'All good art is political! There is none that isn’t'- Toni Morrison.
As I entered the dimly-lit basement of the Banana House nestled in the narrow labyrinthine streets of Chhatarpur — where The Sunflower Collective had organised an evening studded with protest poetry and music — there were several rows of people sitting and watching a man perform in absolute awe. His presence was powerful and captivating. The spectators’ reactions varied from amusement to fascination, shock and intrigue as this unforeseen man, wearing funky eye-gear, dropped one truth bomb after another in his Bollywood-inspired, Assamese-lingo tunes. His performance went on for an hour (which honestly felt like just a few minutes) where he sang about politics, India and stuff that people usually lay shrouds over. This man was Mr India.
Live at Sunflower Collective. Photo by Akash Sangma
Mr India a.k.a Daniel Langthasa — a self-taught musician from Haflong, a small town tucked between the lush green hills and waterfalls of Assam — sings about bribery, celebrity controversies, natural or man-made disasters and what the government is doing to evacuate the victims. His music throws light on the truth whilst harnessing an unperturbed and fun connection with the listener.
“I love making music and videos,” says Langthasa, 32, “I just do whatever I feel like doing. I keep learning and trying new stuff. I just live. That is the best way I can describe my life.”
Live at Ziro festival
At the Sunflower Collective event, his audience comprised of people who liked and appreciated poetry and art. Infact, the event took place because he agreed to be a part of it. “Ishan Marvel and Goirick Brahmachari from the Sunflower Collective. They both found my work on Facebook. Ishan wanted to travel all the way to Assam to meet me for a story. However, my wife and I had already planned a visit to Delhi and that’s when he decided to do this event. Before this, I hadn’t played in a setting where people are into poetry and protest pop.”
Langthasa started his musical journey in class 6 when he got his first acoustic guitar. He jammed with a friend, every night. “I was always surrounded by music and politics in one form or the other,” he says. “My father, who was a politician, played various musical instruments and my mother was a wonderful singer.”
In 2008, he formed a band called Digital Suicide with Dpak Borah (bass/production), a friend of his from Haflong. The Guwahati-based band’s genre was initially termed as “mutton rap”, but Langthasa always had a tough time in figuring out the genre. “I keep experimenting and writing songs about anything I feel like. I even call it chinki pop. Last year, when my band released a song called ‘Operation All Out’, which was about Bodo militant problems in the Northeast, there was a magazine (the name of which I can’t recall) that published an article about us where the writer termed our music as ‘protest pop’. I like the sound of ‘political pop’, though. There are a lot of non-political songs that I write. Sometimes it’s about my everyday life, my wife, about making food for my dogs.”
Digital Suicide Live in Mumbai, 2011. Photo by Keegan Crasto
Langthasa, however, soon found himself struggling with writer’s block. “From the time of thinking about writing the song to the point of actual writing, there was a great deal of struggle involved,” he says. “There was a lot of over-thinking and even when I had the final product in my hands, I’d always feel something was missing.”
The Mr India persona was an attempt to break through the struggle; he challenged himself to write a song every day. “It didn’t work out the way I thought because it’s not realistic to be able to write a song everyday. The purpose behind this was to put it out and reflect over it. That is how Mr India was born.”
Mr.India live at Dambuk, 2015
Langthasa has always maintained a keen interest in politics, especially the political history of the Northeast, which is reflected in Mr India’s songs. “My songs are a way of telling stories. I wanted to tell real stories about my land,” he says. His first song, for instance, lampooned the political instability in the local council. “I wrote a song called ‘Goo Khao’, which literally means eat shit. It was about the absence of an Anti-Defection Law, which allowed any individual council member to change his/her party. Hence, this law encourages bribery and corruption amongst the parties who want to come into power by being the majority. I was frustrated because people knew about it but chose to stay silent. I was angry with my friends, my family and everyone I knew. I shared the song on Facebook and it went viral in my area.” His songs have often been controversial, to the point where long-distance relatives have discouraged him from singing songs that target political figures.
Mr.India live at Ziro, 2015
Daniel Langthasa decided to make music at home and cut down the studio charges to zilch. “The bills were crazy. I realised that studios weren't really that important. I could simply sing my songs and they don’t have to sound perfect.” He lives a minimalistic life in Haflong with his wife. They grow their own vegetables, follow an eco-friendly lifestyle and write songs as well as design and sell artisan clothing and jewellery.
When asked about his favourite Indian band that he looks up to, he expressed his undeniable love for Pentagram and discontent towards Vishal Dadlani. His latest post on Facebook brilliantly describes his dilemma.
Mr India’s songs are not intended to bring some sort of awareness to the often ignored political landscape of the Northeast. “My concern isn’t about how many people are going to hear it,” he says. “The main purpose behind the kind of songs that I write is that they must be recorded for the people who are interested 20-30 years from now.”
You can catch his next performance at the Ziro festival in September.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101India.com.
By Era Tangar