Ziro is not a music festival it is an experience
A line we heard over and over by countless number of people. I will set a little background first. The only music festivals Karan and I have been to are NH7 and Supersonic and since we were based out of Pune these were not exactly “Outdoor Music Festivals”. So whenever someone said the above mentioned line I could only wonder what is so different. It also set an expectation for the festival. Through this post I will be talking about what Ziro Festival of Music(ZFM) 2018 was about and the “experience” of an outdoor music festival.
The Festival and the Artists
When we had planned the road trip to north-east, Ziro was already on the map. In fact ZFM 2018 was the first destination for us. We had bought the early bird tickets and were quite excited about this festival as we had heard raving reviews about it. Being post-rock fans, you can only imagine how ecstatic we were when one of the biggest bands we followed since our college days, MONO of Japan, was announced as one of the headliners of the festival. OMG! Excited as ever, we left our hostel cum homestay for the first day of the festival with very little knowledge of what we were to see.
The golden valley of Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh has been home to one of the greatest outdoor festivals in India for 7 years now. Every year after the end of monsoons the Ziro valley is filled with music lovers from across the country to celebrate music and artists from around the world over 4 days. The love and hospitality of the Apatani tribe adds a unique charm to the entire experience.
Day 1 happened to fall on a Thursday, which meant there were very few people on this day. We were a bit too excited and reached way ahead of time 😛 Early enough to see a rehearsal of the opening poem song which was performed by the locals 😂 The setup was extensive.
There were 2 stages, Danyi and Piilo which mean sun and moon respectively in Apatani. Danyi was going to be the day stage and Piilo the night one. The day stage was for more intimate and mellow performances with the backdrop of the valley. The audience sat on an elevated grassy platform like an amphitheater while the band performed on the stage. The night stage was to let the artists set the stage on fire, the crowd could stand in front of the stage and jump and dance as and when they felt like. One of the things we loved immediately was that there were no overlapping performances on the two stages so we did not have to choose what we wanted to see and could see EVERYTHING if we wanted to!
The Festival Ground
The festival ground was a vast area surrounded by ready to be harvested golden paddy fields. There were various stalls around the festival selling local food, local rice beer (Apong 😁), finger food, cupcakes, ZFM merchandise and various accessories. The main food court had the biggest seating arrangement of tables and chairs.
The second biggest setup was atop a hillock which had a machan where one could sit and see the entire festival ground on one side and the valley on the other. There were flatter platform at the end of the hillock where we could sit and dangle our feet in the air while gazing into the beautiful paddy fields. There were also various creatively designed structures (these would become our favorite spot over the next few days) in this area. Close to this setup was a huge sitting area for the smoking junta. The Danyi stage sat between the hillock and the food court.
The third area was for kids and kids who haven’t grown up 😛. Well!!! It was mostly thronged by adults. This area had giant slides, a rope bridge, two big swings, a set of tyres hanging by a rope and a couple of benches. Basically a blast from our childhood. You could see the night stage from out here.
After the kiddie zone were the shops for merchandise and the night stage. One could see the ZFM official camping site a little ahead.
And all of this, ALL of this, was made of bamboo. Every single thing.
ZFM was trying a zero waste drive. They had segregated waste bins into different kind of garbage, bio-degradable and non. There were three teams - Red, Yellow and Green. The attendees were given a badge of their team’s colour when they got their ticket from the box office. The aim, via gamification, was that people should throw the garbage in the waste bins marked with their team’s colour and not litter around. The team which collected the most garbage in the end was announced as the winner. We collected Green badges from the box office. To do our part we were carrying around our refillable water bottle and the reusable bamboo glasses. ZFM was also trying to reduce plastic consumption. No plastic bottles were handed out. The vendors were selling stuff in bamboo glasses.
A Tribute to Amung
The 7th Edition of ZFM was a tribute to Amung Tadu Lollen, a core member of the festival team. She was a cancer survivor from 2016 and thence had started AMG Accessories to raise money for cancer patients. Amung lost her battle to cancer in 2018. She was the face of ZFM 2018, a smiling one.
Day 1: MONOmania
I was all dressed up for day 1 and even had my red gum boots on. It didn’t rain a single day though 😛 This was the first time in a long time that ZFM saw no rains and to think about it I had gone back all the way to Hapoli to get the boots. But then a lot of people asked about them so I guess it was worth the effort 😎
Day 1 started a little off schedule and with only the night stage in action. After the opening poem song the stage was lit. Omak Komut Collective is a folk fusion band from Itanagar. They were dressed in traditional clothes and were extremely colorful. They rocked the stage with their Arunachali flavours for an hour and had people swaying to their music. With this slice of tradition, the start of the festival was impressive.
Yesterdrive, an Indie/Alternate band from Arunachal Pradesh had an emotional set celebrating the life and being of Amung Lollen. While an animated face of Amung was flashing on the screen behind them, we took a break from the stage to take in the music from a distance.
Loaded with some rice beer and food we chose one of the sitting areas to relax. It was beautiful, staring into the horizon with music in the background. The experience. We had some local food from one of the stalls and became their regular (“discounts”) for rice beer, or Apong as it was called locally. As a part of zero waste drive, the stalls selling beers would give it to us in a long bamboo glass. No plastic, no waste… Bamboo!! ❤️
It was time to get back to the stage for the next act. Oorka, the band from Chennai took us by complete surprise. They had such an upbeat tempo that the crowd started jumping and dancing to their tunes. The guitar solos were super SICK.
Nubya Garcia and her band took the stage next. Their contemporary jazz changed the mood after Oorka’s upbeat tempo. While the drummer had a very creepy look all through the act, Nubya and Dom, the guy on the keys, just killed it. So far we had had four completely different flavors of music on Day 1 itself!
We took another break for some more APONG 🍺 We reached the stage way before the act was to start as we wanted to see MONO up close and personal but we could see a big crowd already. We budged our way in to where we figured we would be able to see the band well and take good photos too. It was Karan’s first big trip after the new mirrorless camera. The band was announced, they came on the stage and did a sound check for frigging 40 mins!!! And then all of a sudden they left the stage; only to come back with a grand entry and started creating magic. They played some of their jaw dropping numbers for about 50 mins and then just as abruptly as they had started playing, they suddenly left the stage. We all were like 😱 This was enigmatic but a bit too short for satisfaction 😭 No amount of encore brought them back and with that the first day of ZFM 2018 came to an end.
We walked back to our homestay discussing the various bands we had seen and wondering if MONO would have played longer had the sound check not taken 40 mins 😛 We were also wondering with MONO done on day 1, who will be the closing headliner for ZFM 🤔
Day 2: It’s all about Danyi Stage
After getting dressed up we headed for the festival a little later than the last day. This time we decided to eat before entering the festival, so we spent some time at the stalls outside the ground to fill us up. We had a time constraint though. We had to be at the day stage before Sukanya Ramgopal started.
We were well in time for the performance and it was delightful. Sukanya Ramgopal and her group played Ghatam and other percussions from Karnatic music. And they took the day stage by a storm. We had taken one of the best seats for this one. Their performance started with a few people in front of the stage and by the end of the performance the area was full of people who were loving the music with big smiles on their faces. We were wondering why we do not get to hear this kind of music a lot, do we even try enough 🤔. The group was given a standing ovation by the crowd and a emphatic request for an encore. They obliged us happily. The best part was that after the performance the ladies were interacting with the fans in the most humble way imaginable. It was such a lovely experience.
Ambush was the highlight on the Piilo stage for us from Day 2. Ambush is a four piece protest rap metal band which sings about the unacceptable things happening in the region; a lot like RATM in their songs, mannerism and stage act ❤️
For the rest of the evening we were hanging around in one of the setups in the “kids” zone with rice beer while the music added flavor to the evening from a distance.
I think the best part of the festival so far was no matter where we went in the festival grounds we could hear the music throughout. No conflicting stages, nothing. We could choose the place we wanted to chill out at and stay there for as long as we wanted.
The night ended with an Israeli band playing some weird baraati music? 😕
Day 3: Daminda!
Day 3 for me was the most emotional day of all. Maybe just a little more than day 1 when MONO performed. It is today that the music helped us imagine we were somewhere else. It started with Colored Keys, a trio from Nagaland whose melodious voice took us to a different world. The group was dressed up in the traditional clothes of Nagaland. Their songs were so melodious and gave such a feeling of brotherhood and I wondered if they actually sang the war song that they had performed back when they were at war 😛.
After Colored Keys, Mathais Durand, a composer, producer and singer-songwriter from France enchanted everyone with his Psychedelic folk music.
Mamadou Sidiki Diabate, a 71st generation Kora player from Mali, Africa, graced us with his performance next. Kora is a 16th century West African stringed instrument with 21 strings. It does not fit into any one category of music instruments but rather several. It was such a novelty to watch him play such an instrument.
After the sun set on the day stage were to move to the Piilo stage. But ZFM had something more fun in mind before that. Daminda is the welcome dance of the Apatani tribe. Local women of all ages in colorful tribal dresses initiated the simple yet happy dance which people were free to join. Of course they did in large numbers, and we did too! It was so much fun dancing and smiling all the way around the festival ground.
After this unexpected rush of happiness, the Piilo stage was ready. We were to be entertained by the nasality of Gauley Bhai. They are a “Contemporary Nepali” music band from Bengaluru and they were so much fun! The right amount of nasal touch and the guitar solos!!! Also, it was their first live gig. They were PRETTY good 😄
The homegrown rapper K4 Kekho sang some kick-ass rap songs which were absolutely marvelous. We were mind blown by the rap, DJ Bom and the love he got from the crowd. His claim to fame was the song “I am an Indian” which was kinda heartbreaking. It is about the rascism the Arunachalis face in the Indian mainland. EVERYBODY around us was singing with him ❤️
Right before the call for day 3’s closure ZFM announced that the legendary Sivamani was to play at the finale of the festival. OMG! Sivamani, this was time to relive all those childhood memories when we used to watch his theatrics with drumsticks. Only this time it would not be on a television but LIVE, this was going to be CRAZY!!
Day 4: Ziro is an Experience!
By day 4 it had become a routine. We were a bit too chill on the last day and as usual spent most of the time on the Danyi stage.
Ady Manral, from Mussorie sang some soulful songs. Sam Paa, an experimental music band from Manipur were a treat to our senses. They make their own instruments and sang various songs about love and cheerfulness in their local language. The beautiful lead singer won many hearts with her charming smile. We could also see Sivamani standing among the audience, enjoying their music and recording videos. 😄
A small technical glitch at the Danyi stage saw Featherheads, the fashionably tribal and progressive alternate rock band from Manipur set up on the Piilo stage instead. They were a family band and hummed their olden folk tunes as well as screamed the modern day rock. It was amazing. They were also a visual delight, what a good looking band!! ❤️
After this we got in the wandering mode again, wondering which stall should we attack next. We found a stall selling delicious Goan food and I hogged on their mouth watering bread and curry. It was more apong and cupcakes and food till Sivamani took to the stage. This was VERY late in the night, way after closing time. But it was Sivamani and he is an exception. He made us dance to some of the old favorites and with that the curtains closed for ZFM 2018.
ZFM was on 27-30 September 2018. We had the time of our lives, made new friends, met some acquaintances. We were hosted warmly by the Apatanis, enchanted by the music and the enigma of the Ziro valley will call for us every year.
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