Express News Service

The hills were alive with the sounds of music. There was Australian rock-punk band Mannequin Death Squad, getting people to bang heads, and Farhan Akhtar belted out Bollywood hits like Zinda from Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and Sindbad the Sailor from Rock On!!, and a few from his album Echoes. Mohit Chauhan brought the house down with Masakali from Delhi 6 and Naadan Parindey from Rockstar. Arunachal Pradesh, facing the music of a stand-off between China and India, was on a melody roll. The four-day Ziro Music Festival presented by Signature Packaged Drinking Water and hosted by the Apatani tribe took the mind away from such geopolitical nastiness: borders blended as the veena, guitar and drums together celebrate indigenous culture while allowing indie musicians from across the world to have their say and play. 

The rolling green hills and emerald paddy fields that stretch away as far as the eye can see are quintessential Arunachal Pradesh. Lying back on the grass and gazing up at the blue sky along which pillowy white clouds sailing to the notes of music from below was therapy for the senses. The feeling of freedom and non-structured enjoyment was evident as hundreds of patrons at the festival could be seen, sitting or lying down in groups, listening with eyes closed or discussing the artists animatedly. Over the past decade, the festival, started by Delhi-based rock band Menwhopause guitarist Anup Kutty and Festival Director Bobby Hano, has become an annual pilgrimage of sorts. Though it isn’t as large or well-known as Nagaland’s Hornbill Festival, Ziro has struck the right chord.

Image Courtesy: uncut media

Music festivals can be pretty chaotic with sudden changes, delays, artists not showing up and bands not giving their best. Ziro, however, with three performance platforms—Danyi (sun) for the day events, Pwlo (moon), the night stage and the Takvr for techno music—had no such glitches. All 47 indie acts this time were as smooth as a nickel-plated guitar string.

The last decade has seen some talented global artists play at the festival such as Prateek Kuhad, Peter Cat Recording Company, Lee Ranaldo, Acid Mothers Temple, Rabbi Shergill and Steve Shelley among others. This year, the stars of the Ziro galaxy were Mumbai’s hip-hop artist MC Altaf, Arunachali singer-songwriter Taba Chake, Nagaland’s folktronica/folk wave band Run Monday Run, Grammy Award-winner Pt Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Australian indie-rock band Mannequin Death Squad and Eliasse from France: the cliché that there is something for everyone rang true at Ziro. 

With the valley spread out below, the sun kept gate-crashing the performances. Eclectic presentations by a variety of different talents kept attention glued on the stage. Danyi’s performances had Bengali folk artist Goutam Das Baul’s songs, which had people on their feet, tattooing the ground with their steps. Ditto with Uttarakhand’s Himali Mou, whose pahadi folk songs from Jhora, Chanchari, Chapeli, Nyoli and Chaiti were a revelation of a little-known musical oeuvre. The variety at Ziro could have filled a hundred song sheets. Multi-instrumentalist Joydeep Mukherjee’s mastery over the sarod, Mohan Veena and Sursingar and Pt Vishwa Mohan Bhatt’s recital were some of the most-awaited acts at the festival.  

Farhan Akhtar’s performance

Estonian band Puuluup, featuring Ramo Teder and Marco Veisson, looked as serious in their black and white suits as undertakers. But once they began on their talharpas (bowed harps), the stringed lyres came to life. The switch to different disciplines was unsettling, but pleasant. Chennai’s Jatayu reinvented Carnatic music by effortlessly appropriating the tonalities of rock, funk and jazz in a mountainscape where borders were made irrelevant by song. 

The Ziro festival too is bitten by the fad of the day—sustainability. No plastic. No degradable trash. The light fixtures around the festival area, the Danyi and Pwlo stages, and the wine and beer glasses were made from repurposed bamboo. Sharing their philosophy of ‘live good, do good’, Ruchira Jaitly, CMO of the sponsor Diageo India, says, “Through this collaboration, we aim to bring together the tribe of green-seekers who want to be one with nature and propagate the ethos of living consciously.” At one of the most pristine and beautiful places in India, music has been the prevailing consciousness through and through.

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