The Unforgettable Blues Band From The Valley Of Kangchenjunga
By: Arghadeep Barua (Singer/ Aspiring Filmmaker)
(I had a telephonic interview with a man who changed my way of looking at music. This article is all about him and his band I.Q Cannabis. The very day I completed my story, I received the news that the man who taught me that music was like god and that, it is beyond any categorisation was no more).
I-Q Cannabis was a three-member band from Darjeeling. Three of them were childhood friends. Ashish Adhikari was the frontman and guitarist, Tsheten Bhutia was on the drums and Pranup played the bass. They were from the small village of Rajbari, and started about seven or eight years ago playing heavy metal. But it was only after they had been to Kathmandu, Nepal, that they realised blues was their cup of tea. Later, they played all sorts of music from blues, jazz, rock n roll, funk, progressive etc. Music to them, was something that could not be categorised.
The journey for the band was not very smooth. When they moved to Kathmandu, they had one meal a day. (Yes, the passion of having to make and play music weren’t that easy back then, and if you are an aspiring musician in the 21st century, you must thank the stars for all that we have today). I-Q’s first gig as a blues band was at Mangan Fest, Sikkim, where they emerged as runners up. While performing at the gig, they did not have enough money to buy high end instruments, much less; they did not even have a processor. They had to borrow the drumsticks as well, from a fellow band. They bought their first instruments with the prize money they won at Mangan. Even though they had to face tons of difficulties, they loved performing on the stage and loved doing what they did, that is – playing good music. They had a strong conviction – that it wasn’t the instruments that moved one’s heart but the music that they played. They were not daunted by the financial constraints and they kept being remarkable musicians for as long as they were together. They were musicians that had the potential to see places and gain nationwide popularity.
I-Q Cannabis was all about living in the moment. Some may find it hard to believe but they never really prepared for a gig, their performances were all spontaneous. Ashish once said in an interview, “All our compositions are based on 12 bar blues because it helps. As I start strumming and look at the crowd, music comes to me naturally. Even for my band mates, it’s the same story. It just happens.” I-Q Cannabis had original compositions like, “Bollywood Crap, no hard feelings”, which was about moms watching mother-in-law and sister-in-law soaps on television and crying their heart out. “That’s not politics”, which was about politicians fracturing the nation, “Cloud”, which was about an abandoned Nepali kid, they met during their travel to Kathmandu.
If you knew anyone who enjoyed the music by I-Q Cannabis, they would tell you how good of a blues band they were, especially Ashish, who was a phenomenal frontman. The moment they appeared on stage was the moment the whole atmosphere would change. I-Q always had a positive response from the people and had Ashish been here today the band would have been one of the best blues bands from the Northeast. They experienced their first exposure to the Indian rock scene only when they visited Nagaland and won the Northeast Art Fusion contest organised by the Music and Art Fusion Society of Nagaland. The band played some of their famopus originals and the moment I-Q performed, it was pure magic. The packed hall along with the judges and the special guests ‘ABIOGENESIS’ stood up in unison, saying that they had never seen such a performance in their lifetime. I-Q Cannabis performed at IIT Guwahati’s annual rock festival, Rock O Phoenix where they stood as runners up. They were also the Guest Band, at Fireball, Guwahati’s biggest music festival, which was headlined by Bhayanak Maut and East India Company. They performed at various fests in Darjeeling and headlined a major event in Kathmandu.
Legendary is an overused adjective in popular culture, but Ashish’s passing is a salutary reminder of what someone in the field actually looked like. He infused songs with a sense of urgency against a driving beat, and captured the spirit of his age and crystallised the experiences he saw around him with words, unsullied performances, and emotive punchlines. I-Q Cannabis will remain one of the Holy Grail bands that will never sellout. Many genuine rock musicians say that you have to really love music to stick with it and I-Q Cannabis proved this for as long as they lived. They had the right attitude and they had a passion for music, and stuck with it.
(Ashish Adhikari passed away in December, 2004. His supple voice, his panache performances and his contributions to the music community in the Northeast will forever be valued)
“Sometimes, all that you’ve ever been searching for is and had always been right beside you!” – Michael M Sailo
Michael Sailo, also known as ‘Aceman’, was one of the forerunners of Hip-Hop music in the Northeast, who had a gift for soulful composition and songwriting. He was famous as a rapper yet, many do not know of his contributions as one of the band members of the famous electro-rock progressive band, “The Scavenger Project” from Mizoram. Michael was born in Aizawl, on November 16. He studied at the Helen Lowry School in Aizawl and Adventist Training School in Jowai, Meghalaya. After passing his 10th in 1993, Michael went for higher studies at Spicer Memorial College in Pune, Maharashtra. He had always shown an interest in music since his childhood and his dream helped him start his own studio and production house ‘Spaceville Pro Sessions’ in Aizawl in 2011. He had his start as a rapper in Pune in 2002 and it was when he got home that he decided there was no looking back. Michael worked as a Sound Engineer at Zozam Audio-Visual Inc for three years starting in 2003. In 2008, Michael and a few musicians got together to form ‘The Scavenger Project’, one of the most popular bands in Mizoram and Northeast. The band was a blend of electronic, progressive rock, hip hop and nu metal. The band participated in many shows and competitions which won them awards and recognitions. Michael is considered as the pioneer of Hip Hop in Mizoram and the Northeast.
Michael was laid to rest n the 8th of April amidst thousands of mourners bidding goodbye to the man who was a source of inspiration and inspired the hearts of many and as well. The celebrated rap singer, whose fans spread across India’s northeast and abroad is survived by his wife Spi Bawitlung, who is also a renowned singer in Mizoram and two children.
Notable achievements and works of the Aceman:
- He is regarded as the pioneer of Hip Hop in Aizawl and Northeast in general.
- He was one of the most versatile artistes, who had a knack for all kinds of genres.
- He has produced/recorded for many artists in Mizoram.
- He has two studio albums, which he produced, recorded, mixed & mastered on his own.
- He has numerous awards and accolades to his name including the Lelte Award and Rimawi Khawvel Award as Best Rapper and Best New Artist.
- His production and collaboration has shot many aspiring new artists to the top charts.
- He has a huge fan base in the Northeast.
- He co-fronted the rock band “The Scavenger Project” from Aizawl, a band that made to the finals of Independence Rock in Mumbai.
Michael lived his entire life far from the ordinary, and it is hard to take in the fact that we will never see him sing again, with the familiar poise that offered a wordless cry with all his incandescence. It truly is sad when we know we will never hear him croon his famous, “Little Angel don’t you cry”. Michael made music that soundtracked the younger days of thousands of Northeasterners. He wasn’t living fast to die young but living fast with plans to live forever. When he rapped, people hung on to every word – clever, supple and absorbing. He no doubt had a huge impact on upcoming rappers who watched him run rampant with a microphone. His voice and the unorthodox approach to rhyme schemes was and will be revered by many. Michael’s goodness, humility, kindness and most importantly, his music will be truly missed!
“Sing No Sad Songs for Me”
– Lamtsala Sangtam (13th May, 1985-1st June, 2016)
There is so much to say about this incredibly gifted woman who had a heart of gold. She was like my musical heroine from the Northeast. Everything about her inspired me and gave power to me. She was tough, she was fearless, she had a larger-than-life personality and stage presence, and she was like a female Robert Plant- she was a powerhouse. The first time I saw Lamtsala was at a concert in 2013. I was awestruck by the way she radiated so much control and supremacy on stage. She became a muse ever since. To sing to rock music is to have the firepower behind it and she had lots of it. I noticed how she would let loose with killer forte phrases, which always sounded powerful and never forced, and if you ask why, it was because she connected her voice with her body.
Lamtsala was a State Governor Award Winner in the field of music and was featured in MTV’s Soundtrippin-2. She was the vocalist of the famous folk-fusion band, Purple Fusion from Nagaland. The Band was formed on August, 2012 with an aim to promote the rich tradition and culture of Nagaland through music. They collaborated with some of the biggest names in the International as well as the National music scene like John W. Schlitt – Petra, Rahul Ram – Indian Ocean, Rabbi Shergill etc. They performed abroad and toured in some major cities of India and most of the states in the Northeast. They were the only band from Northeast India to have performed at the International Film Festival of India. They contributed their music as the main act for a documentary film called “Songs of the Blue Hills” by a National Award winning director which was screened in Switzerland, Warsaw, Sweden, USA- New York and Italy. They were the winner of the best Folk Fusion album at the Akademia awards (Los Angeles California) in 2014; they came second at Sennheiser’s top emerging band of India 2015 and won the Radio City Freedom Awards ’16 for Best Folk Fusion Artist.
Lamtsala was like a gymnast in terms of technique and an artist who liked to change it up. She would often jump from one vocal register to another, making for an exciting performance. I looked at her the way people looked at their favourite local artistes, and to me, she was the best fusion songster from the state. When it comes to concert performances, I don’t want them frozen in time because Music is a live experience and when you freeze it in place, you destroy it. Lamstala had a knack for rock and roll and the way she improvised Live on stage was remarkable – remarkable, because she was a self-taught singer and it illustrated her artistic range. The charisma and emotional intensity from her performances was spot on. It’s safe to say she was a force behind the way Purple Fusion could take their music to a new place. Whenever they performed, they played in the moment, wherever they performed, the crowd took a part of the band with them.
I perhaps wasn’t fated to meet Lamtsala, but I am thankful for the days we talked on the telephone as well as on instant messengers, when I was doing a piece on her. “We will meet up someday. I hope you’ll write of my victory once all this is over?” she would say. When I asked if she had a message she’d like to send across her fans and all the people who have been there, she said, “I want to thank all of them for the immense love and support I’m receiving every day. And to all the cancer fighters, “Don’t lose hope. Be strong and do what you love but listen to your doctor too. Remember, we are born to win”.
On the 1st of June, 2016, while I was traveling, I got the news that Lamtsala was no more. She passed away after a prolonged battle with cancer- the fight through which I was taught to have the kind of zeal she had. When we humans at times of despondency wish our existence was robbed off, Lamtsala, even after all that she had been through, wanted to live, she wanted to live and tell the world of her story, and that was the best of all the lessons she passed on. Many times, people tend to think that musicians and well-known people live lives unscathed by the frailties that overshadow the rest of us. But that is all just an illusion. Infact sometimes they deal with these frailties better than we do and Lamtsala was a living proof. In her short years of success, she touched thousands of people across the country. She left a strong legacy behind in the music industry and has impacted my life with her voice, her unwavering faith and her never-say-quit attitude. Lamtsala with her powerful voice has inspired me to accept myself and most importantly, to follow my passion and to use that passion as a barrier against gray skies and a bridge for people to be able to connect with me. Today, I live to tell her story through this medium, to you, hoping you are moved, just as her life moved me.