Lou Majaw
Lou MajawPhoto courtesy: Baluk

Rock singer Lou Majaw on the soundscape of Northeast

In this chat, the legend takes us through his musical journey, what Bob Dylan means to him, and the music scene in the North East.

If you happen to be in Shillong on a Friday, do take some time out to visit Dylan’s Cafe on Risa Colony Road to witness the 77-year-old rockstar Lou Majaw in his trademark denim shorts, mismatched socks, leather wrist bands, and guitar, celebrating Bob Dylan with his heart and soul.

Any search for creative geniuses and cultural icons in North East India is incomplete without acknowledging Majaw’s huge musical contribution. In this chat, the legend takes us through his musical journey, what Bob Dylan means to him, and the music scene in the North East.

Excerpts:

Q

What made you fall in love with Bob Dylan?

A

Listening to his songs and reading his writings means a lot. And that’s how it got me going in the mid-’60s. He’s been sort of a guiding light, and going back to reading his writings time and again guides me. You might ask that if there are lots of other authors, poets, and lyricists, then why only Dylan? That’s because he was always more meaningful to me. I also have immense respect for Frank Zappa.

Q

Was it only Bob Dylan or your love for rock music too that you chose to become a singer?

A

It’s surely the love for music. It’s a joy that music imparts...it brings hope, and it comforts me. Music is life for me. But because I’m a simple man, I don’t go for anything heavy-duty, whatever it is.

Q

We find North Eastern musicians mostly singing Western music. Why do you think that’s the case?

A

Since Western music is written and performed in English, it’s easier and more comfortable to relate to. Most Northeast Indian musicians tend to adopt that, the only exception being Arunachal Pradesh, which is a Hindi speaking state. In states like Meghalaya, Nagaland, or Mizoram, besides their languages, English is the second-most spoken language.

Q

What does the Northeast Indian music scene look like right now?

A

It has become popular. Earlier, it was only country music, or rock and roll. But then, as the years went by, people got into classical music. Not that classical music was not there, it was very much there, especially in Shillong. But now, its reach has widened greatly. I guess it’s just keeping up with the genres. They also practise hard rock and metal. And then, rap. Whatever’s happening in the rest of the world, they adapt to it.

Q

So, it’s not just the language, but also the influence of Western music?

A

Oh yes. From folk to jazz, blues, rock n’ roll to rap, everything.

Q

It has been a long journey of five decades as a singer-performer — how has it been?

A

It’s good and I’m still surviving. I’m still enjoying what I do. Playing a guitar, singing a couple of songs, for 30 minutes, one hour, or 90 minutes — it brings me joy. It’s what I’ve been doing, and it’s what I will always be doing.

Q

What changes in Northeastern music have you noticed?

A

Right now, they are exploring all genres of music, whatever is happening in the music world. There are a few lyricists too, who are doing a great job. But what has grown to be problematic are the audiences.

When I started singing, the mindset of the people was clear, and they were peaceful. But now it has changed. I mean, we all look for a change, but we have to change for the better, for the goodness.

During our youth, we didn’t have all these festivals. We used to have a variety of shows, which were more like concerts, where individuals, a duo, a trio or four or five people used to sing from 7 in the evening to as late as 2 at night. People were just there enjoying the music, the dances, and whatever was happening.

But nowadays, it’s so difficult to have that kind of atmosphere. Now, if you visit a restaurant or a bar, where there’s a live music performance, maybe only four or five of the patrons present will truly be there for the music. The rest of them are there just to hang out and chill. And I find that to be ugly

Q

Isn’t that the same everywhere now?

A

Not everywhere. I have also been performing in Kolkata, where people aren’t glued to their cell phones during a show. They take it out only to click pictures. They always join in to enjoy the music. That is the beauty of the City of Joy. You also find such devoted listeners in some areas around Delhi, and a few patches in Goa.

Q

You have often been referred to as the Bob Dylan of India. Do you feel like it is a huge responsibility?

A

Yeah, my gosh! Bob Dylan is one of the greatest lyricists, and to even live around the same time as him is a blessing. Coming to what I am referred to as, I feel that just because I respect Dylan, not just as a man, but as a singer, and lyricist, people have started addressing me like that. I don’t know... I just find it very funny.

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