Our daily lives are enriched by music. Our mornings commence with music on the radio. The neighbours’ kids strum the guitar to sing a song or two from The Koi or Eyoom. In the afternoon the waste pick-up truck passes through our narrow lanes blasting Tapta’s “Black Law”. By night the day ends with our earphones on eyes glued to social media. But no one cares to ask how the musicians who create the music are faring during the pandemic. The pandemic has hit everyone hard. Especially in such testing times we find solace in art. Music soothes our souls and makes the harsh uncertainly of our times seem bearable. But the people who create this art are also among those facing the brunt of the pandemic. In a place like Imphal where artists earn meagre amounts through live gigs, Covid19 has made it difficult for artists to survive. I don’t know how often we even get to perform in a given normal pre covid day. Despite having so many young energetic bands, the music scene still lacks live performance spaces. Our music are available in all major online platforms but who actually buys music these days. These platforms only serve to provide exposure, but not income.
It is heart breaking to see fellow musicians selling away their music instruments to survive this pandemic. These are the same musicians who have made this corrupt valley a bit hopeful with their music. At times they become the voice of the voiceless. Imphal can’t do without the music these musicians have made. The music is in the air.
Artists are survivors! They know how hard it is to be who they are. They follow their dreams and passion, they walk the path that others only hear about in fairy tales. A friend often tells me artists are the dream-keepers of a society. Now the question is how do we save these artists/dream-keepers from giving up in these desperate times? Will this non-dissenting-government care to support the independent artists who have their own critical take towards the same government? I don’t think so! Should we have a collective of artists to support each other during such time? I seriously don’t know the solution. I myself have been a full time musician for last eight years and it’s been not easy. Even if we have a collective of artists we would need some philanthropic support from the outside world.
Countries like Australia and UK have announced great sum of fund to support artists and art organisation.
No one knows when this pandemic will end. And the future of many artists is bleak. We can’t imagine any festivals taking place in the near future. Our own art and music festival, ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone?’ is not happening this year. Last year at Phayeng we had above 10,000 people in the festival. This must be the only crowdfunded festival in the country on such a large scale. The festival benefits the local people as well the musicians. This year would have marked the 7th edition of the festival and we were planning to bring down artists from Bangladesh and Nepal. But it has to be shelved.
Festival organisers are doing online festivals now all over the world. Here in Manipur too many are going live online. But I wonder if the artists and bands are paid. I myself have been approached a couple of times for such online shows. But those were about entertaining your followers in social media. What about you? Often artists are expected to do shows for free especially during this pandemic. Why would artists play for free? It is important that they get what is due to them.
In the beginning of this pandemic I was part of a campaign called Assistance for Disaster Affected Artistes (ADAA) initiated by Indian classical singer Subha Mudgal and her friends. The campaign supported around 120 artistes across India. 13 artists from Manipur received 30k each. May be we need a campaign of such sort to support and encourage each other. And in return we give our music or any art forms free of cost to the public.