Nagaland's Hornbill Music Festival scales up operations to include Indian rock giants, rising indie artists
This year’s Hornbill Music Festival lineup includes Indus Creed, Girish and the Chronicles, Swarathma and Alobo Naga and the Band, and Dualist Inquiry.
On a characteristically Nagaland day – one where the clouds settle into the hilly landscape but also clear the way for sunlight – Task Force for Music and Arts (TaFMA) advisor Theja Meru has a verdant view of it all from his office.
You can gaze at the horizon endlessly, but over at the Regional Centre of Excellence for Music and Performing Arts (RCEMPA), Meru is hard at work to plan an all-new Hornbill Music Festival, to be held from 1-10 December in Kohima and Dimapur. "We wanted to rehash the whole event to go beyond the competition and turn into a fully experiential music festival," says Meru.
Meru, part of the erstwhile Music Task Force, is referring to the long-running Hornbill Rock Contest. Active since the mid-2000s and giving away cash prizes that amounted to Rs 10 lakh, TaFMA and Hornbill felt that it was time to move away from the competition format. “As per my observation, in the last few years, the competition was held over four days and we’d get the most footfall on the last day. It was thinning out on the other days. That was an indication of sorts, that maybe it’s not getting the traction it deserves in terms of the cost we’re putting in, the investment," explains Meru.
In the hope of drawing a sizeable crowd every night, the Hornbill Music Festival is now scaling up to include performances at the Kisama Heritage Village in Kohima district, the Agri Expo grounds in Dimapur as well as cafes, restaurants and hotels in Kohima. "We thought, Why not [hold the festival] every night if we can get a crowd like the finale? It makes sense in terms of people enjoying the music and giving a boost to the local economy – people come, stay, have a great time and leave."
This year’s lineup includes heavy hitters of Indian rock such as Indus Creed, Girish and the Chronicles, Swarathma and Alobo Naga and the Band, electronic music producer Dualist Inquiry, plus rising indie artists like When Chai Met Toast, electronic/jazz act Ape Echoes, rock band Perfect Strangers, folk and fusion bands such as Divine Connection, Indonesian DJ Lil Bomb and more. In place of the rock contest, there’s the Ticket to Hornbill band competition which picked one band from 11 districts in Nagaland, plus winners of inaugural editions in Mumbai (instrumental rock band Across Seconds), Delhi (singer-songwriter Sanjeeta Bhattacharya) and Bangalore (alt rock band Spacebar). Meru adds about the future of Ticket to Hornbill, "One of our goals is to expand to more cities. We can divide it into four regions for more bands to come in."
The festival does have a major advantage not just for running for more than a decade, but also that it’s government-funded. While more festivals, choir competitions and music events are being propped up by TaFMA to change the music infrastructure of Nagaland, it’s likely to be a slow, gradual change. Alobo Naga, one of the state’s most well-known pop artists, has also got into events with his own company Musik-A. He says private-funded events are possible, but since Nagaland is a dry state, it rules out alcohol brands coming on board as sponsors, which is the norm for most music events in the country right now. While he’s all praise for TaFMA’s work, he also hopes the policies won’t change if and when the government does.
While Hornbill Music Festival’s mainstage events at Agri Expo in Dimapur will be ticketed (with Meru revealing that it will be slightly higher than the Rs 100 they would charge before), Alobo Naga says crowds are reluctant to shell out more for his privately-organised events and music festivals. "The advantage with government events is that they are often free. In a way, it has spoilt the audience. Small fish like me have to cover expenses. So when I do that, I charge more, and people have second thoughts."
With music probably coming out of every corner of Kohima at this year’s Hornbill, it also helps push the current state government’s intent on making music Nagaland's “soft power”. Abu Metha, adviser to chief minister Neiphiu Rio, says the vision is to connect with other countries as well. "We want Nagaland and Naga people to be known for the right reasons. That’s why we talk about soft power, our musicians, our artists, culture, and heritage. We want that to be part of our state’s brand."