstanding, the off-tune D-string of his acoustic, Moanungsang and his gang warmed up the gathering fans. Then, during what was perceived to be XTC’s “final” number, White Lion’s axeman Jamie Law popped out of his shed and yelled to the band to do “three more” songs (Jamie was holding up three fingers to Moanungsang’s mob on the stage). Then it finally dawned upon the gathering mass that White Lion was actually waiting for “a little dark”.

Lovely Rozelle Mero announced to the crowd a couple of times about “let’s wait for the evening to grow a little dark”. (By the way, do you know that lions are best hunters only after or in dark?). So waiting for the “dark” to darken, the massing crowd was treated to an irritatingly painful set of soundtracks to “warm up”.

Finally, after a good dose of minutes filled with colorful F-words and many more “White Lion, ami tu khor jai ase dey!” (‘White Lion, I am going home ok?!’) from the impatient Dimapur crowd, the blond carnivores finally took the stage. And boy, take the stage, did they!

Skinsman Troy Patrick Farrell threw a hitter (or “drumstick”) into the crowd that had a good number of hefty Naga guys clawing at each other. Jamie Law wasn’t behind. After sound-check he flung a plectrum to the fans but, unfortunately the strummer was too thin to actually reach its intended destination so it fell somewhere off. A generous volunteer found it and handed it over to at least about nine pairs of hungry hands.

Bassman EJ Curse – also a singer and bassist for California outfit Silent Rage – looked cool in his Sumi vest so was guitarist Jamie Law – looking all blond, white and eager to rock. Keyboardist Henning Wanner held the fort on his own while backing Mike in the vocal adventures. And drummer Troy made sure he kept the energy of the band supplied.

The band took off with one of their crunchier songs, ‘Lonely Nights’ from the breakthrough album ‘Pride’. Their set was mainly from the albums ‘Pride’ (1987) and Mane Attraction (1991). In the following hour, the band would play up Dimapur’s crowd with almost all the popular numbers White Lion has been attributed to – from the iconic ‘Little Fighter’ (from the Big Game EP) to ‘Love Don’t Come easy’. One of the highlights of the band’s performance was the anthem ‘Hungry’, a rousing number America lapped up eagerly when it was released as the A-side first song on the album ‘Pride’. ‘Hungry’ by its sheer energy, roused the crowd into a higher level of “participation”.

Then came the band’s first ever hit single ‘Wait’ (released 1987 but peaked the charts in February 1988); then came, of course, of course the mandatory ‘When the children cry – and ‘You’re all I need’, the two songs even the dingiest shed in the remotest village in Nagaland has a cassette of. Both WTCC and YAIN were improvised but the fans lapped it up happily. Not to mention of “singing” along.

The about one hour of the band’s set left the crowd raspy and husky after a deafening spell of pure energy and a performance truly worthy of a band in the stature of white Lion. Notwithstanding a stray tune or two from Mike’s singing after a number of songs, and a bit subdued sound for Henning Wanner’s keyboards, the show was truly rousing for the gathered fans. It was a night Dimapur would remember in as much for the music, as it is for the significance of the night of December 16.