In November, at a rally attended by thousands, Anggu Lalhmachhuana, the Congress candidate running for a seat in Mizoram’s Serlui Constituency, said: “If voted to power, Feli Fanai will perform here again, in this very town.” The crowd at Vairengte — the town where the rally was being held — cheered.
While it was “just one of the things he said in jest” according to Lalengkima Colney, the editor of a Vairengte local daily, Rengkhawpui, the popularity and demand for Feli Fanai — a singer in her thirties from Mizoram’s Champhai district — soars every election.
This time around too, in the run up to November 28, when the state goes to polls, Feli has been travelling across the length and breadth of Mizoram (from Lunglei to Kolasib), singing at various campaigns and rallies. “Sometimes I have to move from one event to another in a day,” says Feli, who started singing at political campaigns eight years ago.
In an election where politicians try their hardest to be heard, it is the artiste’s voice that resounds the loudest. And the campaigners are well aware of that. “People will not come just to listen to what the politicians have to say. We need entertainers to gather people for us,” says Lallianzuala Fanai of the Mizo National Front (MNF), one of the key players this election.
Feli is easily the “most sought after” musician this election season in Mizoram. Last time around, the “election favourite” was a man called Vanlalsailova. “He was the biggest thing in the 2013 Assembly elections. His popularity at one point was such that even when he was getting a haircut, people would line up outside the salon to take back bits of his hair!” says Lalbiakdika Nengte, a 28-year-old architect based in Aizawl. “However, the true pull and impact of these singers are in areas outside of Aizawl. In these remote districts, musicians are like gods.”
In Mizo society — comprising 87% Christians — music plays an important role in any function, be it in a religious ceremony, a political rally, a condolence meet or even a protest march. In October, even when thousands took to the streets of Aizawl for the ouster of Chief Electoral Officer SB Shashank, it was the spot where Vanlalsailova was crooning with his guitar where most congregated.
“It’s an integral part of Mizo blood. Even if you go to Church, the hymns will move you more than the sermons do,” says Nengte.
Vanlalsailova, who “converted from a love song singer to a gospel singer” in 2004, feels that artistes are the reason youngsters attend rallies, if at all. “Many youngsters just turn up to listen to us singing — this gives the candidate a chance to forward their manifesto. That is why singers are offered a lot of money,” says the 39-year-old preacher.
The “election favourites” like Feli, Jerry Lalrinawma (who won popular reality singing contest Mizo Idol 2018) and Vanlalsailova (even though he does not sing at rallies anymore), are paid between Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000 per performance, and have the option of singing songs (of their choice) at rallies (as per their convenience).
“Sometimes people try to link us to political parties. But the truth is I don’t care which political party I am singing for. This year, I’ve sung for Congress, MNF, ZPM, NPP and the BJP, too” says Feli.
However, parties have their dedicated battalion of loyal singers as well. 26-year-old Lalthlengliani has been a singer for the Mizoram Congress ever since she was a child.
“My family has supported Congress all their life, and it is my duty to continue that,” she says, adding, “No, I’ll never attend or perform in another party’s functions or events. I don’t care how big the offer is.”
While it is a win-win situation for both the political party and the artiste, the BJP, the new entrant to the scene, has had some trouble in sourcing singers.
“Many singers feel the BJP is pro-Hindu. I am not pro-Hindu but I still sing for the BJP — for me, it’s a means of livelihood,” says 30-year-old Melody G Fanai, who got a call from a party member in early October. Ever since, Melody has been travelling with the party and has sung in rallies including Amit Shah’s and Rajnath Singh’s in October and November, respectively.
“Often the politician arrives a little late — our job then is to keep the crowd entertained,” says Melody, on her way back to Aizawl from the Bru-dominated Silsuri Par village in Mamit district, where the BJP held a rally last Thursday.
In these rallies Melody sings a number of Hindi songs. “When I sang Jimmy Jimmy Jimmy Aaja (from the hit Bollywood movie Disco Dancer), people got up and started dancing,” she says, adding that Hindi songs work better in these (Bru or Chakma) areas, where they don’t know Mizo.
In the rest of Mizoram, however, it is only the Mizo songs that work. Both the Congress and the MNF have special “theme songs”, sung at rallies over the years. This year, the BJP has come up with their own, too. “The theme songs are popular, patriotic and catchy. Everyone knows the lyrics,” says Hminsanga Pa Saw, an MNF supporter. Rochungnunga, general secretary of Kristian Thalai Pawl, the biggest Christian youth organisation in the state, agrees and adds: “Sometimes it is much easier to deliver words through music and let people feel the emotions. A song can help you deliver a 45-minute-speech in just five minutes!”