In Conversation With Naga Folk-Fusion Outfit Abiogenesis On their New Song Up On The Mountains, And More
Usually, when we write about bands, there is a sense of urgency to introduce the outfit/artist ASAP. But with Abiogenesis we take a different path and tell you why outfits like these should be pulled into the limelight. Also, there are times when artists push you to experience music not just through your senses, but through your soul, and Abiogenesis, a Dimapur-based folk-fusion outfit nudged us in that direction.
Here is why they should be revered. Did you know, Abiogenesis is among the few groups in India that have invented instruments to add to their sound—namely, the Bamhum and the Tikzik. Interestingly, guitar player, Moa Subong was awarded the National Award for the creation of the Bamhum in March, this year by the President of India. The band also has their own genre of music they like to call Howey Music. Further, their album Aeon Spell (2007) was nominated for the 50th Grammy Awards in the Best Contemporary World Music Album of the Year category, which is really something.
They started in the early 90s and the love for music and creating things (music or otherwise), is what keeps them going—and this is why we gravitated toward them. We will not talk about their music because that’s what binds all of this together!
We catch us with guitar player and inventor Moa Subong, who tells us more about the journey of Abiogenesis, his musical inventions, releasing their song Up On The Mountains through Songdew, and more.
How and why did you form Abiogenesis? Could you give us a brief back story of how you folks got together?
Before the advent of Abiogenesis, Arenla (my wife) and I (Moa) use to perform as a duo. While we were recording an album at Studio Vibration, Kolkata, the Regional Manager Shashi Menon of Magnasound came to know about it. He approached us and insisted that our album was released through them. Thus our album titled Rapture was released by Magnasound, one of India’s major music labels at that time and also making it the first English album by an Indian artiste to be released by their label. The backing musicians were Shiva, a well-known Indian band way back then. Magnasound made the duo tie up with 5th Dimension of Kolkata for an East India tour to promote the album in 1990. During the recording and the tour, we realised that rehearsing was a big hurdle when the backing band and we stayed in different places. Thereafter, we decided to form a band comprising of musicians from Nagaland. Thus, Abiogenesis was born.
Abiogenesis was one among the five bands to be shortlisted for Songdew Fresh. How did you come to know about the contest, and why did you think it would be a good idea to apply to something like this?
We came to know about it through email and posts by Songdew on social media and we thought it would be a good platform to release our music from an established music firm like Songdew.
You recently released your song Up On The Mountains through Songdew. Could you take us through the songwriter process, recording and then shooting the video—fun and memorable moments that you might recall?
I was trying out a new tune on my acoustic guitar one fine day when Arenla called out and said, “Moa that’s a good tune, why don’t you pen it down.” That’s how it began. We recorded and mastered the song at our studio and it was edited and mixed by Sosang at Music Bakery. The starting lines Ororo is an Ao-Naga (India) exclamation to draw attention/cheer. Tikzik, the new bamboo percussion with multiple sounds is played in the beginning and between breaks, and the Bamhum, the new wind bamboo musical instrument that can be played instantly is played before the guitar solo.
Besides the band, the music video also features cultural dances by Kuyingong Cultural Society, Dimapur and a couple Alex Murry and Marjo. It’s a collaboration of various production houses and videographers from Dimapur like Tinted Lights Studio, Menang Jamir, Abiogenesis Films, Akum Aier, and Supong Al and directed by Arenla Subong.
Abiogenesis is a catchy name, how did you decide on the title and what does it mean?
Abiogenesis means the evolution of life or living organisms from lifeless matter. When the band was formed in 1991, many youngsters were hooked to drugs including fellow musicians and many regarded them as lifeless or living dead. We found it apt to name the band Abiogenesis as our mission was to give messages through our songs to deliver them from these bad habits and make them live normal lives. The present youngsters in Nagaland are more inclined to Western music and in turn, our culture has unfortunately become more of lifeless to them and as such they have less or no knowledge of our rich cultural heritage. We thought we should reverse these trends through our music. So we have incorporated the elements of the past with our music to make it modern and appealing so that it would arouse interest to them.
Could you tell us a little about your genre of music that you call Howey Music? What is it and how did you come up with a classification like this?
Abiogenesis started off as a rock band playing both originals and covers. But Arenla and I always felt that something was amiss. We always talked about having our own sound and identity. That’s how we started experimenting and finally evolved Howey Music. Howey Music and the Bamhum gave us what we were looking for. Howey Music is a fusion of Naga and other Indian folk with various forms of modern music. This is our unique speciality; we create Indigenous and tribal sound in the most modern way making it exotic and beautiful to listen to, a sound never heard before. Each and every song or music explains the untold stories of Nagaland. It is not only entertaining but also a learning experience.
Credits to you, your band is also known for construction its own instruments like the Bamhum and the Tikzik. How did these instruments come about—could you give us a little insight on their origin stories and why do you think they fit in your outfit and how they affect the band’s sound?
As they say, “Necessity is the Mother of all inventions.” When my wife Arenla was appointed Guru to teach Folk Music and theatre by North East Zone Cultural Centre, MOC, we looked for a Naga traditional musical instrument to play for her compositions but we couldn’t find any that could play all notes and most were percussions only. Guitar, violin, piano and more sounded too western. This triggered and gave me the idea that I should develop something that could be played instantly with an indigenous sound. Thus with many trials and errors, the Bamhum was born. The Bamhum is a wind bamboo musical instrument and it was unveiled by the then Governor of Meghalaya MM Jacob at the International Bamboo Fest on 3rd May, 2005 at Shillong. It can be played instantly even by a novice. I am happy to also let you know that I received the National Award from the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee at the Rashtrapati Bhawan on 4th March, 2017 for this invention. Tikzik was also invented through circumstances. When NETV wanted to shoot an unplugged song at the countryside, it gave me an idea to make a bamboo percussion so that our drummer would play it instead of the drums. Tizkzik has four different sounds.
Do you really think platforms like Songdew help independent outfits like yours? Comment.
Yes, that is why we are letting Songdew release our music.
We also found out that your wife is also a playwright. Could you tell a little about her upcoming book Wings Of Passion? What is the book based on—themes and storylines that the readers should know about? And what pushed you to pen it down?
Indeed, she is. Besides music, acting, directing and writing dramas is her big passion. She won the Best Actress award in the N.E.H.U. Inter College competition comprising of all seven North Eastern states for her stellar role as Maharini of Arakan. Best Direction Award in the Inter School competition at Mokokchung Representing EKG School in the year 1984 organised by Rockdale Club in Mokokchung. And yes, she is the founder of Naga Howey musical theatre/drama. She has written, acted and directed two Howey Musicals (theatre) titled Lichaba’s Daughter and Sojourn of the Ahom Prince In Naga Hills. Both the dramas were sponsored by NEZCC, Ministry of Culture, Govt. of India, Big Time Buddies, an HIV/AIDS awareness feature film sponsored by Nagaland State AIDS Control Society, Govt. of Nagaland in 2003 and Adapting to Change, a drama written for Dimapur Mangmetong Student Union which was staged by them and won the Best Drama Award in the Drama competition at Mangmetong. Lichaba’s Daughter was also made into a feature film and was selected as one of the three films from India to be screened at The Days of Ethnographic Cinema Festival in Moscow in 2012.
Wings Of Passion is a compilation of these four dramas which will be released by Heritage Publishing House soon.
Your album Aeon Spell (2007) was nominated for the 50th Grammy Awards in the Best Contemporary World Music Album of the Year category. How did the nominations happen? Could you give us a little insight on this particular milestone for yours, please?
Our album Aeon Spell released by Saregama in 2007 was only listed for nominations (pre-nomination) in the 50th Grammy Awards which many tabloids wrote as nominated. But still, we are happy that we had gone even this far as not many bands from India have done so.
What is the face of indie folk music in India like in 2017? (especially something that comes from the North-Eastern states)
Indie Folk/Fusion music has made big inroads these last few years in India with many bands taking up this genre. This is a good sign as this kind of music portrays and identities the rich and diverse cultural heritage of India. North East itself has many well-known folk fusion bands.
Plans for the future?
The year 2017 has proved to be a very fruitful for Abiogenesis. We got the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Music on 26th January followed by another bigger prize on 4th March (the National Award). We have released two singles along with their music videos. We have two more huge projects to implement this year itself. One is to make a feature Howey Musical film for which Arenla has already written the script and the other is to upgrade our studios into a centre for performing arts and crafts. It is a project for multi skill development and training centre in the field of entertainment.
Watch the video of Up On The Mountains below.
Arenla Subong – Vocals, Lead Bamhum, Tikzik
Moa Subong – Bamhum, Guitars, Harmonica, Tikzik
Meren – Bass
Aso Yim – Drums, Percussions, Tikzik.
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