Excerpt of a telephonic interview with Padma Shri Guru Rewben Mashangva

I feel like I am a bridge that connects antiquity with modernity. My ability to manipulate different musical instruments also contributed to the recognition of my works. Since other musicians don’t know how to play these indigenous instruments (Tingteila and Sipa), my music stood out distinctly.

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Guru Rewben Mashangva was born on 21 June 1961 and brought up in Choithar village of Ukhrul district, Manipur, to a father who was a carpenter. Guru Mashangva has come a long way from the life of matriculate, street hummer to the podium of Padma Shri, India’s fourth highest civilian award in 2021. Along Guru’s uncharted and hard way in his musical journey, with sheer hard work and entirely self-taught, Guru Mashangva went on to create a unique soundscape, revitalizing Naga folk songs and music.

Guru Mashangva was honoured with an award by Manipur State Kala Akademi in 2005 for his commendable contribution toward Tribal Culture, and certificate for training “shishyas” in Tangkhul Naga Folk Song, 2004-2006, under the Guru Shishya Parampara of the Ministry of Culture, Government of India, and accolades such as North East Excellence Award by Indian Chamber of Commerce, 2009, “in recognition of his innate musical mastery and knowledge of Naga Folk Music”, and National Tribal Award by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs for his contribution “in the field of Tribal Art and Culture, 2011-12.

The following is excerpt of a telephonic interview with Guru Rewben Mashangva by Ningchihan K Hungyo from Ukhrul Times on January 27, 2021.

Heartiest congratulations from Ukhrul Times on receiving India’s 4th highest Civilian Award Padma Shri 2021!

Oh! Thank you very much.

How do you feel having received the prestigious award?

Ok, well, I have always enjoyed singing, but I never ever imagined I would attain the present popularity level. In the course of time, due to my passion as I learned and sang (Tangkhul) folk songs, I began to feel the need to change the style of our folk song because people, by that I mean our own Tangkhul people, do not like it anymore. There is a need for change; the essence of folk songs will remain as it is but by polishing them into fashionable version so that it could be acceptable to modern world, I began my singing. It was not for any award as such.

Obviously, I never ever imagined I would receive the Padma Shri Award. Now that I have been honoured, I am just wondering what I would do next after having been given this great responsibility! I really don’t know how to react! I was happy when I was conferred on the title ‘Guru’. I was happy too when I received All India Tribal Award. But, this Padma Shri award is too much for me!

(Humorously) What am I supposed to do now? Am I supposed to cover my head as I walk down the road? Am I not allowed to go to small events? And, will people stop inviting me to dinner due to my status now?

Ha ha ha . . .

Hope status and popularity will eventually answer all these questions. What are the criteria of selection for this Award?

I was nominated by our state (Manipur). All the states in the country nominate their own candidates with extraordinary contribution in their respective arts such as music, literature or any field, and those who will bring laurels to the state are nominated by the state governments. If you look around, there are many artists much better than me. However, there are ‘things’ in my music which are not found in others’. It was the responsibility of the state Home ministry. My works focused on ‘Culture and Peace”; I am not only a singer but an activist of Culture and Peace. I am not a broken love song singer but a human right singer.

When there was any conflict, I was there with my songs. In fact I was so present everywhere that there were times my integrity and sincerity were questioned by people as well as by the authority. For instance, when I sang the song “Wuhan”, since there is ceasefire with NSCN and the Government of India, I received a call from the Intelligence Bureau questioning me if I was connected to the Naga Peace Talks, and that I supported China. But when they did research they realized that my works were nothing but ‘Culture and Peace”.

You mean, even though there were words about you doing the rounds, as they found nothing malicious or fishy after verification, they have nothing to implicate you?

Exactly, there is nothing to implicate me. In a way these controversies made me even more popular.

How do you relate Padma Shri Award with Manipur?

Hmm . . . many misunderstood me when I say I am a Manipuri, but I am not a Meitei. I am a Tangkhul and I belong to the state of Manipur. My Aadhaar Card, Driving License and other ID cards say it all. I got the Padma Shri Award because the Government of Manipur nominated me. So I am deeply grateful to Manipur government, the state that I belong to. Please don’t misunderstand me when I say this. Whenever someone from other state asks my state, I say Manipur. And the message of my music is meant to spread beyond the barriers of all political and racial boundaries with focus on Peace and Culture.

To whom do you ascribe your success?

I whole-heartedly thank the President of India for honouring a humble person like me. And of course, without the support of Manipur government, I could not have achieved all this success. Secondly, I acknowledge my hard work. And most impo

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