Remote Indian state becomes rock music hub

Updated 25 June 2012
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Remote Indian state becomes rock music hub

In the far north east of India, cut off from the rest of the country except via a narrow land bridge, perhaps the only way to make yourself heard is loud, really loud, rock music.
For White Fire’s drummer Elangbam Kumar, that explains why their cover version of the Guns N’Roses song “Welcome To The Jungle” has become an anthem for the band and a big hit with their fans in the remote state of Manipur.
The state, which is 1,000 miles (1,700 kilometers) from the capital New Delhi, borders on Myanmar and has struggled for decades with separatist violence, a society divided among competing tribes and grinding poverty.
It is also an unlikely hub for rock and heavy metal music, boasting a burgeoning festival scene and local stars who have defied social and cultural boundaries to pursue their music.
“All my pain and angst found an outlet in this genre of music. It is the attitude and the lyrics which are the biggest draw for us,” 32-year-old Kumar, his tattooed biceps bulging out of a tight T-shirt, said.
Kumar first started playing music at college in the city of Bangalore, where he watched MTV and hung out with students from across India who were into the “head-banging” style of the West.
“There is something raw, rebellious and pure about rock. You can express yourself freely,” he explains, adjusting drums in his makeshift practice room decorated with posters of US heavy metal bands Coal Chamber and Slipknot.
“Life here is so frustrating with all the restrictions on us. The entire system makes me angry. The army can stop you on any pretext, unemployment is so high, and we lag behind other states in every way.” Kumar’s passion reflects the feelings of many young Manipuris, who often leave to go to bigger cities for higher education and jobs but then tend to drift back to their home state.
For them, rock music is a statement against India’s mainstream culture, which seems alien and imposed by national authorities. The backstreets of the state capital Imphal are packed with small recording studios and music shops.
Many Manipuris feel that the concept of being “of India” in any meaningful sense is one they find difficult to entertain with a sense of isolation that is not just geographical, but also ethnic, linguistic, economic and political.
Such alienation is common in a number of the “Seven Sisters” — the group of northeastern states encircled by four other countries and connected to the rest of India by a sliver of land that arches over Bangladesh.
The earliest rock influences arrived in Manipur via Thailand and the rest of southeast Asia over the border into India from Myanmar, known as Burma before 1989.
“Back in the early 1980s, the gateway to the world lay to the east,” remembers Vivek Konsam, who runs Riverboat, an event-management company in Imphal.
“Second-hand copies of The Rolling Stone magazine, a few tapes of boot-legged concert videos and pirated audio cassettes made their way in through Myanmar,” he says.
Youngsters, often unemployed and idle, easily related to the hard-hitting lyrics and ear-splitting sounds.
“It struck an instant chord with them and that got passed on to the next generation. Music is in our blood now,” says Konsam, who has converted an outhouse of his bungalow into a smart session space available to rent.
Konsam has been organizing rock festivals in Imphal and has seen their popularity grow with each edition.
“When we started out a couple of years ago, there were just two or three local bands. Now that number has swelled to about 20. Attendance at these concerts has also been growing to several hundred,” he says.
But it is not easy in a city like Imphal, which closes down by 7:00 p.m. every evening and has just a handful of cinemas showing old Manipuri films due to threats by separatist rebels to attack screenings of Bollywood movies.





Alvina Gonson, a tribal Christian and one of the rock pioneers of the state, said she had to fight against officialdom to get her singing career on track.
“There are two parallel governments in Manipur — the Indian government and the rebels. We are caught in between,” said the 30-year-old, whose talent and blonde good looks have made her a local star, defying cultural barriers.
“There are a lot of restrictions on women here. People don’t appreciate women stepping out of their homes and mingling with the opposite sex. Singing rock is not considered lady-like,” she said.
“It is not safe for women to hang around alone after dusk.” Manipur’s situation is complicated by the fact that myriad rebel groups are largely formed on tribal or ethnic lines with rival agendas that regularly erupt into bloody internecine disputes.
Gonson, who was brought up by her single mother and writes and composes her own songs in English, says she refuses to fear anyone. “I can stop them but they can’t stop me.” She began by performing for close friends and family. Word soon spread and she was invited by schools and colleges to perform for their functions.
Then, in 2006, she was asked by rebels to give a performance at their jungle hideout.
“I was scared at first but decided to go. I took my mom with me. The rebels loved my performances, they danced with guns in their hands and kept asking for more.
“No rebel group has tried to harm me ever since,” said Gonson, adding that she also performs for soldiers in army barracks.
“I understand the feelings of both sides,” she said. “I pray for eternal peace for my motherland. ”


KSA grants $84.7bn in aid to 79 countries: KSRelief chief

Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, general supervisor of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief), speaks at the University of Warsaw on Saturday. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 53 min 10 sec ago
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KSA grants $84.7bn in aid to 79 countries: KSRelief chief

  • Al-Rabeeah said that KSRelief was running a program to rehabilitate Yemeni children recruited by the Houthi militias

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia has given $84.7 billion in foreign aid to 79 countries between 1996-2018, according to Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, general supervisor of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief).
Al-Rabeeah highlighted Saudi Arabia’s contributions to international humanitarian and relief work, and said that the Kingdom had saved millions of people from conflicts and crises, regardless of their religion or ethnicity.
Al-Rabeeah was speaking during a seminar on the Kingdom’s humanitarian efforts at the University of Warsaw on Saturday, in the presence of Saudi Ambassador to Poland Mohammed Madani, Ambassador of Yemen to Poland Mervat Majali, and officials of the Foreign Ministry of Poland.
The royal decree establishing KSRelief was issued on May 13, 2015. Since then, it has carried out 482 projects in 42 countries worth $924,553,000. About 86 percent of the projects have been allocated to Yemen with a value of $659,271,000.
Al-Rabeeah said that the center implemented 206 projects for women worth $341,481,000, as well as 171 projects for children worth $504,962,000.
He added that the Kingdom had taken in 561,911 Yemeni refugees, 283,449 Syrian refugees and 249,669 refugees from Myanmar, the equivalent of 5.36 percent of the population of Saudi Arabia, putting it in second place internationally in terms of the number of refugees accepted.
Al-Rabeeah said that total Saudi assistance to Yemen since 2015 had reached $11.18 billion, noting that KSRelief has carried out 294 projects in Yemen in partnership with 80 UN and international and local NGOs.
Al-Rabeeah said that the response of KSRelief to the appeal by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF for $66.7 million to combat the cholera epidemic in Yemen, as well as the projects allocated by KSRelief for women in Yemen from 2015 to date, amounted to 132 projects valued at $281,457,000. There have been 136 projects for children worth $469,867,000.
He highlighted that the Saudi project for mine clearance in Yemen, “Masam,” had been conducted by more than 400 people working in 32 teams within Yemeni territory during the preparation phase, and five specialized teams for rapid intervention, benefiting 9 million beneficiaries.
The costs of the project amounted to $40 million in the governorates of Marib, Aden, Taiz and Sanaa. More than 1 million land mines had been planted in Yemen, more than the number planted in World War II, he said.
Al-Rabeeah said that KSRelief was running a program to rehabilitate Yemeni children recruited by the Houthi militias, who use them as human shields. KSRelief is rehabilitating and providing care for 2,000 children through social, psychological, cultural and sports programs.