When Mangka Mayanglambam was all of eight or nine years old, she expressed her desire to learn dance to her father. Her father Mayanglambam Mangangsana Meitei — pena musician and recipient of the Bismillah Khan award — told her that if she wishes to dance, she will have to learn how to sing.
“I was always fascinated by the folk music of Manipur. At home, we were surrounded by traditional performing arts of our region. I wanted to learn from Langathel Thoinu Devi — the pioneer of Moirang Sai — but when I first went to learn from her, she refused,” says the 21-year-old folk artiste, who is at the forefront of reviving traditional art forms of Manipur.
Mangka, who is currently preparing for the upcoming Monte Music Festival in Goa, manages riyaz, research, and teaching music to about 300 children at the Laihui Performing Space in Imphal, with efficient ease. Her own learning was not as easy as that of her students, and was rather a manifestation of the guru-shishya parampara.
“I remember when I went to learn from oja (teacher), I sang a really different song, which sort of convinced her to teach me. I would then go to her house, on Sundays, holidays and whenever possible to learn. I would sit and wait for her to finish her household chores. Since she couldn’t read and write, it was all oral learning. She would sing, and talk, and I would scribble in my notebook,” says Mangka.
Mangka was deeply affected by the intense love epic of Khamba and Thoibi set in the village of Moirang. “Moirang Sai is a dying art form. Traditionally, only women practiced it; now there is only one woman, my teacher, left,” says Mangka.
Her classmates, who found merit in Hannah Montana, couldn’t understand why someone so young would like something so old and traditional. They would make fun of her when Mangka performed in school and at public functions in the city. “Agreed, the ballad is in an archaic narrative, but really who needs words when the music and the tunes can get the message across. I think Moirang Sai is very meditative,” says Mangka, who is now a part of the Laihui Ensemble, where she performs alongside her father.
Things turned around for her in 2014, when a song sung by her and composed by her father was chosen as the theme for the International Polo Tournament held in Imphal. Titled Hada Samaton, the song blared across the city for 10 days, courtesy DD Imphal. She became a sensation, and those very people who ridiculed her, were chanting bits from the song. People also started copying her hairstyle.
“I started teaching in 2012. Earlier there were fewer students, but after Hada Samaton, many more have joined. There was this girl who started coming to me when she was two-and-a-half years old. She would even stay with me. Now she is six, and people call her mini-Mangka,” chuckles Mangka.
Fame aside, she wishes to take forward the Laihui Ensemble — started by her father — and teach as many children as possible. “We need to get the youngsters more invested, or Moirang Sai, and similar art forms, will die. It’s our music, we need to conserve it,” she says.