The singer from Shillong

Lou Majaw

Lou Majaw   | Photo Credit: Photo: R. Ravindran

Wacky rockstar in very tight shorts or just die-hard Dylan fan?

Watching Lou Majaw, the Shillong folk rocker belt out Dylan with the energy of a 20-year-old on a cool, crisp winter evening on the lawns of the International Centre in Goa can easily rank as one of life’s blessings. But the icing on the cake is to see the 69-year-old rocker actually jump off the stage and run through the ecstatic crowd.

Performing live on the second evening of the Goa Art and Literature Festival (GALF) a couple of months ago, Lou had everyone eating out of his palms. Who is Lou Majaw? Is he a folk rocker from Shillong with flowing white locks, attired in signature singlet, tight denim shorts, sports shoes, and mismatched, multi-coloured socks belting out Dylan or is he this Dylan disciple who can recite Dylan in verse, and rather dramatically at that, as he did at one of the GALF sessions, or is he this man for whom punctuality is religion. Actually, Lou Majaw is all this and more.

An extremely affable and down-to-earth man, at GALF, the rocker from the hills shook hands with everyone, posed for selfies with college students, and attended sessions often seated in the last row. Later, sipping a glass of water in the café, Majaw expresses surprise that it took the world so long to acknowledge Dylan’s prowess as a poet. “What took the Nobel committee so long to give Dylan the prize?”, he asks with a quizzical expression. “Dylan has been writing quality poetry since the 1950s!”

Fan of the icon

The singer from Shillong has no qualms admitting that he is an unabashed fan of the American icon. “We are blessed. Dylan has shared his writings with us and is still with us. You cannot define Dylan. He is a singer and songwriter rolled into one. He is a master storyteller who recites his stories through music,” he says.

Majaw then proceeds to sing a few snatches from Dylan’s very popular early songs; like ‘Blowin’ in the wind’ from the album ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’. This is the first Dylan song that Majaw heard back in 1965.

“Dylan’s songs and writings mean a lot. There is a richness and fruitfulness to his music that unmatched.” Majaw is of the firm opinion that the world could have been a far more peaceful place if world leaders had simply listened to Dylan’s music. “If leaders listened to his songs and read his words, ours would be a better world. They will say goodbye to guns and weapons. No hatred, no violence, no greed,” he says with conviction.

As music aficionados know, Majaw celebrates Dylan’s birthday every May 24 with a series of musical events in Shillong. He has been doing this now for an unbelievable, uninterrupted 45 years. “It’s no rock concert, it’s not even a big event. It is just simply a meaningful celebration,” says Majaw.

Typically, Majaw and his fellow musicians visit a school around 10 in the morning and play some Dylan songs for the children, insisting the students sing along with them. “It is important to share Dylan with young people—it will shape their minds,” explains Majaw earnestly. This is followed by a visit to a local café where Dylan fans join Majaw and team in either singing Dylan ditties or reciting his songs in verse form.

The evening is reserved for a small concert in a prominent public square in Shillong, where multiple bands from Kolkata and other parts of the Northeast belt out the magic in their unique styles. “This is the grand finale, when we have music, food and wine. You must travel to Shillong this year to witness the enchantment,” Majaw says, with a twinkle in his eyes. I am convinced enough to already check out the best airfares to Shillong from Goa.

What is touching is that Majaw actually saves money through the year to celebrate Dylan’s birthday. “It is not always possible to get sponsors for our big day, hence I keep aside 20-25% from my monthly earnings for the big day,” he says.

By the clock

Punctuality is certainly Majaw’s middle name. Sample this. He was at his GALF session a good 15 minutes before time and was visibly upset that his fellow panellist did not arrive until after the event. “Keeping time is like religion to me,” he explains. “For the May 24 concert, I ask my fellow musicians to be ready by 9.45 a.m. at the school gate for our school visit at 10 a.m. If you are not punctual, you insult your hosts and also hurt your self-esteem,” he says.

This writer has first-hand experience of this Majaw characteristic. When I screened Building Bridges, my short documentary film on Lahore, at GALF this year, I had invited Majaw to watch the film. The singer was seated in the hall five minutes before the show on his favourite last row seat.

When he is not writing columns and features or shooting pictures, the freelance journalist is training for triathlons.

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Printable version | Apr 1, 2020 8:34:15 AM |

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