For a very long time I have suffered in silence the clichés and the re-plays, the facades of showmanship and posturing that are representative of the music scene in Shillong. The town is a crock-pot of inane and repetitive musical misadventure. This might be the outcome of the copy-paste outlook we have (on life in general) and which various powerful institutions – State, Church, school (often one and the same!) – continue to advocate for. We can rightly call ourselves the rock capital of India if that means that we play more awful rock music than the rest of the country. The spindoctors and brand makers, who meet in Laitumkhrah and Police Bazaar joints in Shillong, need to consider that mimicry is not flattery – it is a sad substitute for the lack of imagination.

My poor eyes cannot take anymore wannabe singers posing for banners and Facebook profile pictures. I am tired of the same, damn music being pushed into the already corroded canals of my ears. I have been hearing the same songs ever since I was in my mother’s womb! Summer of ’69, To Be With You, More Than Words, I Want To Break Free, Wind of Change, Hotel California, Bed of Roses – these songs have become Shillong’s anthems. You will definitely hear one of these tracks here on any given day. Sometimes you might hear all of them being played simultaneously! Please don’t get me wrong. I like Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, Scorpions and the rest of the old guys as much as anyone (not really), but there is just so much a person can take. Three decades of that stuff is tantamount to human rights abuse. We know them as well as any Church hymns. Is this place stuck in the eighties? It feels like a horrifying Stephen King plot. Dear old guys, grow up, move on, you’re all old now, get over it and let us have our peace.

 Sorry, being an artist is a pretty big deal in my opinion. It involves more than mere mimicry.

Too conservative

Of course, it is not just the oldies that we have to aurally abuse ourselves with, the new hits and global chart-toppers are easily downloadable today. So today I can be as unamused in Shillong as anywhere else on the planet. I can listen to “zombies” droning inside my car, the same time an Australian does while he performs his morning rituals. Now we can force-feed our friends VH1, MTV junk all day long. We can appreciate the staged whimsicality of Lady Gaga, Minaj’s filthiness or Beyonce’s faux feminism. Yay us!

Shillong, let us not kid ourselves further. We are too conservative and scared for anything original and dangerous. We have tried so desperately to appear as something that we clearly are not. We have sold and bought into the notion that just because we have several fine singers and musicians, that makes them artists. Sorry, being an artist is a pretty big deal in my opinion. It involves more than mere mimicry. The Shillong music scene is exactly like the Grammy awards on television. It is mostly a bunch of inbred low-graders trying to appear profound, and applauding the achievements and accolades of their own inner circle of friends – a “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch your back” kind of a situation. It is ultimately not about art but economics (and even that we don’t do very well).

There's a world out there

I am sometimes amazed (not really) that in this day and age, in particular, people in Shillong still do not curate their playlists or musical tastes. At least try to expand your sensibilities! Listening to different types of music would be a step in the right direction to moving away from the tyranny of being formulaic. That would be essential if true artists are to emerge and succeed. We are not in want of talent just, as I said before, imagination.

Take the small nation of Iceland. It has produced high-calibre artists like Emiliana Torrini, Olaf and Olafur Arnalds, GusGus, Sigur Rós, and of course the inimitable Bjork just to bring things into perspective. The capital city of Reykjavik, where most of these lovely people would have met and engaged with each other, has a population of 50,000 people. That’s about the same as Mawlai (an area in Shillong)!

But Shillong seems to be most comfortable to simply take things as they come. We are too lethargic to seek out things, and that goes beyond music. We are not exploring or engaging. Is this a malaise or a disposition? Our FM stations, which are the only sources of new music for many, seem to think that Suzanne Vega is only Tom’s Diner and Luka, or that Bob Dylan was the only one blowing in the wind (these are possibly the most fringe options we have on our playlists). Do you know that even though so many people in Shillong know about Bob Dylan, very few have actually heard of Leonard Cohen? I am talking about musicians I have met. So forget about the Smiths, Depeche Mode, Chelsea Wolfe, the Hinds, Kavinsky, Sarah Jaffe, Animal Collective, Parenthetical Girls, Talking Heads, whatever.

Dear Shillong, there is a small thing called a keyboard which can do magical things. This is not just about music. It starts from that, but the end point leads you to other fields.

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