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Savitha Gautam Hindu 2009/05/22
TelegraphIndia April 25 , 2013
Georgina Maddox DailyMail UK 26 April 2012
Kiran Pahwa TopNewsMon, 05/23/2011
Annual Bob Dylan birthday celebrations
Telegraph India: You are referred to as the Dylan of India. Your reaction to that?
Lou Majaw: Big joke! Lou Majaw is a tiny drop of lyrical writing where Dylan is a megaton (chuckles).
Bob Dylan may not be as gung-ho about his birthday as the residents of Shillong, often referred to as the capital of rock music in India. For, in this serene hill town, Dylan’s birthday means festival time. Yes, concerts abound and Dylan songs rent the air. And one man who takes centre stage and leads the festivities is blues folk musician Lou Majaw.
But Majaw is best known for his 'Bob Dylan Birthday Concerts', which he has been hosting every year since 1972.
Majaw, a Khasi (a tribe in Meghalaya, India and parts of Bangladesh), has often been described as one of the biggest fans of Bob Dylan in the North-East, and is the driving force behind the annual Bob Dylan birthday celebrations.
Born to Raphael Thangkhiew and late Philisita Majaw on April 14 1947 in Mawlai, Shillong, Lou attended the Sacred Heart Boys’ High School, Mawlai and Don Bosco Technical School, Laitumkhrah, Shillong where he first took up the guitar and played in the school band. As it turned out, Majaw never got around to completing his academic education; instead, he was soon travelling and playing music wherever the music takes him and earning his keep along the way.
'I was from a poor family that couldn't even afford to buy a radio. We played music because it was our way of sharing with the world what we had in our soul.'
Hailing from a poor family, Majaw was sent to a hostel. Says he, “My romance with the guitar began there. I would even sleep with it, never parted from the instrument.” Here he was introduced to the music of Bill Haley and Elvis Presley by a friend. It was in Kolkata that Majaw chanced upon the genius of Dylan. “The more you know him, the more there is to learn about him,” he says.
His early influences were Elvis Presley, and Bill Haley, but then he moved on to the Beatles and finally Dylan. Majaw says: ‘A whole lot. Music is something so diverse that you can't limit to one. I admire Elvis as performer, which adds to his great voice and good looks. Chuck Berry, John Lennon and, of course, Bob Dylan would be on my list.’
Career (1965- )
Majaw never thought he would become a big name when he started playing.
He started his professional career as a performing artiste in music and he recalled his first professional performance in association with Oracle Bones at Moulin Rouge (Calcutta) in 1965, after he moved on with the Fentones, Blood and Thunder, Supersound Factory and many others.
After a few years as a struggler in Shillong, Majaw moved to Kolkata where he played at various pubs, bars and with bands like the Dynamite Boys, Vanguards, Supersound Factory and Blood and Thunder.
He jammed with some of the biggest names of the Kolkata music scene like Nondon Bagchi, Arjun Sen and Lew Hilton.
Lou Majaw is one of the most respected musicians from the North-East. However, his journey was not a cakewalk. An old lady from his village remembers him thus, “We used to be scared of him. Long hair and dark teeth and so tall! Also he was the first man we ever saw who had a guitar!” But today, Majaw’s influence is best described by a young girl, “We have discovered the genius of Bob Dylan thanks to Majaw.”
'I performed with bands that did their own material such as Supersound Factory and Blood & Thunder, but these days, because I like to play with bands from all over India, mine is called Lou Majaw & Friends,' says the singer who recently bagged the Rolling Stone Award for Excellence.
So taken in was he by the legendary songwriter-singer that he decided to organise a ‘Dylan’s birthday concert’ in Shillong on May 24, 1972. And that became an annual event, a tradition that remains unbroken even after 37 years. Dylan fans across all over travel thousands of miles just to listen to Majaw and his band Ace of Spades croon, and reconnect with Dylan, the poet.
As the band plays at a hotel in Kolkata to mark Dylan’s 60th birthday, Majaw’s power-packed performance keeps the listeners riveted. When asked where he gets the energy to keep the tradition alive, or why he conducts it year after year, Lou states, “It was in Kolkata that I first heard Dylan’s songs. That changed my life forever. Doing it is the goal and the reward.”
Blessed with a honey voice and a guitar he sleeps next to ('Much less trouble than a woman,' he jokes winking devilishly),
At age 66 he can still outplay any young gun, and a concert with Lou for up to four hours at a stretch is not uncommon. This is not a man who sings at his crowd – he is singing with them, he is one with them. Lou lives with his son Christopher Dylan Majaw (“Christopher for God, Dylan for music and Majaw for man” the proud father says) in Shillong. And yet he is like all those travelling blues musicians and folk singers who so inspired Bob Dylan.
L’enfant terrible, a wacky sense of humour and an ironic simplicity moulded in a single frame is what defines the veteran worshipper who sees life’s endless lessons as an enriching roller coaster ride best enjoyed with an element of hope.
“I am selfish to be honest. The quest to learn more never dies out and I get to know something new every time I perform with my fellow musicians,” said Majaw, who considers himself to be a performing artiste and yet distinctly different from being a solo artiste. “My fellow musicians consider me to be a singer/songwriter. I don’t stake claim to that. I simply love to sing,” are words of conviction he shoots.
His favourite spot, Café Shillong, sipping on special Lou Majaw tea, eating hot, steamy momos
When he's not playing Folk or the Blues in low-lit bars, Lou Majaw likes to walk around Delhi. On the morning before his gig at Manajsa (Delhi), he had walked from his hotel to the Hauz Khas pub in his trademark shorts and sleeveless tee.
Telegraph India: Tell us something about your association with Bhupen Hazarika.
Lou Majaw: Bhupen, I remember him for his commendable contribution in the field of music, who left Assam a sad man. I enjoyed working with him for he shared a nature similar to mine…happy go lucky. I remember performing with him in the song We are in the same boat brother a couple of years back at Saru- sajai…probably his last stage performance.
Telegraph India: You’ve been invited to collaborate on a song for an Assamese film. How is it going?
Lou Majaw: I felt I could have done better if I had more time to go in-depth and live the song.
'I did it not to make money or to hang out with broads'
Telegraph India: You never sing for money. How do you get by?
Lou Majaw: I love strumming the guitar and singing along, for my love of music is all too strong. More than the monetary benefits of performing, I am happy to be alive. I live on what I receive but never demand. I was offered Rs 1,000 per hour to teach music, but I refused, for I believe music should be free.
His own songs
Telegraph India: Electric, acoustic…what is Lou Majaw’s pick?
Lou Majaw: Both, with an equal emphasis. A lot depends on what situation I find myself in. A small gathering in a closed room can be answered with an acoustic and a bigger audience needs to be given an electrifying act which only comes by cranking up the volume on an electric guitar. Depends on the mood and mindset too!
Telegraph India: Let’s start with the lyrical content of your songs.
Lou Majaw: I sing just about anything. I enjoy the beauty in everything and compose it to form a song. My lyrics reflect what I believe.
Telegraph India: From your own compositions, which is your favourite?
Lou Majaw: ‘Hey little man,’ ‘ Oh most beautiful’ and ‘Across the sea of sorrow’ would be at the top. I love it when people come up to me and say that they can relate to the songs.
Telegraph India: Name a song that defines Lou Majaw best.
Lou Majaw: Across the sea of sorrow. The feeling associated with this song is personal. I have learnt a lot…and yet there is more…with every knocking at my door.
A FEW LINES FROM LOU’S FAMOUS SONG
Hey Little Man
You got no time to smile
At the people you meet
You got no time to look to the sky
When you're busy looking down at your feet
You got no race to run
No battle to fight
You cower to your little corner
And shy away from the light
Hey little man
Take a look around you
Hey little man
The world needs everyone
The world needs me and the world needs you
Come and walk with me awhile
I'm gonna share your load
You've been many a mile
Through that hard and dusty road
Some of the many other articles on North-East Indian popular culture:
The link 'Cinema-TV-Pop' (near the bottom of this page) will lead you to the complete list of articles about the cinemas of the North-East and other South Asian regions
All Saints’ Church & Cemetery, Shillong
(And even more about 'Meghalaya')