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Millennium Post

When rock goes back to its roots

There is a band that you begin with and it remains till the day you get that spark, that spark which changes perceptions. For Getem Apang, it was folk music and Roots Festival 2007.

‘Our band Omak Komut Collective came about in the year May 2007 when we were gearing up for the Roots Festival. I always wanted to try experimenting with our traditional music, fuse it with Western music forms’, Getem explains of his ‘idea.’ The idea, always harboured, was beginning to take perceptible form now.

‘At that time, I was in a rock band. It was just your everyday band which went through lots of phases and names like Jengging Vibe. It was still the same old thing. So, I thought why not expand and try incorporating folk into it? I play some jazz, blues and funk music and Blues has tribal roots in Africa. Roots Festival was all about original music, trying something new. So, I wanted to get an outfit together and give it a go because it was a good platform for us also to try flesh these ideas out.’

The resolve was made and the word was kept. Getem enlisted Omak Komut who is a Shaman, the head-priest of the Doni Polo Religious Community in Arunachal Pradesh. Incidentally, he had won at the Youth Folk Festival in Hyderabad in 1987 as well. ‘He is a shaman, which is what he does for a living. Like, if someone falls sick, he will be called upon to cure. So, he will go and do his rituals, the pujas, things like that. And if there is any function in the Doni Polo community, he is always present. So he is quite a busy and respected man, you know. But a very simple and honest fellow!’ Getem explains of the man who he calls ‘the star of the band.’ ‘So, why not get together? The whole idea was very exciting. When I shared the idea with him, he was excited as well as he had never done anything like that. It had always been traditional folk.’

The two forms of roots music do share similarities but the search for the level plane where both forms sit in unison is the most critical aspect of Omak Komut Collective music. It is the element that is still being tested through trial and error.

‘In our kind of folk song, there is a caller and a chorus who repeats after the caller. It is very rhythm oriented. To explain to him (Omak Komut) the basics of the template, I told him that we would play a certain beat and rhythm and he should just try groove with us. It wasn’t that hard because it was very feel-oriented music. In the beginning, it was just a trial thing; we weren’t that serious about it. It was a bunch of us having fun. We didn’t anticipate whether people would like our songs or not. We were in the jam room, mixing up beats and rhythms and trying to assimilate Omak Komut’s folk tunes.’

Omak sings of the days gone by, the history of his people, the stories of his forefathers. All of that are never to be found in any written document. It is passed on from generation to generation orally through tales and songs, thus holding the key to cultural propagation as well. ‘Omak is like a living record of all our traditions’, summarises Getem. It’s like killing two birds with one stone; creating a different form of music and also sensitizing the youth about their heritage, which shines out through and through.

‘With this kind of music, one can sense a lot of potential here. Like you said, it is niche-music but when you fuse it with modern music, it becomes more appealing to the younger generations as well. For, most of the younger generations they don’t have any recollection of the old traditions. By, putting the songs on record, we leave it for the rest of our posterities to listen to and sing along with it. That was also one aspect which drove us even more. In our first proper run-out in the 1st Roots Festival 2007, the response was overwhelming. People were screaming and shouting and that was something we didn’t expect, not that early on anyway. So, buoyed by that, we went around performing whenever we got the chance. In the future, I see a lot of scope for growth,’ adds an optimistic Getem.

Omak Komut Collective employs the revolving-door-of-musicians model with Omak and Getem being the only constants. The other musicians who have been a part of this project include teachers in Getem’s music school called Doni Polo School of Music based in Itanagar. Getem, by his own admission, is on a constant lookout for newer musicians to incorporate and make the project eclectic. Omak Komut Collective are back from performing in the Ziro Festival of Music…minus Omak Komut. ‘Just 3 days before the ZFM, his mother-in-law passed away. So, we went without him, playing material that we made up in 3 days. 2 songs we have performed before but all the rest was done in 3 days time,’ Getem, who is also The Vinyl Records manager, explains. As is the case with any DIY bands or artistes who are in the transitory phase, the propagation, reach and visibility angles are currently being worked upon. Money is the biggest problem yet.

‘We have a couple of songs recorded but we haven’t put it up on the net yet. The lack of funds is a big problem. A good recording would cost us a decent bit of money. Also if Omak Komut Collective songs are recorded or ethno-funk fusion music in general, it will need to be of a really good quality,’ adds Getem. Omak Komut Collective do hope to release an album by next year. In the Northeast, one will find the mother-tongue changing every hundred miles. Same is the case with them; the language they sing in is alien to another tribe within Arunachal Pradesh. Getem admits that it is somewhat of a gray area but it is essential to keep the originality intact.

‘These traditional songs, like say Bari, it’s there in all the Abo Tani tribes which includes Nyishi, Apatani, Gallo and even the Mishing tribe in Assam due to the same ancestry. Right now, we have this guy from the village who sings in his own dialect. For the other tribes and dialects, we could have had him who would learn the songs and sing them but the rawness and flavour of it would be lost because he wouldn’t understand it in the first place. Imagine asking a French person to sing in Russian. We won’t be incorporating songs from other tribes into Omak Komut Collective because it is basically his project and named after him.’ For Omak Komut Collective, harmonious musical fusion is the first thing on their agenda; notwithstanding the minor road-bumps of language, East and West, making the twain meet. He signs off with intent… ‘The only challenge is to work with a person who is not acquainted with Western music or modern music at all. It takes time for them to grasp the nuances of rhythm, pitch and the musicality. So, it’s a critical thing to fuse both together. We are managing and it’s been a learning process for the both of us and we are heading towards a level plane with both forms sit equally.’

The author is a Guwahati-based music journalist
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