A delicious line-up of music and cultural festivals are enchanting visitors from across the country and abroad to different parts of the beautiful northeast India of eight sister states - Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura . Revealing the little-known facets of myriad cultural heritage and offering the perfect stage of pristine natural beauty, the festivals are becoming a must-do on music lovers’ itineraries.

Already underway in Arunachal Pradesh, is the Ziro Festival of Music (ZFM) (September 22-25). Tucked away in a discreet part of the country, amid lush hills and rolling paddy fields, is Ziro—the perfect setting for notes to flow unhindered. In its fifth edition this year, the festival has garnered a lot of enthusiasm and is already one of the most looked-forward to festivals in the country.

Lubna Shaheen, who has been closely associated with the ZFM since its inception in 2012, says that conceptually the festival aims to create a space where there is a synergy between the northeast and the rest of the country. “And in these five years, this is what exactly has happened,” Lubna told The Indian Diaspora.

The festival found its roots when, in 2011, the band, Menwhopause, who were on their maiden northeast tour, had to postpone their Itanagar gig because of a curfew. “The local promoter, Bobby Hano, then decided to take up to Ziro, where he is from. This is where Anup Kutty, the guitarist of Menwhopause, and Bobby talked about doing a festival in the valley, and the Ziro festival was born,” Lubna recalled.

The band line-up sees an equal division from the northeast and the rest of the country, with a few from abroad. “In 2013, we saw Lee Ranaldo and Steve Shelly of (the American rock band) Sonic Youth fame. In 2015, the Burmese rock band, Side Effect, performed, and in 2016, we will have Italian band, GramLines, and Gambian musician Kora player, Dawda,” she said. There will also be a theatre performance.

Vishal Sharma, a “true blue Bombay-ite”, as he calls himself, is one of the many already at Ziro, camping in the open and “living the festival”. “I was here last year, am here now, will be back again. This is the most awesome outdoor music festival!” he said.

Following close on the heels of ZFM is the Bacardi NH7 Weekender in Shillong (October 21-22). Nicknamed the ‘Happiest Music Festival’, this musical treat has some impressive line-up of artists and bands—Rock artist, Steven Wilson (of Porcupine Tree); American alternative rock band, Vertical Horizon; Farhan (Akhtar) Live; Papon (of East India Company), Vir Das’ Alien Chutney, Soulmate, to name a few. Like in ZFM, there’s ample opportunity to discover the beauty of folk-fusion music here as well, right in the pretty setting of the ‘abode of the clouds’, Meghalaya.

This is the second edition of the Weekender in Shillong. Last year, the festival brought Megadeth and The Wailers—generating an electrifying excitement and attracting music lovers from across the country. According to Vijay Nair, CEO of Only Much Louder (OML) which runs the festival, Shillong was a dream destination ever since the festival started in 2010.

Nair reveals some of interesting tit-bits to up the attraction quotient. Soulmate, he says, will have an interesting set, with a choir joining them on stage to narrate the evolution of blues as a genre; Farhan Akhtar, after a long movie shoot in the northeast, will debut in the festival; and Manipur-based Imphal Talkies will return after a stellar performance last year.

Come December, one of the most well-known festivals in the northeast now—the Hornbill Festival—will get underway in Kohima, Nagaland. Although it’s more of a cultural festival, aimed at showcasing the rich tribal heritage of the state, music plays a big part. Folk dances add splashes of colour to the festival, and the Hornbill National Rock Concert in the evenings, are a big attraction.

Celebrated in the first week of December every year, the Hornbill Festival takes place in the Kisama Heritage Village, about 10 km from Kohima. Started in the year 2000 by the state government, this cultural extravaganza attracts a lot of foreign tourists.

John Staal, a Belgian, along with some of his friends are among the many who have booked their air tickets to be at Kohima to attend the festival. “I have been told that the festival offers you a sneak peek into the different cultural traditions of the different tribes of Nagaland. I am a little aware about the Naga culture, thanks to an Indian friend from that region. So we are really enthusiastic to know more,” Staal said over email to The Indian Diaspora.

So if you are a music lover, or a nature enthusiast; someone looking for a quaint holiday in the hills (or valley), or are simply curious about the northeast, you have plenty on the menu to choose from and get drenched in an experience worth remembering.

(Azera Rahman can be contacted at azera.rahman@gmail.com)

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