Awarthanga Chiru, talented vocalist of the rock band ‘Blending Chords’ from Manipur presently based at Delhi first fell in love with music at a rock concert that his dad took him to. Chiru has recently released his solo album titled ‘Live As One’ that explores a range of sounds from pop, rock, country to Gospel all laced with thought provoking messages of love and peace.
Eastern mirror presents an exclusive with the Naga guy from Manipur who has much to share about his musical journey….
Eastern Mirror: How would you like to introduce yourself as an artist to those who haven’t heard of you or your work yet?
Awarthanga Chiru: Well, I am a singer, a songwriter, a performer and a music teacher (not necessarily in that order). I am the vocalist of the Rock Band ‘Blending Chords’ since 2013. I was born and brought up in a small Chiru village in Manipur and like almost everybody from the NE, music has been my passion ever since I was a child.
I love to write and perform music of all styles and genres. My song-writing is also as varied, but all influenced and inspired by personal lived and experiential realities. I write songs about football; about getting a song stuck in your head becoming a natural alarm; about love and peace; about spirituality; and about everyday life and issues. So if you believe music can change the world, listen to my songs; and if you think music should be about love, fun, joy, and having a good time, listen to my music; or if you think music is a journey of seeking and exploring emotions, spirituality, and telling stories and describing sentiments and events, you can still listen to my songs. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive that’s probably why someone rightly said “music is the greatest of all art forms”.
Eastern Mirror: You have been involved in the music industry for over a decade. Have you come across any major life-changing experiences that shaped your music and outlook?
Awarthanga Chiru: Quite a lot I would say. Maybe not necessarily epiphanic moments of gargantuan proportion but there have been many moments along the way where I can now look back and say “those things have really been instrumental in shaping my thought process and my journey and where I am today”. If I have to name a few, the first thing at the top of my head is probably the first time my dad took me to a rock concert in Imphal. It might sound like a cliché or a standard musician’s answer but that was actually the moment when I was bitten by the bug as it were. I was very young but I still remember the feeling of loving the live atmosphere and wanting to be up on that stage and perform. That was my musical birth and some years later I joined a high school band as a bassist in Imphal. Besides that, I would say all those afternoons and evenings spent listening to ‘western music’ program on an old Panasonic radio which exposed me to newer forms of western music apart from the usual gospel hymnals that I still sing and love to this day. I am indebted to that radio and those programs because somewhere somehow I guess those songs that I listened to have influenced and inspired me to write and sing the way I do today.
In terms of experiences that have shaped my outlook in life, the thing that immediately comes to mind is the unfortunate demise of the bassist in my band ‘Blending Chords’ last year. That was one surreal experience and that reminded me of the unpredictability and fragility of our life on this earth. The song writing in my new solo album, albeit unconsciously, is a lot more personal and intimate and spiritual, perhaps an effect of that jolt I felt. The band went on a tour of the Northeast as a tribute to our dearest brother.
Also, the cultural, linguistic shift that accompanied my physical shift to the capital here was one major eye opening experience. For bad or worse, cities have this unique ability to make one dream big and I am thankful that I have been able to nurture and work towards that dream I had as a child of performing on stage and today I am humbled by the fact that I have an album called ‘Hidden Things’ with a fairly successful band and now a solo album, not to forget the numerous opportunities that I have got to perform with legendary acts over the years.
Eastern Mirror: Is there any difference between the music scene in the Northeast region and mainland India in economic terms?
Awarthanga Chiru: From the little that I know of both worlds, I think there are some differences. And I think it varies even among the metro cities so generalizing it might not give us the exact picture but nevertheless, by and large, metros like Mumbai provides ample opportunities for a musician to live off one’s work. Delhi has a relatively more restrictive environment and unless one plays popular Bollywood or Punjabi songs, the opportunities can be limited, but fortunately it’s opening up a lot more in the past few years and audience has become more receptive to other forms of music. More clubs and bars offering live music, and besides, there are decent numbers of events where one can perform and earn. Apart from that, one can always teach music in music schools or public schools like many of us are doing at the moment. But I believe the Northeast will overtake it very soon. Every day, I hear of new music festivals somewhere in the Northeast I think the NE is at a transitional phase and its moving towards exciting times at a rapid pace and I am eager to be a part of this revolution and hopefully contribute in as many ways as I possibly can.
Eastern Mirror: You have two albums to your credit. To those who have not yet listened to them, what defines the two albums?
Awarthanga Chiru: To those who have not listened to them yet, I just want to say: “what have you been doing?” Jokes aside, the first album ‘Hidden Things’ is a hard rock/metal influenced album, which, by and large, is the sound of the band. Writings wise, it’s an honest album that talks about issues ranging from women abuse, patriarchy, to my own spiritual journey as a Christian and a believer. There are songs that I am particularly very fond of such a ‘Woman’s Worth’, ‘Fear Not’, and ‘Journey’.
My new solo album “Live As One”, on the other hand, is a multi-genre album. I was more interested in exploring the various styles and sounds that I like as an artiste rather than being defined and limited by an arbitrary generic categorization. So I attempt to explore that side of my own artistic and creative self. There are songs that have contemporary rock sound like ‘Time To Act’, ‘Free’, ‘My Only Reason To Live’, and then there are pop influenced songs like ‘Alarm Song’ which has a bit of Latino vibe to it, and a country-pop number called ‘Your Love’, and then some listener friendly rock ballads like the title song ‘Live As One’. There is also a reggae/funk influenced sports anthem called ‘It’s Not Over’, a combination of two of my passions-music and sports. I performed that during the Tamchon Football Tournament a year back and I got some good responses. So I would say the defining element of it is that it’s hard to define, and that is its USP; its myriad sounds, not being defined or bowed down by generic specificity; there is something in it for every type of listener. The one element that is common to both these albums is that both these contain songs that explores spirituality and Faith.
Eastern Mirror: Do you think that musicians from the northeast face an artistic shock of some sort when they perform in the generally Hindi-pop leaning music scenes of NCR, or any Indian metro? If there is, what do you think the NE musicians do to cope with the musical climate?
Awarthanga Chiru: Maybe not as extreme as a shock because we all know what we are getting into but yeah sometimes you feel like standing on the rooftop and screaming at the top of your lungs telling them there are also people like Dylan, Kris Kristofferson, John Prine, or Lennon and that music doesn’t only mean Bollywood music or the few western pop acts that are ubiquitous and on everybody’s playlist. But I guess that’s everywhere, if it’s Punjabi or Bollywood music here, in the South it’s music from their film industry, or for that matter, in America and the West, Hip-Hop, Rap, Rock, metal, Pop, Country, Jazz, Blues, Folk–all have almost very mutually exclusive listening audiences. I can’t speak for other artistes, but for me I try to stay true to my artistic integrity without necessarily trying to cater too much to the market’s demands because as it is I don’t think I can start singing bhangra or Punjabi hip-hop tomorrow just because it sells. And there is a good niche audience for my kind of music so I am grateful for that and try and build on that by spreading love, peace, and joy through my work and do the best that I can and not worry about becoming who I am not.
Eastern Mirror: You have worked with the Government of India on a number of social campaigns. What is the difference between the objectives of a musician who needs to earn and, on the other hand, meeting the goals of social messages?
Awarthanga Chiru: Well, it might sound ironic, but actually working with the GoI has been financially more rewarding than anything else. Having said that I would be happy to be involved with these causes even without the financial reward as I want to give back to the society in whatever way I can and be a part of positive change in society, and that to me is the greatest gift and power that any forms of art or vocation can have. So, I get satisfaction working with them as I get to work on issues that I believe in and the icing on top, like I said, is the financial reward which is better than playing gigs at clubs or private events. It’s just that they come seldom and one has to perform elsewhere to survive in the meantime. Anyway, the wonderful people at MDoNER has been very kind to me over the years and has given me numerous opportunities to write music for them, perform for them, and headline shows at their events every year. Over the years, I’ve got to work with them on various social causes and would loved to work with them a lot more, or for that matter, on any honest social causes that any central or state governments might be willing to use my services. But if I can answer your question at a more general note, I think many musicians such as Bono, Lou Reed, Dylan, CSNY, Michael Jackson, Lionel Ritchie, to name only a few, have been able to do both-write songs about social issues and still be popular recognizable faces and earn heaps of fame and fortune, or perhaps it’s a case of using their fame to highlight social issues but hey whichever way it is, if I can one day be mentioned within a light year distance of these giants, I can proudly say I have used my gift for a good cause.
Eastern Mirror: Your achievements?
Awarthanga Chiru: Well, it might be a small step for many but I am really proud of my two albums as they are both self financed and self produced and to come this far is a great achievement at least for myself. Trying to make a living as a musician anywhere in this day and age is not easy and it’s even more difficult to do that as an independent artiste without a Label or Management support. Making this far and making a life (not only a living) out of my passion, to me, is my greatest achievement.
Apart from that, we won few band competitions back in the day and recently I got to not only meet the Dire Strait Experience here in Delhi but was extremely honoured as my video was awarded the best video for ‘Dire straits Cover Video Contest 2017’ for which I got to receive the award from them personally. Another one would be that I got the honour to compose the theme song for MDoNER’s ‘Destination Northeast’ event this year. I also got to compose the theme song for DU’s Ramjas College’s 100 years’ Centennial Celebration this year.
As a conductor and music teacher, my choir won the third prize in the prestigious North East India Choral competition and I will be conducting a different choir this year. Hopefully, I can add one more to the kitty.
Eastern Mirror: What advice can you give for those who wish to take up music as a career?
Awarthanga Chiru: Whew advice huh! Not sure if I am eligible to give one myself. Anyway, all I can say is work hard, stay true to yourself and your art, never lose your identity, hold strong to your passion, and more importantly believe in yourself and Trust in God.