By Prasanta Phukon
The corona pandemic and the subsequent lockdown and curfew have put music industry worldwide out of rhythm. Cancellation of concerts, launch of albums, competitions and general events has silenced artistes and fans alike and left even big labels staring at uncertainty. In Shillong, the crisis started months before the virus reached India due to intermittent curfews mostly over socio-political issues. The outbreak of COVID-19 brought down the curtain on whatever sparkle was left of the show. Local musicians and event organisers, who usually benefit from “fixed calendar” shows, are losing money as popular festivals and events like AGE Festival have been postponed indefinitely.
“Artistes have been badly affected as they totally depend on shows for earning. Admittedly, the best we can do (amid the lockdown) is to remain inside respective houses as a preventive measure,” says Genevieve Khongjee, a versatile folk singer, teacher, folk art connoisseur and writer. Even if the lockdown is withdrawn, there will be a prolonged sense of fear, particularly crowd phobia, among citizens, including music lovers. By the time a vaccine is found, global economy would be on its deathbed and ‘live music’ would have a new definition. “Yes, it has been hit terribly, both economically and psychologically. The live music scene and the industry revolving around it are one of the worst affected, especially because we are uncertain about when we will get back to normal. It makes things look duller,” said Parismita Das, a managing representative of MOX, a local event and talent management organisation.
But adaptability is the key to survival and singers, musicians and industry experts here have been quick to understand that. The social media platform has allowed them to become innovative as well as aggressive on drawing more listeners.
On April 22, 40 musicians from six countries united for a live concert across 200 digital, social media, DTH and OTT platforms as well as national television channels the world over. The concert aimed at promoting the ‘Stay Home Stay Safe’ message. In Meghalaya too, artistes are using the virtual stage to reach out to music lovers. Musician Kit Shangpliang, with support from the state government, released his original Corona Stop (in picture right) on March 24 in three languages — English, Khasi and Garo. It is an informative music video on the coronavirus outbreak and has been recorded by Kamki Diengdoh and his team at State of the Mind Productions.
A hymns video, Meghalaya Prays, was released on Easter Sunday, which was observed for the first time amid anxiety and gloom. The music video, an initiative of Chief Minister Conrad Sangma to boost the morale of the citizens under ‘house arrest’, went viral and was aired on AIR Radio Shillong and local television channels.
A tribute music video, Beyond the Call of Duty — We shall overcome (Cover), was launched by West Jaintia Hills police under the aegis of SP Lakador Syiem to honour and pay tribute to the district executive force for their dedication and service in the fight against COVID-19. The police officer was behind the concept, script, direction and production.
The multi-artiste song features Desling Amse, Lewaoo Lyngdoh, Lyngkit Lyngdoh, Monesh N Sangma, Wandarika Nongrum and Wylinder Khonglam. The music recording was done by Heithmu I Phawa at the Modern Expression Studio in Jowai and the video was shot by Daniel P Gatphoh.
Music producer and rapper Stunnah Beatz has released some of his projects during lockdown with rapper Divine from Mumbai on YouTube and many songs are lined up for releases as well.
Live gigs on Instagram and Facebook have become common “In Shillong, there are artistes who are utilising the lockdown period to create music experimenting with tunes, rhetoric and imagery and I am certain that the COVID-19 experience will be characterised very theatrically in these works… In today’s media-mediated world, it is moot to talk about the future of categories such as folk music as it is dependent on such factors as ‘reality’ and ‘experience’. As a folklorist, I believe that artistes will respond to a phenomenon such as the lockdown with imagination. To para-phrase the great scholar-priest Walter Jackson Ong, who was fond of observing, ‘the conversation is never over’,” says Kharmawphlang, who is also a musician, poet and folklorist. It is true that social media releases lack the vibe and craziness but artistes are compromising with that and so are fans. In fact, we are consuming more entertainment now than ever before. But will things get back to normal and will we ever dance together again? How many promoters, artistes and subsidiary industry people will survive the loss of income? As always, it will be those operating as independents who will suffer the most, both during and after the lockdown. “We will see what happens in the future because this whole business is somewhat a chain and if one gets affected, soon the others feel the heat. So we are all praying that everything is restored to normal soon. As for now, I think we have to focus on our health…,” says Stunnah Beatz. For the artiste, there have not been many changes in his online music business but “if this scenario continues for long and the economy keeps dropping, then of course it will harm my business and many others’ too”. He thinks the stalemate will persist for some time now and “the alternative to live concerts is going live on social media platforms like YouTube”. “I think I have seen some people already doing such shows on YouTube and earning via super chats. I know it does not feel the same energy as we do in live concerts but as long as we are stuck inside (our houses) this is the only way to show our skills and make money from it,” he adds.
The lockdown has been a good opportunity for some budding artistes to release their singles online. For instance, 15-year-old Emika Challam, alias Emma, released Care by Emma on YouTube on April 17. The student of St Mary’s School has a home-based production setup that she used to create the digital music video edited by Erick Franky Kharsyiemiong. The sound was mixed and mastered by Duncan Kharmalki and Yoomiki Thangkhiew at The Midnight Pros Studio in Mawlai. “I am also looking forward to event organisers booking me in the future. Given the current situation, I feel that live gigs will bloom again right after COVID-19 crisis is solved. Music is still going strong as it is on many online platforms and in social media sites and this gives me hope that it will get back to normal once people can interact and hangout safely. I feel concerts will happen with extra precautions,” the young singer shows some hope. Challam performed live on Instagram on April 23. She wants to write more songs this year before her board examination and through her music, she wants to bond with her listeners in this time of anxiety. “Let’s remember the saying ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ and look at the bright side of it all,” she says and advises music lovers to be safe at home.
Streaming has seen a surge in distribution of music ever since the lockdown and “this means that people who looked at music as their passion are now taking this opportunity to hone their skills and share with the world”, says Das of MOX.
Stakeholders across the globe are making use of the digital platforms to entertain, spread awareness and raise funds. Locally, MOX is trying to keep the community engaged by planning a series of live interactive sessions on its Instagram handle @moxwelit. Some sessions were streamed in April end and some will be in the first part of May. The organisation will host experts with varied experiences in music, arts, poetry, designing, management and planning. “We are doing this to create opportunities as well as find answers to some of these questions hovering around the frantic minds of our artiste and creators’ community. We are only speculating at the moment. Most of our plans will only become effective when we have a vaccine. Until then, our plan of action will rely on instincts and analysis. Most importantly we are hoping that we all make it through this crisis at the earliest,” says Das. Stunnah Beatz advises artistes to utilise the time to better their creative skills. To his listeners, he says, “The government is working hard and we should come together and help them fight this.” Music lovers can always hope for a slew of releases at the end of the year leading to a competitive music scene on the virtual podium. Who knows how the lockdown will inspire the creativity of local musicians? But one thing is definite — the industry will require the necessary push to get back its vibrancy. Globally, a few companies like Apple Music have offered industry relief by launching advance royalty fund to make sure their artistes get paid. Veteran singer Khongjee points out that the state government and the Ministry of Cultural Affairs “must help artistes by providing financial help”, especially the young talents. At the same time, she says she is confident that when the gloom ends, the industry will groove again.
Photo courtesy: Official websites and YouTube videos, Pexels