Till July this year, Poba Gourab, a 25-year-old Mising boy living in Guwahati, fit a stereotype: he was young, he was struggling, and he was a musician. Back then, Gourab had released one album that sold a hundred-odd CDs, had a smattering of followers on Youtube and would perform occasionally at neighbourhood community functions.
“But then, in July, Miriwood happened, and things just changed,” says Gourab. On July 21, a video of Gourab singing a Mising love song Ai’n’e Undak (composed by his friend Anup Kalita, with lyrics by his cousin Miran ST) went up on Youtube. The channel that uploaded it was a relatively new one called Miriwood, described as a platform created “to upgrade the Mising Entertainment Industry to the next level”.
“In a few hours, the video went kind of viral,” says Gourab. Comments poured in. Most called it “beautiful”, “awesome” and “mesmerising”. In the following months, and he is certain it’s because of the video, Gourab got a slot to perform at all Kanking Kebangs in Assam, the generic name given to talent show or freshers’ programs organised for Mising students across the state. But for the young artiste, the change is best exemplified through the number of Facebook requests he gets these days: “I didn’t even get five before, now I get hundreds,” he says.
Gourab’s new star status in his tribal community is courtesy Miriwood, a Youtube channel, which is the brainchild of 30-year-old Guwahati-based filmmaker Miro Migom Pegu. After stints in Bengaluru and Chennai, Miro returned to Guwahati in 2014. “I always had the name Miriwood (inspired by Hollywood, Bollywood etc) in mind. But I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do with it,” says Miro.
The Mising tribe (also known as Miris) — to which Miro belongs to — is Assam’s second largest tribe (after Bodos) and resides in the districts of Lakhimpur, Majuli, Dhemaji, Jorhat, Sibsagar and Dibrugarh, as well as the neighbouring state of Arunachal Pradesh. Since 1995, after demands for autonomy, the community has been governed under Mising Autonomous Council, formed after Mising Autonomous Council Act,1995 was passed by the Assam Legislative Assembly. “But awareness about our community is quite low,” says Binod Pegu, a musician from Lakhimpur. When the 30-year-old lived in Mumbai, he says, outsiders found the name of his tribe amusing. “Oh, is something lost?” they would joke.
Despite that, over the years, the Mising tribe, with a 7 lakh strong population in Assam (according to the Census 2011), has tried to preserve their culture the best they can — for example, in Kanking Kebang programs organised by the Takam Mising Porin Kébang (Mising Students’ Union), youngsters sing, dance, and wear their traditional costumes; and in their Ali Ai Ligang (harvest) festival in February, a platform for impromptu music and dance performances. “Apart from that, artistes hardly had any opportunity to showcase their talent,” says Miro.
So in March 2018, with help from his musician friend Himangshu Oiyomedak, Miro decided to create a Youtube channel. “I didn’t quite know what to do but I was sure of its intention: a platform to promote young Mising talent, to give them an opportunity, to bring them to the world.”
For the first season — divided into 12 episodes — Miro and Himangshu decided to focus on Mising music. They called it Miriwood Acoustic and the plan was to handpick struggling artistes, have them record a song and put it out there on the internet. “For the first episode, I approached my friend, Binod Pegu, a musician, to sing one of his old songs,” says Miro. When in three days, the song had 20k views — “we knew we were doing something right.”
Over the months, Miriwood has become incredibly popular among the Mising community. In August, the channel started producing merchandise — Tshirts, in four styles, that have many takers. “The most obvious audiences are Mising youngsters. But it is popular among Assamese and other communities outside the state too — people who do not even speak or let alone know of Mising,” says Miro. And he’s not wrong. Many users’ comments often start with “I don’t understand the language but…” carrying on to explain why they love it.
“My song has comments from people based in Australia and US,” says Gourab, whose Ai’n’e Undak, currently has 280,889 views. “I wasn’t confident about recording the song at all — this is not my genre, I usually do folk songs. But thanks their encouragement, I made the switch, and it became the turning point in my career.”
Binod Pegu, who recorded the first episode, was also at crossroads when Miriwood picked him up. “I have been struggling for years now,” says Binod, who plays the flute, “But this video just changed things — it gave me my confidence back, and I eventually won first runner up at Tani Idol, a reality singing competition organised in Arunachal Pradesh.”
And for people like Tanuja Pegu, a Dhemaji-based teacher in her 40s, Miriwood gave her a second chance to explore her passion. “I loved singing but after I got married and started working, it was difficult to pursue,” she says.
“Apart from the little money we get from Youtube, these Tshirts is the only thing we earn from,” says Miro. One of the channels subscribers, Ganesh Pegu, a Guwahati-based has already ordered his set. “I guess Miriwood is catching on because this is Mising music like we have never heard before — first of all, it is high quality, top-notch production. Second, the only Mising music we have known for long are Oi ni:tom or tradtional folk songs. This is different.” he says.
Oi ni:tom or traditional folk songs (equivalent to Bihu music) is the most popular form of Mising music. What Miriwood is focusing on is Anu ni:tom or modern music. “Today the Anu ni:tom songs we have, even if they are ‘modern’, aren’t doing as well as they should. Our aim is to reintroduce Anu ni:tom music — give it a new grammar,” says Himangshu, adding that in Miriwood’s next season they will focus on folk-fusion — combine traditional Mising music such as Oi ni:tom, Kaban and A:bang with modern music. “Many people come and tell us Miriwood is a turning point for the Mising music industry. In a way, we are trying to introduce a new genre of Mising music,” says Miro.