Sep 19, 2012

You're Chord-ially invited to Green Music

The evening of September 18 at Nagaland’s Bamboo Resource Center in Dimapur’s 6th Mile was as lovely as the people who thronged the concert – bamboo growers, bamboo shoot lovers and of course, young lovers hiding among bamboo shoot clusters. Even the tall bamboos swaying in the centre’s plantation looked green with envy.  

For a district known more for bloody shootings than bamboo shoots, the gala marking World Bamboo Day for Dimapur was a respite from the daily torment of strife and violence, crime and general administrative inaptitude citizens continue to endure. For on Tuesday, at the Nagaland Bamboo Resource Center, citizens celebrated the one natural resource that has always been inextricably associated with their cultural history – bamboo, the green gold.

The evening was definitely wonderful – pot-bellied foodies attacking the bamboo shoot curry stalls, high-heeled beautifies trying to walk like proper humans, raunchy lovers and rowdy children and of course sweating Nagaland government bureaucrats. After a long day of protocol, the government had finally realized that a concert would be the ultimate dessert. 

The Nagas’ rich cultural tradition of speeches also took part. Thankfully, HK Khulu, Additional Principal Secretary and Mission Director of Nagaland Government’s bamboo mission, wisely decided that a long speech would definitely result in rioting. So after one paragraph of words, he “launched” what was touted to be “India’s first ever bamboo electric guitar.” The host for the evening wasn’t satisfied: So he repeatedly kept announcing “world’s first bamboo electric guitar” or something in that nature if one heard it right. 

Anyhow, like any true pork-blooded Naga, the official decided to try his hand at the bamboo guitar, which looked like a cross between an albino ESP and a Parker. Anyhow Mr. Khulu plugged in the instrument and played in quick succession what sounded similar to the riff on Deep Purple’s classic ‘Smoke on the Water.’ Suddenly, the official’s performance was over – his performance with the guitar lasted exactly 5 seconds.

Undergrounds, friends and enemies

After the meteoric performance from Khulu, Kohima’s Original Fire Factor (OFF) took to the stage. The protest rockers (or at least they once were) ran into a nice little technical snag which lasted at least half-an-hour of sound check. They played a set that included acid jazz star Jamiroquai’s hit ‘Deeper Underground’ and OFF’s own ‘Mr. Selfish.’ The two big rockers somewhat brought to senses some of the citizens who’d fainted after demolishing one too many plates of bamboo shoot pickles from the stalls. 

Nagaland rock bands
 (An ecstatic illegal Bangladeshi Immigrant rocks to Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody' (I think) while Dimapur's bosti crazy population looks on during the World Bamboo Day concert on Sept 18, Dimapur. Photo: Manen Aier) 

The next to come was the bamboo guitar itself – looking all new, glossy and apparently stricken by excessive Fair & Lovely cream application. A group formed from the bamboo mission’s own employees took the stage to play an awesomely sloppy rendition of ‘Friends,’ from American guitar god Joe Satriani’s 1992 album ‘The Extremist.’ The instrumental got off to a good start but started to make some enemies among the audience when tonal breaks, off beats and embarrassing half notes began spilling from the bamboo guitar. The band wasn’t a professional group anyhow, so while ‘Friends’ made some enemies, the audience generally forgave the group in the true spirit of Naga Unity, Peace and Reconciliation. 

Next in line was ‘Nagagenis’ a group of musicians with bamboo musical instruments as their base. Poor sound denied the audience full enjoyment. Nagagenis was followed by an upstart called Ronnie Odyuo –rumored to be Naga Idol Renbeni Odyuo’s baby sister.  The nervous little thing put up a brave voice and walked through American singer Adele’s hit single ‘Someone Like You’ for a generally-OK performance. 

Then the “male voice” group, Zowie Madrigal, came led by local music hero, music teacher and Governor’s Award recipient Nise Meruno. The group has been receiving some space in the Media for this and that; naturally expectations ran high. Then something unthinkable not even Nise Meruno’s lucky yellow tight pants could prevent, happened: A painfully faulty start to R Kelly’ classic ‘I Believe I can Fly.’ Tongues clicked, heads bowed and temples massaged in embarrassment for the not-so-cool start. 

Some pitchy notes and sloppy lows trailed all the way to the chorus. An overrated Zowie Madrigal perhaps; some in the audience thought loudly that the group would work on being worthy of the Media attention they have been receiving. Thankfully, the bad notes began to fade when a medley came up – Hindi pop and English rock married as the audience rejoiced. Although the medley sounded somewhat abrupt, whimsical and far-fetched to be convincing to serious listeners, the performance nonetheless, was rousing and the audience rejoiced.  

After Zowie Madrigal, two dance performances came on from two unidentified flying youths. For some reason the stage lighting appeared a bit bosti and few actually made out what was happening on stage except for blurred, frantic movements of legs and limbs. The confusion ceased when a musical comedy by theatre group ‘Dreamz Unlimited’ began their performance to rip-roaring laughter from the gathered population. The musical was a single narrative but acted out in comic sub-themes to illustrate some of the Naganess craziness Nagas are known for. The comedy had a Dimapur town hero toughie that talked big and ran even faster; an Illegal Bangladeshi Immigrant who rocked to Queen; two Dev Anand-era lovers chasing each other around bamboo clusters and yes, even two aliens from Saturn.

All in all the evening was pleasant; the concert was okay. But the bamboo shoot pickles were the best. 

Nagaland’s bamboo guitar: off-tuned for the prize

Bad news. Very bad news. It definitely won’t be music to the ears of Nagaland rock bands and music fans: The recently showcased “world’s first bamboo guitar” in Dimapur “launched”  on September 18 during World Bamboo Day in Dimapur is in fact neither the “world’s first bamboo electric guitar” nor “India’s first bamboo electric guitar” in any case. There are no more prizes to claim in either the electric or acoustic category as well.   

In commemoration of World Bamboo Day, Nagaland Bamboo Development Agency organized a gala at the Nagaland Bamboo Resource Center at 6th Mile in Dimapur on September 18 where an electric guitar with bamboo body and neck, was introduced repeatedly as “World’s first bamboo guitar” and/or “India’s first bamboo guitar.”  Some from the local Media had also hyped the instrument as being “world’s first Bamboo guitar” and so on.   

Musical instruments made of bamboo are neither a new nor a recent manufacturing idea, and the contemporary guitar has not escaped found exception. For years now, iconic performance-brands such as Fender and Yamaha and sound gadget producers like ToneRider have manufactured guitars made of bamboo. Likewise, in 2011, IIT Delhi students also created a bamboo electric guitar during the institute’s Open House in New Delhi. Amateur guitar makers haven’t been far behind in showing off their “bamboo guitars” for long now. YouTube and forums boast quite a number of the bamboo pushers. 
bamboo guitar, bamboo picks, bamboo guitar neck, bamboo guitar cabinet

American giant Fender has even a telecaster called the Fender Lambo Telecaster “the Bamboo caster,” an electric solid body that comes with a single-coil pickup and a 2-tone. So does Yamaha, with its Bamboo Guitar FG B1, a hollow. There are also bamboo replicas of Gibson’s popular models. That’s not all though. The music market is full of bamboo plectrums, disassembled necks and bodies, cases and cabinets and tops.

Bamboo is light and strong, if processed, and its Eco-friendly image and versatility remain undisputed. However, the material’s longevity and gestation-to-processing drawbacks are one of the basic reasons guitar makers still prefer top-end wood (called ‘Tone woods’) such as rosewood, mahogany and Maple to make guitar necks and body, either electric or acoustic, solid, hollow or semi hollow.

(Right: The Bamboo Electric Guitar. Photo/Manen Aier) 

Highly-processed bamboo fiber can lend a degree of credibility to the quality (such as Yamaha’s acoustic Guitar FG B1) of a ‘bamboo guitar’ but the process apparently isn’t viable for a market that still thrives on durable, highly-processed, qualified and tested materials. Naturally – no pun – manufactures still prefer Brazilian rosewood, Indian rosewood, mahogany, walnut, ash and maple than bamboo. The reason is simple: the quality of any guitar’s sound (especially that of the acoustic) is defined primarily by the nature, make and test of its base source i.e., the wood, in this case. Bamboo seems to be lacking in that area. Interestingly Yamaha has discontinued its bamboo FGB1 model.

Thankfully, bamboo or not, music is still music. And as long as bamboo guitars don’t start flowering in the middle of a song, let music bloom! 

(The Morung Express, September 19, 2012)