No introduction can do justice to Lou Majaw if you have not seen him perform. This Forever Young (and forever shorts-wearing) singer from Shillong, who is turning sweet 70 next year, is a legend in the North East. And much like other treasures of the region, this hugely talented singer/songwriter/guitarist, is still largely undiscovered by the rest of India.
Apart from his own songs, this Bob Dylan enthusiast (he refuses to call himself a ‘fan’) is known for his covers and tribute shows of the Nobel Prize winner. His annual concert to celebrate Dylan’s birthday, which he started as a small local gig in Shillong in 1972 is today a converging point for Dylan lovers from across the globe. We caught up with the man at a recent literature festival in Mumbai. Excerpts:
How did Bob Dylan happen to you?
I did not grow up listening to Dylan. It was mostly Jim Reeves, Tom Jones, Elvis Presley and The Beatles back then. It was after I moved to Calcutta that things changed. I was at a friend’s house partying when I first heard Blowing in the Wind. And I was blown away by the lyrics. Back then, I had no clue who Bob Dylan was! That single song got me to him and changed my life.
You are such a huge Dylan fan; why haven’t you still met him?
I am not a fan of Bob Dylan. Lou Majaw is beyond a ‘fan’. My respect for Bob Dylan is as a lyricist. Not as a man or a star. I am neither besotted with his looks nor bedazzled by his charisma. I celebrate the strength of his writing, the depth of his lyrics.
As for not meeting him…I don’t have the money to travel to the US to meet him! (laughs)
What is your take on people criticising the decision to bestow him with a Nobel Prize in literature?
People today just want to criticise something or the other. Most of the time, they themselves don’t know why they are criticizing something. To understand Dylan and the depth and magnitude of his work, you need to understand life first. And that is not an easy task.
Do you consider him a chronicler of American history?
To say he sings for America or of America would be a wrong analysis. That would be Woody Guthrie, who was of course one of Dylan’s source of inspiration in his early days. Bob Dylan is a folk singer. His songs not only chronicle the history of America but speak of the people of the world. He talks about protests, political issues as passionately as he talks about personal feelings and emotion. His being an American is only incidental. He belongs to the world. That is the beauty of Bob Dylan.
What was that one thing that drew you to Dylan and got you hooked?
It has to be the lyrical depth of his writings. Also, he is more of a songwriter than a singer. He bares his soul when he writes. Also, there are so many layers that you can savour. To me Dylan is a daily process, a habit even. Every day we breathe the same air but every day it is different. It is the same with listening to Dylan.
Do you think Bob Dylan is still relevant and popular among the youth today?
He talks about every aspect of life, about every emotion. As long as we have the same emotions his songs will be relevant. Whether you are in love, or out of love, there is always a Bob Dylan song for you. When your love life is in a shambles, what better album to put on loop than Blood on the Tracks?
But yes, most kids today don’t listen to him because they don’t like his voice. They are more into nice sweet soft voices. They are not looking for the depth or the quality of lyrics. But how long can you keep listening to ‘I love you, you love me’? You have to go beyond that after a certain point.
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