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Strum a note, win a vote, it’s Meghalaya

Music has never missed its presence in Meghalaya’s elections

By Andrew W. Lyngdoh in Shillong

  • Published 24.03.19, 1:18 AM
  • Updated 24.03.19, 1:18 AM
Summersalt band leader Kitkupar Shangpliang performs at a voter awareness campaign.
Summersalt band leader Kitkupar Shangpliang performs at a voter awareness campaign. The Telegraph picture

 “If music be the food of love, play on,” said Shakespeare in Twelfth Night.

Centuries later, as Meghalaya prepares for the Lok Sabha polls, the lines from the 17th century play can perhaps be paraphrased as: “If music be the food to garner votes, play on.”

From candidates to election officials, music has never missed its presence in Meghalaya’s elections —whether it is Assembly, local council or the parliamentary ones.

Take for instance Albert Nongrum. A resident of Mawthei in Ri Bhoi district, about 40km from here, Nongrum has been strumming his guitar and dishing out songs during election meetings since 2009.

“I phrase the lyrics and compose the music myself. For the lyrics, I first listen to the issues being discussed by the people at the grassroots level, the promises made by the candidates in the previous election, their speeches and then I do a reality check. I don’t believe in hearsay,” Nongrum told The Telegraph on Saturday.

Through music, Nongrum said he conveys his thoughts to the voters and draw their attention to the realities. He has been singing about issues like demonetisation and the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019. In last year’s Assembly polls, he was accompanied by two of his daughters who sang the songs composed by him, while Nongrum strummed his guitar.

Apart from Nongrum, there are candidates who have come up with their own songs — ranging from the traditional to hip-hop music — to woo voters.

For the April 11 parliamentary polls, candidates like Vincent H. Pala of the Congress and Jemino Mawthoh of the United Democratic Party have already come up with their songs.

“Kawei ka sur, la ïa monlang Bah Jemino Mawthoh, (In one voice, Jemino Mawthoh was chosen)” goes the song on Mawthoh in Khasi language. “Wanrah ka Bom na Ri Khasi un tied hapoh Delhi, Kan sa sawa ha Dorbar Bah ka nam jong u Khasi… (He will take the Drum to Delhi, The name of the Khasi race will reverberate inside the grand Assembly)”. Drum is UDP’s poll symbol.

The song on Pala uses rap music to draw voters. One of the singers sing: “U Ma Vincent Pala wa yoo jngai, Ïeiñ tylli, ïa chon lang waroh, Hei dur ka Kti, Ka symbol wa saiñdur naduh wa ïoh state I, Haduh katni... (Vincent Pala is a farsighted leader.…Let us unite, and let us all vote on the Hand, the symbol which has shaped us since statehood and until today),” goes the song on Pala.

The state election machinery has also been using music to educate voters and encourage them to cast their votes.

“It was smart of the Meghalaya chief electoral officer (F.R. Kharkongor) to have chosen music to communicate the pertinent issues vis-à-vis elections, because, in Meghalaya, music works. Music is very transcendental in nature and has proved to have the ability to by-pass the mind and get straight into the soul and the Meghalaya story will confirm that,” Summersalt band leader Kitkupar Shangpliang said.

“It is less instructional and informational, but more inspirational and engaging. The plan was for a listener/ viewer to associate himself with the brand — and the brand definition is ‘Voting is trending’,” Shangpliang said. The song ‘Tarak Tak Tak’ became an instant hit, he said, as it is a “people’s song”.