Manipur Magic: Indie music you need to hear
Editor’s note: Indian indie music is sadly dominated with music out of metros like Delhi, Bengaluru and Mumbai. This weekend, veteran music journalist Anurag Tagat introduces you to everything you’ve been missing out on—picking tracks from the vibrant music scene in Manipur. BTW, we have created a handy playlist with all the tracks below on splainer’s Youtube channel.
Written by: Anurag Tagat is an independent music journalist, an assistant editor at Rolling Stone India and regular contributor to A Humming Heart, The Hindu, Red Bull India, Vogue India, NCPA OnStage and several more. His work has appeared in Billboard, Variety, Vice India, Revolver, Rolling Stone Japan, India Today, The Caravan, HT Mint Lounge, Rock Street Journal and Askmen India. You can follow him on Instagram here.
It’s important that independent music in India extends to emphasise on the very freedoms they have to speak about and against the injustices they see, experience or want to amplify. Since May—when violence broke out in the state of Manipur in Northeast India—the rest of the country remains somewhat muted spectators, unable to grasp the full extent of the unrest. Whether it’s decades of folk stories or recent shoegaze and indie rock, we’ve rounded up what Manipuri artists have been doing in recent times.
‘The Land’ by Meewakching: Inspired by indie-rock artists like The Strokes, Meewakching — whose name is entirely made up and doesn’t translate to anything in Manipuri — released a very timely and pertinent EP called ‘The Land’ at the end of August. Songs like ‘Of Murder and Mayhem’, ‘Absolute Minority’ and ‘Motorik Rhetorik’ traverse choppy math-rock and angsty punk lyrics about how they’ve got here.
The band recently performed two shows in Guwahati and New Delhi to raise funds for relief efforts being made back in their hometown Imphal and other areas affected by the unrest.
‘Bajrang Bali’ by Hoirong: Out in Bangalore, Kamal Singh—formerly of Lounge Piranha—started Hoirong as a punk and noise rock project, releasing their debut album in 2013. All he did was plug his guitar into his laptop and program some raw drum beats to go with it. A highlight remains ‘Bajrang Bali’, a wry and seemingly random but sarcastic take on chants and jingoism.
Outside of music, Singh is a practising music therapy specialist. To that end, he is offering a "non-invasive support program for children and adults affected by the ongoing violence and forced displacement caused by the current situation in Manipur".
‘Another Divine Joke’ by Lo! Peninsula: Released in 2018 as their debut EP, the Imphal-based trio’s ‘AKA Lo! Peninsula’ was instantly memorable within Indian indie circles and abroad after being featured on channels like KEXP. The EP’s opening song ‘Another Divine Joke’ talks about isolation, deceit and finding one’s way through a dream-like haze of psychedelic rock and shoegaze.
Lo! Peninsula's Nitin Shamurailatpam recently wrote about how the band has received an offer to play at a long-running college fest in Mumbai but had to decline because of the ongoing strife.
‘Kwakta Lamjel’ by Ereimang: At the start of 2023, one of the newer voices to emerge from Manipur was actually put together by Singh from Hoirong and Shamurailatpam and drummer Jyotin Elangbam from Lo! Peninsula. Describing their sonic style as “animism” and “naturecore”, their first single was ‘Kwakta Lamjel,’ which incorporated the string instrument known as the pena, going over crunchy, hypnotic riffs.
A telling that incorporates messages about nature, life and death—‘Kwakta Lamjel’ is transformative work from this supergroup.
‘Lullaby’ by Akhu/The Imphal Talkies & The Howlers: Committed to the cause of singing for children around the world in conflict zones, Akhu Chingangbam’s song ‘Lullaby’ is more like a wake-up call to anybody listening. Placing the blame often on the government of India, Chingangbam says quite bluntly as the song crescendo: “Our constitution has nothing for me/All you do is kill my innocence.”
Deservedly compared to the likes of Bob Dylan, Chingangbam has been a vocal supporter for Manipur and its people. With The Howlers, we recommend you check out their entire discography to understand why unrest has been a constant in the region.
‘Eigi Ei Oidaba’ by Atingkok: Inspired by Meitei mythology, indie/experimental/alternative rock band Atingkok recently released their song and music video for ‘Eigi Ei Odaba’ earlier in 2023. Told through the lens of contemporary dance in 2023, the song serves as a larger idea about storytelling that we’ll hear in their album ‘2050’.