While the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic was receding in Manipur last year, they managed to sell around a hundred physical copies of their EP.
By Ningombam Captain
Meewakching. What can I say but that I know them. I can tell you factual things, if it is really true that their song “Ekhenglakta” was inspired by the film Mami Sami (2008), or even give you useless information like what the band members touched at their own weaning (chak-oom-ba) ceremonies. Either way I can safely maintain that I know them well enough.
The band might tell you that they were formed in 2019. But believe me, it is a little more complex than that. It was in the early months of 2019 that a band metamorphosed into Meewakching just like how that father-fearing fellow who woke from troubled dreams, found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin. But in our case, an obscure band turned into one of the most promising rock bands the Imphal independent music scene has ever seen. In order to know Meewakching, one should remember a band; a band not known to many, but one which I treasure and relay to others with mythic undertones. My dear reader, there was once a band called Tarzans and Perverts.
Tarzans and Perverts (TAP)
The band name would have easily made to the top three or an honorable mention in a list of the stupidest band names in the history of post-punk revival. I never ask how they got the name but I subscribe to this assumption of mine that it was inspired by this pornographic movie called “Tarzan-X: Shame of Jane”, which was quite popular in those days, I must say— those Nokia-Keypad-Pocket-Internet days. True to the traditional modus operandi of all precocious bands, Tarzans and Perverts started out performing at their school function. It was the Teachers’ Day Celebration of 2013 at Pioneer Academy, Palace Compound (formerly). By Tarzans and Perverts one implies the original trio: Silheiba Ningombam on vocals, Ronald Sorokhaibam on drums and Sanathoi Rajkumar on bass; out of which, the first two have been the most consistent members of the band, still holding on to their instruments in/as Meewakching.
After the trio made an outstanding move— performing in front of the prominent indie musicians of the scene in an auspicious little jam session at Nagamapal, they landed on gigs and became a staple at festivals like Peace Blast and River Bank Music Festival. In 2014, as their big break, they shared the stage with the Delhi-based Pink Floyd tribute band, Think Floyd at the Nokia X Yaoshang Rock Season 3 at Thau Ground, Thangmeiband.
The most lineup changes of TAP is suffered by the bass guitar. Do you know Andy Nicholson, the original bassist of Arctic Monkeys who left the band just before they made it to America? Similarly, the prodigal son, Sanathoi Rajkumar left the band before TAP became Meewakching. The last time I saw Tarzans and Perverts live was in Sagolband at the Peace Blast of 2016 with Swami Laimayum as their new bassist. They covered Florence + the Machine, and their usual Sheffield special, Arctic Monkeys. TAP never officially broke up. They just became Meewakching.
In 2015, Tarzans and Perverts released an EP titled “The Experiment” containing three tracks sung in English, which was the trio’s amateurish attempt at the short but solid, radio-friendly post-punk tracks put out by The Stokes and the likes. The EP was sold as CD’s worth 50 rupees and they somehow managed to get it on the radio, for I remember how on that wintery December evening the Sangai Channel English presenter played their EP introducing them as “new kids on the block”, queuing it with songs from names like The Dirty Strikes and Pendulum Swing. At the time, that particular evening felt like witnessing the ascent of alternative music in Manipur reach insurmountable heights. I was wrong but it did feel that way.
Even with the undercooked songwriting and rushed productions, the songs are elemental to Meewakching’s ethos nonetheless. The tracks in question, “She Is A Diamond In The Rough”, “I Don’t Wanna Fall In It Again” and “Everything Is Beautiful Tonight” can be studied as blueprints that will explain and predict some songs in Meewakching’s discography. The postpubescent angst showcased in the first track guarantees Meewakching’s lyrics in the future to be laced with some ideals of nonconformity. The second track, an honest pop revision of melancholia, is congruent with songs like “Phungreithang” and “Karigumbada”. The last track, with lyrics like
“The skies, the skies are responding me,
They are spirally moving, bending, following me…
I feel I have lived for a million years…”
foreshadows Meewakching’s possible attempt at psychedelia and similar experimentations. Along with these three tracks from the EP, Tarzans and Perverts had four original songs sung in English. The fourth one however, was an unreleased single known only to some five-odd acquaintances of the band. While the potential and prowess of this single is immense, we cannot discuss it by virtue of it being “unreleased” and I suspect the band has future plans for it.
The seamless transition from Tarzans and Perverts to Meewakching is none but Silheiba Ningombam’s chronicle of attaining creative maturity. Born in Kongba Kshetri Leikai, he is the singer-songwriter who bestows sentience to the band. In the second half of 2016, after the River Bank Music Festival, TAP went inactive for months, during which Silheiba even thought of starting a solo career. To harness his overflowing creativity, he started working on Manipuri songs originally written during the time of TAP, which he then recorded under the new sobriquet, Sil Heiba. Thus, “Khallui” was released on YouTube and SoundCloud. This upbeat, baroque pop enquiry of heartbreak and nostalgia, with Sanahal Phairenjam on the violin materializes the very quintessence of Meewakching. Then came the fan-favorite “Nang gi Eshei” with further violin incantations from Sanahal.
Owing to my closeness to Meewakching, there are misconceptions if I manage them or if Silheiba is my cousin or something, us being Ningombam’s and all. But the truth is I met him on Facebook. He was a stranger before we went to the same University together. We stayed in the same hostel for some months and that’s when I witnessed how he wrote songs. He wrote them at night with a leaning tower of pizza boxes beside his bed. He always ate something in order to think, redefining the phrase “food for thought”. Despite being the founder of a rock outfit achieving admiration by many, he takes more pride in the fact that he used to be a promising Taekwondo player. If you go to an open field with him, it is very likely that he might throw an unsolicited somersault or demonstrate a roundhouse kick, well at least this is what happened while shooting the music video of “Heegok Machugi Telangga”.
One fateful day, shortly before recording “Nang gi Eshei”, Silheiba Ningombam was at home slicing meat for dinner. That was when he accidentally cut his finger and as a result of this righteous infliction, he couldn’t play the guitar for that session. So, he searched for a guitarist on short notice and found out that Ronald’s (the drummer) younger brother played some guitar. After that recording session, Dingku Sorokhaibam was called in for jam sessions and eventually became their official guitarist. With Sanahal and Dingku recruited, their lineup was complete; the Meewakching that we know came to be.
Meewakching has performed at music festivals like Wildernest, Where Have All The Flowers Gone?, New Earth, and they even managed to become a regular at XL Cafe and Billiards on weekends. I have been to a number of their live performances and I can assure you that they are never boring. While the bands we love to see live are carried by the charisma of the vocalist or lead guitarist, Meewakching has a slightly different approach in their stage presence, the physical chemistry of which has been noticed by many, including Akhu Chingangbam. Oh, I have seen him compliment them after a performance. I’m not jealous but since there are no independent music awards in Manipur, earning such a praise from him must have felt like winning an award for Best Live Performance. On seeing the rightful godfather of the music scene admire a band with that much excitement, I wanted to pick up a guitar and start a band right away.
In their live performances, there is no particular area of excess in the different positions of the band; Silheiba will not dominate even with the microphone and Telecaster at his disposal, and Swami will not remain unnoticed with the bass guitar. In every performance, each of them will have moments to stand out— Silheiba as the vocalist, will not exercise excess but judiciously flash his rockstar euphoria from time to time; Dingku will stand put in that meditative shoegaze stance, barely looking up but feeling our gazes still; the drummer, Ronald who resembles Matt Helders of Arctic Monkeys will drum like Matt Helders of Arctic Monkeys. Balance to this expanse of rippling energy will be brought about by the much needed recluse of Sanahal in front of his keyboard as if he is the one silently puppeteering the others, and the bassist’s unpredictable presence which is prone to erupt to a silly dance move even.
The modesty in Meewakching’s inception was short-lived as an unplanned/alternate music video of “Taibangduna Changlaktringei Manglanshida Ngaihak Leisi” went viral on Facebook. Shot by Bharati Yumnam, it became the most viewed video on Meewakching’s official YouTube channel. This music video catapulted the band to certain heights and expectations. They garnered new listeners and admiration from the small yet steady independent music community. With streaks of successful live performances they released their debut EP titled “Ekhenglakta” in 2020. While the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic was receding in Manipur last year, they managed to sell around a hundred physical copies of their EP. This sounds normal but it was actually a remarkable feat considering the popularity of online streaming platforms, and other hindrances brought about by the pandemic.
The direction of Meewakching’s future sound is currently swayed by Silheiba’s interest in experimentation and Sanahal’s recently bought Roland (read as, expensive) keyboard. Their jam sessions are filled with restless enthusiasm while displaying punk antics and discard whatever that worked the last time and adopt something new. I am very excited that they are currently working on their debut studio album. And I know someone who is more excited. Yes, Akhu Chingangbam.Meewakching