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Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Meet Alobo Naga, award-winning musician from Dimapur who sells his albums on pen drives

Alobo Naga, Nagaland's homegrown musician, on why no amount of international love will make him move away from home.

Written by Tora Agarwala | New Delhi |
Updated: August 24, 2018 9:39:37 am
Alobo Naga, Alobo Naga and the band, Nagaland musician Dimapur-based Alobo Naga won three awards at the Artist Aloud Music Awards in Mumbai last week.

In parts of the northeast, where nightlife has been experiencing a quiet resurgence over the years, neighbourhood pubs and bars become the playing field for local talent. On rare occasions, a Lou Majaw comes up and catapults to legend-like status. But often, these voices remain unheard beyond the four walls they perform within. If you’re Alobo Naga, however, and come from Nagaland where network is patchy, you can still find a way to be heard.

Last October, the singer-songwriter launched his second album KINI (meaning ‘two’ in Nagamese) – not on a CD, not online, but on a pen drive. “The CD is dead. And let’s face it, there are people who still don’t have the opportunity to download music, especially in these parts of the country,” he says, over the phone from Dimapur. It’s a business model that serves the consumer and the producer equally – the smartly branded pen drive, priced at Rs 1,000, consisted of Naga’s new songs, photographs, videos and lyrics. And well, space. In the event you decide to shift loyalties, you still have a pen drive.


Last April, Naga shot to limelight, almost five years after he had won the Best Indian Act at the MTV Europe Music Awards in 2012 – the award that put him on the map in the first place. At Artist Aloud Music Awards, which encourages independent musicians, on April 4 in Mumbai, in an emotional acceptance, he bagged three awards (Best Song, Best English Song, and Best Artiste from Northeast India), among others which acknowledged the likes of Kailash Kher, Shankar Mahadevan, Hard Kaur and Euphoria.

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But much before the laurels, there was, of course, a period of struggle. In parts of the country where Naga grew up, music is a hobby that rarely turns into a lucrative profession. In 2008, he gave up his full-time job in a construction firm, and began studying music. In 2010, he launched his first album in Nagaland, and – “It sold out in three days!” Two years later, he (and his band called, quite simply, Alobo Naga and The Band) were touring the country, and then the world – Mumbai, Delhi and Pune,  soon became Kuwait, Hong Kong and Singapore.

What clicked? “I would sing about things that mattered: about the dignity of labour (that became Mistry Gaana, one of his most well-known songs), about crimes against women, about cleanliness and sanitation,” Naga says. He has been recently appointed as the Ambassador of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in Nagaland and is also the State Icon for the Election Commission of India’s SVEEP Campaign. In the recent state assembly elections, Naga was brought in to increase voter participation and “clean” elections. In his new album, there is a song called Poisa, which touches upon corruption and nepotism. For it, Naga collaborated with two other artistes from Bengaluru and Agartala, and the result is a hip-hop song in three languages – Nagamese, Hindi and English. His audience, mostly around the age of 15-35 range from young and impressionable to jaded and saturated. “For the latter, I sing about love and heartache,” he says.


Naga’s career trajectory of a young successful musician from a small town singing English songs should have ideally found him in one of the Indian metros. But the musician continues to live in Dimapur. In fact, in 2017, he launched his music school, Music-A in his city. “Northeasterners keep boasting about their musical prowess but it’s only a handful who make it big. Why?” he asks. “Every music school in India has at least one Northeastern teacher in its faculty – so clearly we don’t have a lack of talent.” Music-A is an attempt to change this trend – and even the sort of music education that is imparted. Teachers from the London School of Music and Naga’s alma mater, Rock School London, frequently come down to Dimapur as guest lecturers. “We even have a sound engineering course, which I believe, is not offered anywhere else in the Northeast,” he says.

Alobo Naga, Alobo Naga and the band, Nagaland musician KINI, Alobo Naga’s second album, departs from his usual rock-focused music, and focuses, instead, on electro-pop.

On a regular day, Naga can be found at in Dimapur, in his studio, or at his school. Rarely does he frequent the local pubs – where nightlife thrives, crowds pulsate and seeds of indie music dreams are sown. “It’s surprising, the nightlife in Dimapur – you might think its dead, considering this is a dry state,” he says, “but Monday through Saturday, they are always packed. Girls and boys alike.” The tales of a place like Nagaland often go untold, but then once a way, there comes a musician like Alobo Naga to sing its new song.

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First published on: 10-04-2018 at 06:06:00 pm

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