Shillong singer keeps Bob Dylan legacy blowin' in the wind

Shillong, May 23 (IANS) The sunlit hall of the local St Mary's College for girls in this picture postcard capital of Meghalaya sways to the chants of 'Forever Young' - a signature 1974 Bob Dylan track.

Shillong, May 23 (IANS) The sunlit hall of the local St Mary's College for girls in this picture postcard capital of Meghalaya sways to the chants of 'Forever Young' - a signature 1974 Bob Dylan track.

An ageing musician with stained teeth, long hair and childlike smile strums his guitar and eggs on nearly 500 schoolgirls to join the chorus. Everyone carries placards proclaiming 'Happy Birthday Dylan'. It's a practice session for a Dylan's birthday concert on Sunday.

Meet Lou Majaw, the 62-year-old Dylan of northeastern India, who has been singing Bob Dylan's songs and improvising on them for the past 43 years.

The self-taught musician, a household name in the northeast, now has a new mission. Through impromptu campus gigs, he is taking Dylan's music to thousands of children across schools in Meghalaya.

Bob Dylan, born Robert Allen Zimmerman, in Duluth, Minnesota, on May 24, 1941, is a legend whose profound lyrics and nasal delivery took American music back to its ballad-and-bluegrass roots, setting a new trend spanning nearly six decades.

The mission to carry Dylan to school, according to the musician, gels with the laid-back spirit of 'music and laughter' of the hill state. Almost everyone in Meghalaya is a musician - they know how to pluck the basic chords on their guitars.

'I am trying to reach out to more people. It took a long time for people in Shillong to know Dylan,' says Lou, who usually performs with his band, 'Ace of Spades'.

Says a Class 10 student of St Mary's College: 'Shillong has many good singers. But what makes Lou stand apart is that I have come to know about Bob Dylan's music after he played live in our school. He revolutionised the whole way of singing.'

Old girls exchange notes. 'I remember him playing Dylan's songs at the Shillong carnival in 1976. I was in Class 5 then and now he has carried Dylan to my daughter's school,' laughs a resident.

The rocker has remained committed to Dylan since he chanced upon the American musician-poet in 1966. 'I was working with this guy who bought a stack of vinyl records of Bob Dylan. It changed the entire course of my music and life,' recollects the hard-drinking and carefree musician, attired casually in T-shirt and shorts.

Born to a poor family, Majaw could not afford a guitar or a radio. 'I was introduced to the music of Bill Haley and Elvis Presley in a friend's house,' he recalls. He taught himself to play guitar in school.

'Since then the guitar has always been there. I remember my first romance with the guitar; it lasted the entire night and I fell asleep with it,' Majaw said.

After a few years as a struggler in Shillong, Majaw moved to Kolkata where he played at various pubs, bars and bands like the 'Dynamite Boys', 'Vanguards', 'Supersound Factory' and 'Blood and Thunder'.

He jammed with some of the biggest names of the Kolkata music scene like Nondon Bagchi, Arjun Sen and Lew Hilton. But Majaw is best known for his 'Bob Dylan Birthday Concerts' which he has been hosting every year since 1972.

'I have gone through many hardships like everybody else,' says the musician. The cache of pain includes a broken home - an estranged wife and son.

'It took me six years to get to know Lou. He is the only musician who has remained committed to Dylan and rock and roll all these years,' says documentary award-winning film-maker Ranjan Palit, who has made a documentary on Lou and his music, 'Forever Young'.

The first time when Palit met Lou in 2001, the musician was playing Dylan numbers to a group of children in Shillong. 'I remember him saying 'come in, it is a free country'. Then I decided to go back and told him I wanted to make a movie on him. His eyebrows shot up and on my third visit and I was allowed into his home,' Palit told IANS.

One of the reasons why Majaw has not received international acclaim is poor exposure, feels Palit. 'But he is the best live performer I have ever seen and can hold an audience for hours if he is in the right mood.'

The Dylan number that Lou does best is perhaps 'Rainy day Woman (Everybody Must Get Stoned)' - an improvised version of the Dylan track that has become almost a Majaw cult.

Your reaction

Arjun Sen Thumbnail

Arjun Sen

Comments (0)

Latest Stories