Fighting insurgency, with guitar
In battle-scarred Nagaland, guns have often done all the talking. After decades of bloodshed, this frontier state has discovered guitars are better in communicating.
Almost every state in India boasts of a Special Task Force to combat criminals, brigands, Naxalites, jihadis or rebels. Nagaland has one too, but its soldiers are armed with musical instruments to fight "other" wars. Like the one against famine-causing rats in Mizoram.
Formed in August 2004, the Special Task Force for Music was envisaged to help violence-affected young Nagas "find employment and a better life". A wing under the state's Sports and Youth Affairs Department, this task force has now taken its fight beyond the boundaries of Nagaland.
Earlier this month, the STF for Music went on the 'Pied Piper' mission to Mizoram, reeling under 'mautam' or famine induced by rats that multiply after gorging on aphrodisiac bamboo fruits. "Our solo singers and bands did not emulate the Hamelin piper in luring the rats into a watery grave, but they helped provide Rs 20 lakh to combat the vermin," STF for Music director Ghukhato Chishi told HT.
According to Chishi, growing up with music is a Naga way of life. However, while most Naga boys and girls have a natural ability to sing or play a range of instruments, they usually take to music as a hobby.
"In a geographically disadvantaged and troubled state like Nagaland, where jobs are to come by, we wanted to turn the Naga passion for music into a profession that could provide employment to many," Chishi said. "Employment usually takes care of anger, which foments violence in the region."
The STF for Music subsequently went talent scouting, picking up musicians and providing them exposure trips across the country. And in a bid to institutionalize the Naga tradition of music, the government set up a Centre for Excellence for Music and Performing Arts at Jotsoma near here. Equipped with music labs, recording studios and a library, this centre is expected to produce its first batch of Naga musicians in 2009.
For the time being, the STF is concentrating on western music. "Nagas are more attuned to rock, reggae, rap, jazz and what have you. But we do want our musicians to be in sync with Indian music, particularly the kind that will help them make a mark in Bollywood." Chishi said.