In Conversation with Mangka Mayanglambam

It’s amazing how you acquired the knowledge of not just any kind of music, but folk music, that too, from a very tender age.

– It all started with a musical background in the family. My father, who is a national award winner, folk musician, versatile artiste, composer and artistic director of the Laihui Ensemble, has always been my inspiration. As a little girl, I would sing and dance with the artistes of Laihui, whenever they’d come home for practice.  I used to learn folk music from my dad and his associate artiste too. I was about nine when I first learned Manipuri music from Oja Langathel Thoinu – the system of learning was akin to that of Guru Shishya Parampara. I began learning how to play the Pena, a Manipuri traditional fiddle instrument from Padmashree oja Khangembam Mangi when I was thirteen, took a three year course of Hindustani Sangeet Visharad from Guru M. Jiten and finished my BA in Dance from Manipur Govt. Dance College.

I’m currently performing with the Laihui Ensemble and pursuing BA in English.


Do you sing songs that have been passed on from your ancestors or do you compose them as well? What are the traditional instruments that you use when you perform?

-I do sing the traditional songs sung by our ancestors. I generally sing Manipur folklores like the ‘Moirang Sai’ and “Pena Ishei” – a kind of ballad. I also sing a number of contemporary songs based on Manipuri folk tunes that are composed and written by my father and other renowned lyricists.

We use Pena, Meitei Pung, Dholok, Langden, Sanchi, Sarik etc. (these are percussions) and Toudri (traditional Manipuri flute).


I have noticed that some folk artistes become more like a novelty act when new forms of music transpire. Some of them even incorporate traditional dresses with avant-garde fashion. But as for you, the structure of your music and what you intend it to be for or how you convey it has always been untainted. How do you maintain that intent to keep traditional music alive, even when you know that the scene is dominated with modern music?

-“Preserve and propagate our traditional performing arts, through shows, with a modern and contemporary perspective – without compromising its originality”, this is what the group has always believed in, and it’s the reason we keep our folk music alive. But obviously, if a modern musician is ‘serious’ about folk music or has the ‘knowledge about this form of music’, then I’m sure he can make folk music with its ‘pure essence’ through a contemporary medium.


Most millennials don’t know the essence of folk songs and our traditions. Do you think the cultural attitudes and tastes of the new era is in some way a threat to our rich and rare heritage?

-It used to be, but I think it has changed.  I can see that people are actually starting to focus on promoting and preserving their culture. And, yes the new era has dominated it all, but soon enough, young people will realise the value of the rich culture where they’ve been brought up. Atleast that’s what I believe.


We love that you’re preserving your ethnicity and screening it through your songs. What else do you do when you’re not performing?

-Thank you. Well, I attend my classes; create documentations and researches related to our culture. I spend most of my time with children – singing, dancing and teaching.


If not a folk artiste, you’d have been?

-A singer of course. But the genre might have been slightly different, because it all depends on the foundation. I might have been just a dancer too.


What is a motto that you live by?

-Be just the way you are, love your perfect imperfections, belief in yourself and always wear a beautiful smile.

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