Supra-terranean Homesick Blues,
October 26, 2007 2:00 AM   Subscribe

Supra-terranean Homesick Blues: Somewhere up there in the clouds, there exists a town called Shillong (wiki), a quaint picturesque town that is often called India's rock-capital. Every year, they celebrate Bob Dylan's birthday with a big bash, a splash that evokes nostalgia, piety, devotion and hard cash. This year though, they'll celebrate Bob Dylan with an even bigger bash, the world's largest strumming session.

Outside city-limits though, in rural Meghalaya, elephants are drunk and have been on a rampage. It may or may not rain in Cherrapunji, the world's wettest town, and a mere fifty kilometres from here. The HNLC, though, is still on an extortion racket, although its numbers have been waning. Not to worry though, India's oldest paramilitary force, the Assam Rifles, is based here. The music, as always, will be good.
posted by the cydonian (21 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I actually started doing this as an effort to pimp some fantastic Indian rock-sound I've been listening to lately, but the lead link's main point struck me deeply: rock there isn't generational nor is it about the ends (rebellion, fame, fortune), but about the means (style, values) in a very community-oriented way.

That's an unexpectedly Indian idiom to strike; you could very easily read the Bhagavad-Gita into that.
posted by the cydonian at 2:20 AM on October 26, 2007

Also, an irritating, extra comma in the title. Bah!
posted by the cydonian at 2:21 AM on October 26, 2007

the cydonian - I just wanted to say wow, thanks. I have only been able to skim your links for now, but this is a fascinating post - thank you! Bookmarked for post-work ;-)
posted by madamjujujive at 3:48 AM on October 26, 2007

Thats my birthday too. Now to read the links!
posted by sfts2 at 6:01 AM on October 26, 2007

interesting! It says something about a thriving rock scene in Indias mayor cities in the BBC article. Are there some examples online? I don't know anything about music from India besides Bollywood soundtracks...
posted by kolophon at 7:11 AM on October 26, 2007

Cool, I was just wondering about you the other day:)
My computer at home is busted, so I'll have to wait till I get to work tomorrow to check out some of your links--thanks a lot cydonian!

(Oh, and a belated Happy Dussehra!)
posted by hadjiboy at 8:57 AM on October 26, 2007

kolophon: The original intent was to post some you-tube videos/ streaming stuff. Instead, I got side-tracked into this. :-D

Well, there are broadly four forms of alternate rock in India. First is the covers, stuff that you read about in all of these links. As with anywhere else in the world, singing Pink Floyd or, indeed, Bob Dylan, is a failsafe way of earning some cash in the evening.

Then there is rock sung in English, of the kind sung by Orange Street, Thermal and a Quarter (on NPR), and of course, Soulmate, to whom I linked to in the post (Although, Soulmate calls itself a blues band, and Orange Street is not "pure" rock; there's a fair bit of fusion in there)

Which brings us to the third type of rock-sound, fusion. Mostly inspired by, and with, such acts as Junoon and Jal from across the border, there's a fair amount of Hindi/Urdu rock sound. Groups such as Euphoria, Indian Ocean are all about fusion; Hindi lyrics, hard Indian percussion and guitars.

And finally, there are non-Hindi/Urdu, non-fusion rock bands singing in other vernacular tongues. There is the Malayalam-focussed Avial; I don't know what those lyrics mean - I can make out Malayalam only in bits after all - but their sound is energetic, fresh and completely awesome. In particular, check out their songs, Nada Nada, and Karukara. The lyrics are extremely mouthy, to say the least, even for this Indian-acquainted karaoke singer; fluent Dravidian pronounciation does apparently go very well with excellent riffs.

Bengali also apparently has a budding indie-rock scene, but I haven't heard any of that.

And finally, there's that Dakhni rock song, Dil Pe Math Lo (you'd have to select the song) for kicks. Alter Egoz main oeuvre is actually live Pink Floyd covers, but again, the point is about possibilities; Dil Pe Math Lo is an excellent demonstration of how riffs and some bass can go together with traditional folksy music.
posted by the cydonian at 9:26 AM on October 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

... and a belated Eid ul Fitr to you too Hadjiboy! :-) Was meaning to do some festival-related linkage, but things got busy, and I was away from posting and such.
posted by the cydonian at 9:29 AM on October 26, 2007

thanks for those links, I'm going to check them out as soon as I'm home and have sound on my laptop again (OsX is bugging me right now)
posted by kolophon at 10:35 AM on October 26, 2007

Do they have Victoria's Secret in India?


posted by Reggie Digest at 11:16 AM on October 26, 2007

a big bash

A million-rupee bash, perhaps?
Cool post!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:39 AM on October 26, 2007

is it possible for pardesis to even visit shillong? i was in gangtok once, so only a stone's throw away, and i recall it being difficult, if not impossible, to visit the northeastern hill states.

(of course, i could just google it or something...)
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:14 PM on October 26, 2007

Ubu: It's called the Inner Line Permit, and it's not necessary for Meghalaya.
posted by the cydonian at 7:02 PM on October 26, 2007

Not to hog the thread, I'm fairly certain that nobody is tracking this any longer, but for all you Google-searchers from the future, they've done it! 1730 guitarists strummed Bob Dylan's Knocking on Heaven's Door together, thus beating the previous best set in Kansas City.

Not everyone is happy though; they didn't reach the magical 2000 mark. Which would mean that the record will be short-lived; another group is attempting a similar record in London.

Oh well. At least Shillong has the record for the largest drumming session ever, and that's for keeps! For now, at least.
posted by the cydonian at 7:11 PM on October 29, 2007

How the heck did I miss this excellent post!?

Wow, such a cool story! I particularly love this from the supra (nyuck nyuck) link, Hanif Kureishi writing about the Beatles phenomenon in his essay, 'Eight Arms to Hold You' describes what they represented to people of his generation in Britain. 'For most, this pleasure [of listening to the Beatles] lasted only a few hours and then faded. But for others it opened a door to the sort of life that might, one day, be lived. And so the Beatles came to represent opportunity and possibility. They were career officers, a myth for us to live by, a light for us to follow.' The Beatles were able to upturn prevalent notions of what constituted 'culture' because they showed now it was possible to both be creative and have a good time, to both have something important to say and eschew pretensions to high art.

As an American traveling in Italy in the mid 70's I was touched by how the Beatles' music was held in such honor by the local kids. Never really thought enough about it to articulate how meaningful that felt to me as a visitor until I read that paragraph.

What a bizarre comi-tragedy about the drunk elephants. awww.

It's always a bit sad to me when there is anyplace in India which refers to itself anything like "Scotland of the East" in the "drunk" link above, which Ootacamund also does. It's that old colonial cannot just be a lovely, cool part of *India*, glorious country of spectacular contrasts, it's nice because it has parts considered pseudo-Scotland. grrrr.

Thanks for the interesting post.
posted by nickyskye at 6:36 PM on October 30, 2007

interview with Lou Majaw, the Meghalayan Dylan fan on YT. Just found out that Meghalaya and Assam are now divided.

and happy Dussehra :)
posted by nickyskye at 7:04 PM on October 30, 2007

Nickyskye: Finally! We've been expecting you. :-)

While the irony of someone from New York complaining about British colonial sobriquets cannot be overstated :-D , I nevertheless agree. Found it quite irritating indeed to hear Shillong being called a Scotland; they do that with languages too.

Never really thought enough about it to articulate how meaningful that felt to me as a visitor until I read that paragraph.

Yup. Hence this week's post. :-)

And oh, that was an interview by Lou Majaw, of someone else. He's the Cowboy Boots guy in the video.
posted by the cydonian at 2:48 AM on November 2, 2007

Ah, but even old New York was once New Amsterdam. Why they changed it, I can't say. Maybe people liked it better that way?

Anyway, I'm not about to start throwing stones, living, as I do, in New South Wales.

Speaking of incongruous place names, isn't Singhapur a Hindi / Sanskrit name? Lion City? Must date back to when Hinduism spread all the way through SE Asia to Bali...?
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:36 PM on November 2, 2007

Singapura => The island where a renegade (Hindu) Sri Vijayan prince, Parameswara, established his singhaasana (Sanskrit, and eventually Hindi, for lion throne) The wikipedia article has a cute story about him sighting a lion on this island, but that's most likely a myth that originated in contemporary times; lions do not exist here in South East Asia. Lion-thrones, on the other hand, are major symbolic seats of power.

Curiously enough, Parameswara also doubles up as a Malay prince, Sultan Iskandar Shah, an apparent descendant of the real Iskandar, Alexander the Great. Quite likely, he was one of the last great Hindu (ie, non-Therevada-Buddhist) kings in this region; most rulers after him were either Muslim, or Therevada Buddhist.

(Although, you must remember that Cambodian and Thai kings still have Sanskrit names, that they have a priestly class advising them on religious matters, they still read/ perform the Ramayana and that their texts are still in Pali yada yada.)
posted by the cydonian at 8:07 AM on November 6, 2007

now, who wouldn't remember that?

singhaasana sounds like a yoga pose, not a throne. unless, of course, kings were in the habit of sitting on their subjects whenever there wasn't any furniture around.

on iskander: i love the way the arabs mutated his name, assuming that the al- at the beginning meant "the". al-exander; the iskander.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:57 AM on November 6, 2007

Heh, well, aasana => the act of sitting. Singaasana => Act of sitting on a lion. Or something like that.

Oh, the culprit here is most likely nastaaliq. Not being literate in this beautiful script, I can't say exactly which transliteration causes this consonant switch, but it's a common transliteration switch when you're converting European sounds into Urdu/Persian; 'school', consequently, becomes 'iskool', and 'x' is pronounced as 'ekas'.

Which, on reflection, can probably co-exist with your point about the Arabs assuming 'Al' to be their 'al'. Then again, we're dealing with Persian here, and not quite Arabic; if I remember correctly, Persian doesn't have 'al'? I don't know.
posted by the cydonian at 2:55 AM on November 8, 2007

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