|A poster of the TV show The Dewarists and (above) Akhu Chingambam in Imphal
Calcutta, Oct. 31: Akhu Chingambam was everywhere. Writing poetry, hunting for unpublished poets in Manipur, singing his verses in Delhi, on university campuses, in edgy concerts, co-publishing the journal Our Private Literature, all with words of angst that took Tiddim Road and stayed with him always.
And for those who missed the poet/musician/ singer/physicist from Manipur on the streets with his guitar, mouth organ and signature tickling humour, he will be on primetime television soon, collaborating with the British band Asian Dub Foundation in the second season of The Dewarists.
The Dewarists, an avant garde musical travelogue on Star World, finished their first season early this year featuring music personalities like Imogen Heap, the Vishal-Shekhar duo, Angaraag Papon Mahanta, Rabbi Shergil and Rewben Mashangva.
The immensely popular show also won a Bronze Lion for ‘Best Non-Fiction Programme, Series or Film’ in the branded content and entertainment lions’ category at the 59th Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.
The Dewarists have also earned the reputation of catching musicians unawares with pleasant surprises. Akhu was one such.
“I think I am lucky. I was asked if I am interested being in The Dewarists Season 2. I immediately said yes. I was very happy to be paired with the Asian Dub Foundation. I guess they paired me with them for the similarity in the soul of our music — politics.”
Manish Seth, director sales and marketing, Bacardi India, closely associated with the show, confirms Akhu’s surmise. “Akhu has had an inspiring journey, and his lyrics, with its themes of protest, blend perfectly with Asian Dub Foundation’s politically charged music. The episode featuring these artistes will be one to look out for,” he said.
What also made Akhu happy was that the video was shot entirely in Manipur. “I am obsessed with Imphal, that’s why I chose the name Imphal Talkies for the band I am a part of. This obsession is perhaps because I only get to stay there for one month in a year,” he said.
The obsession, though, is marked by gloom. The hurt of one’s love being ravaged. “My inspiration is Imphal and agonies of poverty,” Akhu says. His songs are about rights activist Binayak Sen, about historic betrayals, about poverty and inequality in the country and draconian laws.
His passion has led him to love the works of Bengal’s radical poet Nazrul Islam. “It was when I discovered Manipuri poets from the sixties, like Thangjam Ibopishak, Shri Biren, Yumlembam Ibomcha, I also discovered Nazrul. It was an important stage in my life as I was searching for my own medium to create and express my emotions.”
In fact, his collaborators Asian Dub Foundation share this love. The song Rebel Warrior from their first released CD album, Facts and Fictions, was inspired by Nazrul’s poem Bidrohi.
Like Nazrul, the angst in Akhu is never betrayed by civil subtlety. His line, “India I see blood in your hands,” puts across his credo clearly. He writes what he sees.
So what was born out of this collaboration of the rebel musicians of the east and west?
“Asian Dub Foundation is a loud band, so the song is going to be real loud. It is kind of a fusion of traditional instruments and modern beats,” Akhu said.
Careful not to disclose too much about the episode, he takes recourse to humour. “The rest is a secret. Not my secret, a Dewarists’ secret. I can disclose that it will be on television by the end of this month. You can catch it there,” he said.
In fact you just can’t miss the lighter side of Akhu. Lines like “There she sat amidst the exodus, very unhappy with her nail polish colour,” is signature Akhu.
He disclosed a Holi secret. “It was supposed to be nice and playful. We were in school. Some of us were chasing a girl scared of colours. It turned out she was a boxer. She smashed us. She was very cruel,” he said. But added that he was spared the blows.
“People hardly noticed me. I was spared of all such experiences.”
After The Dewarists, one wonders if he will be able to say that anymore.