EDITIONS
Rural Innovation

Naga singer makes his own instruments from bamboo, gives new sound to music

Amoolya Rajappa
18th Dec 2017
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Moa Subong and his rock fusion band Abiogenesis take pride in playing the Bumhum, a wind bamboo instrument that produces unique indigenous tones that blends well with traditional Naga folk music.

From being part of high school music group to performing as a duo with his wife, to playing in his own folk fusion band to creating new instruments that are reviving folk tales of Nagaland, Moa Subong has come a long way.

The journey of a folk fusion band

A firm believer that necessity facilitates invention, Moa innovated to create Bumhum, an award-winning musical instrument that can be played and picked up even by novices easily.

Moa along with his wife Arenla also formed Abiogenesis, an exclusive four member folk fusion band, comprising musicians from Nagaland.

Recalling Abiogenesis’s progress over the years, Moa says,

We started as a rock band playing both covers and originals but over the years, we delved deeper and found enlightenment in 2005 in the form of Howey Music – a fusion of Naga music and varied western tunes.

Focused on discovering the best tunes from the past and blending it with contemporary musical trends to create new sounds for the future, Moa adds, “Now we play only original Howey music through which we tell the untold stories of Nagaland.”

The lyrics of Abiogenesis are in English and many of their songs are instrumental.

Creation of the novel Bumhum

Moa and his wife Arenla were surprised to find that there was a dearth of distinctive non-percussion instruments that could play all notes and compositions of Naga traditional music.

The guitar,violin, piano, sounded too Western. This served as a trigger and prompted me to develop an instrument that could be played instantly and had an indigenous sound. And that’s how the Bumhum was born (through many round of trials and errors).

The Bamhum, a durable, medium sized, flute-like bamboo instrument was handmade by Moa (using one of the sturdiest kinds of bamboo) to support Arenla’s style of singing.

Designed in just a year, it was unveiled in 2005 by the then Governor of Meghalaya, M.M. Jacob at the International Bamboo Fest in Shillong.

Since its invention in 2005, Bumhum has been the leading instrument of Abiogenesis, with Arenla popularising its sound in tune with synchronised harmonies played by Moa.

It is the only musical instrument in the world that can be played instantly, even by a novice. When a person tries to play it for the first time, and finds that he can play it, it amazes him and makes him want to own one, says Moa, explaining the USP of his fascinating innovation.

Popularising Naga folklores in an appealing way

Speaking on the important role instruments like Bumbum play in preserving and re-inventing Naga tradition/folklore, Moa says,

“The original sound produced by Bamhum has brought about a huge change in how Abiogenesis sounds today. It blends with the Howey style and makes our music stand out.”

Reiterating how Bumhum has contributed to revolutionising their music, he adds,

Youngsters in Nagaland are very fond of Western music and culture. Abiogenesis stands for modernisation and not westernisation. Pure folk also does not attract young masses. So we mix folk with the most modern music to attract them and have been very successful thus far.

For his unique innovation, Moa Subong received the 9th National Grassroots Innovation Award from Pranab Mukherjee, the former President of India at the Rashtrapati Bhawan on March 4, 2017. The National Innovation Foundation of India is also helping Moa set up a Bamhum manufacturing unit, which will commence mass production by early 2018.

Other innovations and way ahead

Interestingly, Bumhum is not the only musical instrument that Moa has invented. He also gave shape to another instrument called, the Tizkzik, a percussion instrument (that resembles a drum) that does not drown the music produced by all other instruments. Also made from bamboo, the Tizkzik, another star instrument of Abiogenesis can produce four distinct sounds.

Moa has his hands full for the upcoming year with plans for new forms of music and future innovations.

A documentary on Bamhum, created by Ravi Raju of the Film Division of India will be screened at the Mumbai International Film Festival from January 28 to February 4, 2018. We are excited to see the film, he says.

Moa and Arenla will also perform and conduct a workshop at the India Music Meet at Hyderabad that February 2018. “Right now we are working on a new album which will be followed by a few music videos for some select songs. We are planning a feature film based on Naga folklore for which Arenla has already written a script. It is in the pipeline for next year,” Moa, says, as he signs off.

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