Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Rendezvous with the FRINGES at Café Paradise

The thrill is gone

The thrill is gone away
The thrill is gone
The thrill is gone away
Although I’ll still live on
But so lonely I’ll be……….

When Haraba crooned the most commercially successful lines of B.B. King (The Thrill is Gone) on the great musician’s birthday on September 16, 2011 in a quiet rainy night at Café Paradise, Imphal, an ecstatic fan summed up the evening as follows:

“Man. This is music! This is music, man! “

The ecstatic lone chap screamed at the top of his voice killing the silence of the crowd, who hitherto have been listening with rapt attention, yes, in an enchanted mood, riveted to the groovy strumming of Sanjeev and Hem Gurumayum (guest guitarist), swaying to the time scaling chantings of the bass guitar and the drums. Uncannily weird for a music concert, one might say. But this was the night. This was the music from the FRINGES. And this was a night of the music lovers. At the back, two beautiful women floated hazily at the rhythm of the music.

But why the name FRINGES?
The name of the band articulates a paradox, the predicament of being at the margins and yet threatening to be the centre.

Thingnam Sanjeev conceived the idea of FRINGES based on his doctoral thesis on frontier governance. He admits, ‘It sounds a little vague.’ But asserts:

For us living at the periphery (sic. fringes) of the Indian Union, our experiences are different. Be it political, social or cultural. However, this is not to assume that the fringes would always remain to be the fringes. The opposite can also be true. The so called periphery can be the core of a civilization, the birthplace of civilization. It can also be the meeting point of two civilizations. All that is needed is an ideological movement.

The band believes that art cannot be created in vacuum. It has to reflect the existential reality of the people who are seriously engaged in creating an art form.

That’s why FRINGES is always cautious about choosing the form and content of the songs we’re making. Since, Manipur lies in a continuum between two civilizations – Sinic and Indic civilization –, it belongs to a cultural milieu where many cultural imprints could be found. In the 18th Century Vaisnavism came to Manipur and in the early 19th century European colonialism was established in the region. Along with the British colonialism came Christianity. The influence of the western music culture has been embedded in many of our institutions including the schools. Our band members grew up in this rich environment. 
But why in the medium in western music or for that matter the blues genre?

We choose to use Western music as a form and infuse it with the angst and reality of contemporary Manipur as the content. In Blues one can narrate one’s saddest story, of melancholy and sadness, of heartaches and deaths, and of course, about the political turmoil as we witness in our region. We let our guitars gently weep.

Such a serious and professional approach is reflected in the band’s original numbers. “Trapped” for example narrates the woes of being trapped in a situation, in a world from which we cannot break through.

We are trapped in a situation

Where no one can live in peace
One man’s down, another man’s up
This is the killing field
This bullet knows no friends
Everyone dragged to hell
So people lets get together
Break this chain forever

Like wise “My Heart Sick Fella”, recaptures the gruesome killings of Sanjit and pregnant Rabina on July 23, 2009.
They shoot a man, without any reason
They shoot a man, for money………..
My heart sick fella, please don’t cry
Why don’t you have a gun, in your hand?
This battle can be joyful
My heart sick fella, please don’t cry

Originally, this song was written and composed by Sanjeev when one of his friends (Alfred Monsang) was in the throes of blues (heartbreak), but later on changed the lyrics, while retaining the composition, after the July 23, BT Road incident.The third original song played at Paradiso, “Dizzy”, is a romantic blues, a lover’s lament to his sweetheart with melancholic grooves. In addition to these three originals, 10 cover versions (predominantly blues) were performed by the FRINGES. These included “Born under a bad sign” by Albert King, “Bad Influence” by Robert Cray, “Rendezvous with the blues” by Jimmy Hall, “All Along the watch tower” by jimmy Hendrix, “Pride and joy” by Stevie Ray Vaughan, “Thrill is gone” by B.B. King, “I shot the sheriff” by Eric Clapton, “Phone Booth” by Robert Cray, “Get up Stand up” by Bob Marley, “Mustang Sally” by Wilson Pickett. And there two one instrumental blues and a jazz blues instrumental to showcase their instrumental skills.

The success of a music band lies not in mere and perfect imitation but solely on its ability to create its own music. Manipur has witnessed and still witnessing the rise and fall of musicians, although they’re gifted, precisely because they could/cannot create their own music and serve to their niche followers. Gone are the days of substance abusers donning the garb of rock musicians. And equally gone are the days “illiterates” listening to western music simply because the sound is appeasing to their ears.

The crowd at the small hall of Café Paradise was an assorted mixture. Former rock musicians, pop singers, scholars, film makers and social activists, in short genuine music lovers, thronged coveted site. To an elder’s pleasure, there’re no Korean lovers, semi-nude swingers, pill poppers or grass puffers, who could disrupt the smooth renderings. The scene was a complete opposite from a rock concert at BOAT or Yaiskhul Range Ground. Who says music places a bar on age or profession.

FRINGES as a band is both young and old. It is young in the sense that the members have finally come together under the banner of the band only last winter, 2010. But it is also old in that most of the members have known, shared, learnt and grown up jamming and performing together in studios and concerts in Imphal.

This is how the band would like to put modestly. A senior academician who has come to watch the gig at the Café curiously asked about the band members. It’s not only their musical prowess that captivated him and his friends but also the dudes’ educational achievement and professional lives.

Haraba Ningthoukhongjam (Vocals), grandson to Late Padmashri Khelchandra, is a self-taught singer. He is doctor (medico) by profession. He has been singing for local Rock bands since his early days and toured extensively with the band “Placid Dreams” all over the state of Manipur.

Sanjeev Thingnam (Guitars & Acoustics, lyricist of the FRINGES originals) is younger brother of Late Dr. Thingnam Singh. He is a new age guitarist with a flair for melodies, notes and riffs. He is a researcher by training and a professional archivist at the National Museum, New Delhi.

Rabi Roy Laifangbam (Bass, backing vocals & percussion) is a self styled bassist who draws various elements from myriad styles/genres. He received his MBA degree from Symbiosis, Pune.

Shankar Sapam (Keyboard) had learnt guitar from his elder brother and played in the school rock band and inter-state rock festivals playing Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, Rainbow and Black Sabbath covers, etc.  In 1996, he moved to the Mumbai and learned to play bass guitar and keyboard.

Sunil Loitongbam (Drums & percussion) is a dynamic drummer who is a sound engineer by profession. He studied sound recording and reproduction in Mumbai. Brought up in a musical family, he started playing guitar in 1989 with various bands in Imphal and went to Mumbai in 1992 and played till 2000. He developed his taste and flair for jazz & blues in Mumbai. He has studio work experience with Studio Smoke as an Assistant Engineer until the end of 2001.

FRINGES has a recording breakthrough with the Timesmusic, Delhi. Their album entitled “Trapped” in the blues & experimental genre is finalised and soon to be released in physical format. Negotiation is on to for the same album to be released in digital format for the benefit of the Northeasterners. They are thinking of doing some research on the Manipuri indigenous music and incorporate the same in their future musical ventures.

By 10 pm the show had to come to an end. As a last gig Jimmi Hendrix’ “All along the watch tower” was requested for a second serving.

“Hey – hey, No reason to get excited, The thief he kindly spoke, There are many here, Among us, Who feel that life is but a joke?.... The hours getting late, Hey, All along the watch tower, Princes kept the view, While all the women came and went, Barefoot servants too, Outside in the cold distance, A wild cat did growl, Two riders were approaching, And the wind begin to howl”.
And, thus, grooved the FRINGES.

This article was published in The Sangai Express on Sunday, September 25, 2011

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