Akhu Chingangbam: “If born into a peaceful place, I would be happy reading Neruda”
In an age where there are memes about complicated corporate-speak, there is something endearing about being simple and straightforward. Probably, this is what gives power to the music of Ronid Chingangbam, the main man behind Manipur-based contemporary folk project Imphal Talkies and the Howlers aka Imphal Talkies.
“I don’t know how to make things abstract, I don’t find purpose in it. Life is too short to beat around the bush. I say what I want to—nasty or nice,” says Ronid, who is popularly known by his stage name Akhu.
The folk appeal of their simple lyrics and awareness to write music that protests social and political injustice done in Manipur has pricked the conscience of people around the world.
In fact, their songs like Eche (a tribute to activist Irom Sharmila) and Fake Encounter (lashing out at extrajudicial killings) were also used by the Indian chapter of the popular human-rights organisation Amnesty International in their campaigns. We speak to the vocalist and guitarist as they play their first show in Kerala this weekend.
In a way, Imphal Talkies is a project that came out of necessity. “I’m a musician by accident. If I was born into a peaceful place, I would not have anything to sing about. I would be happy reading Pablo Neruda’s poems,” says the physicist-turned-musician.
“Moving to Delhi for college, I got a bird’s eye view of what was happening back home. Growing up in Imphal (where Armed Forces Special Powers Act and insurgency has perpetuated an unrestful situation) we thought gunfire, killings and missing people were ‘normal’. It was an eye-opening moment for me when I got into poetry and music,” he says.
Besides forming the band in 2008, he also dug into Meitei (an ethnic group) poetry and took inspiration from the verses written in the ’60s and ’70s.
As evident in the name of the band which is inspired by a movie theatre, Akhu has a strong love for the capital city of Manipur. Understanding that representing Imphal needs a little more than just western chords, the band has blended the folk music of Manipur with soft rock.
“I can’t quantify my influences, but they come from the way we grew up—listening to folk music on the radio and attending local celebrations,” he says. Their recordings—released as three albums Tiddim Road (2009), When The Home Is Burning (2014), Maria & the Flower Child (2017) and many singles—also feature the native string instrument pena, alongside guitars and harmonica.
“We were planning to release our fourth album, Ema gi Wari: Stories of My Mother, in January when the protests against the Citizenship Bill erupted in full force. So, we’re releasing it this month and will perform some songs for Kochi alongside older ones like Lullaby and Qutab Minar,” informs the 37-year-old, who will play in the city with a smaller lineup featuring Irom Singthoi and Pebam Amarjit.