Task force! The very term has a certain formidable ring. But not in Nagaland where the government’s Music Task Force (MTF) has been setting new agendas since 2006, making the northeastern state quite the Pied Piper for all of India to follow as it nurtures new talent and creativity while working to preserve old folk sounds.
One example of this is the Hornbill Festival, held every December in the heritage village of Kisama, 12 kilometres away from the state capital Kohima, that showcases tribal cultures and customs and plays host to the Hornbill International Rock Contest and music festival that is steadily gaining popularity.
Music has been a treasured legacy of the state, often in the news for its insurgent movement. But the state, which officially recognises music as an industry, is making waves for very different reasons at present. Recognising the role of music in society, the government stepped in to promote music by taking up various measures, including setting up the MTF. Started in 2004 as the Special Task Force to come up with recommendations in the field of music, the MTF in its present avatar was set up in 2006. It focuses on the talent pool in the state and works to make them employable in the sector.
“The focus is mainly on strengthening skills. Then, we work towards building a platform with the help of entrepreneurs and event organisers for gigs and concerts,” says MTF director Gukhabo Chisi. “MTF also forwards institutional support through education and scholarships to ensure that we build a music industry for them to stand on firm ground, and to facilitate their accessibility to the market.”
Nagaland’s religious construct also ensures the promotion of music as a sizeable chunk of the population is Christian. “Traditionally, the church has sustained musicians. But it does not encourage commercialisation. We are working on a ‘handshake’ role to fill this gap,” says Chisi.
The MTF, through scholarships and exchange programmes, has also facilitated agents from foreign countries to visit the state so that homegrown musicians can rub shoulders with the best around the globe. Thanks to the Norwegian government, for instance, Naga musicians have been to Europe for an exchange programme.
And in December last year, the British Council held a seven-day residency where seven musicians from the UK travelled to the state to collaborate with 10 Naga musicians selected by the MTF. The interaction culminated in performances in Dimapur and at the Hornbill Festival. Alobo Naga of the gospel rock outfit Alobo Naga and the Band, one of the most successful musicians to come out of the state, is thankful to MTF.
“When I left my job in 2010 to start my musical career from scratch, the government gave me a scholarship to go to Rock School, London. MTF is sending musicians to schools, buying them equipment and supporting gigs financially. Musicians like me could not have asked for more,” says Alobo. His band went on to win the Best Indian Act at the MTV Europe Music Awards in 2012.
The conflict between the old and the new is a factor here as well.
With the easier acceptance of contemporary Western music, sustaining Nagaland’s traditional and folk music still remains a tough task. According to Moa of the Grammy-nominated Abiogenesis band, who was offered financial help by the MTF to invent the banhu, a wind instrument made out of bamboo, folk music needs more work, as do original compositions.
“Abiogeneis was one of the first four bands that MTF extended financial support to. MTF sent us to Mumbai in 2008 to display the banhu, and in 2012 helped us upgrade our recording studio. A lot of musicians from the state have benefited from MTF’s efforts, especially amateur bands. But there needs to be greater emphasis on original music,” says the musician.
Sorting out these problems may not be so tough after all. For, in Nagaland, the tuning has already begun. And the music plays on.