Updated: January 27, 2021 1:54:00 pm
A couple of days before the Covid-19 lockdown was announced last March, Imcha Imchen, a Naga singer-songwriter based in Mumbai, was heading home after a day at the studio. “Corona, Corona” shouted a group of boys from a distance. Imchen, 23 and accustomed to what he calls the “stupidity” of people “who live in big cities”, ignored them, his head held high. The next morning, however, the jeers began again — this time from a group of kids on the road to work. It did not take Imchen long to book a one-way flight to Bengaluru, where his family lived.
At home, Imchen immersed himself in making — and listening to — music. But not even one song was about the recent ordeal he had faced. “Sure, I was affected but no matter what you do, no matter how much you try to educate people, there is no stopping this attitude.” he said, “So instead of writing on racism, discrimination and harassment, I focused on love, romance and healing.”
On December 30, when Apple Music released ‘The 100 songs of 2020’, bang in the middle of a list that featured the likes of Bille Elish and Ariana Grande, was Imcha Imchen’s “Spare My Heart”, a delicate song about the vulnerability of falling in love.
“When I heard, I did not think much of it,” said Imchen, “I mean I am just a regular dude struggling to make music in Mumbai. But later a friend of mine called me and said ‘Are you stupid? This is a very big deal’.” It took a few moments for Imchen to realise he was the first Naga to have been featured on such a list.
“My father, especially, was super proud,” said Imchen, who likened the situation at home a few years back to that of a “pressure cooker”, which could erupt any moment. “For the longest time, my dad couldn’t understand why I wanted to do what I did,” he said. “In 2016, I dropped out of college in eight months, and somehow persuaded him to let me join a sound engineering course.” For Imchen, who belongs to Nagaland’s Ao tribe, things fell into place right after. “When I finished my audio engineering course, I made a music video, ‘Moving On’. It caught the attention of someone in Mumbai, and suddenly I had landed myself a deal with a record company, Springboard Records,” he said, adding that not everyone is as lucky as him. “Nagaland has a lot of homegrown talent but not everyone gets a platform to showcase it.”
Over the years, Imchen — who describes his music as ‘pop’ inspired by the likes of Bruno Mars and Shawn Mendes — has done gigs across Mumbai. “But I have made it a point to shoot each and every video in Nagaland,” he said, “Because I have to showcase my culture too, right?
All of Imchen’s videos, whether its ‘Moving on’ (2018) or ‘Sinner’ (2020) are shot in scenic locales of Nagaland and feature only actors from the state. “The northeast is always associated with turbulence, violence and strife, so sometimes it’s good to tell the other side of the story beyond the usual narrative,” he said, “We may look and talk different from the rest of the country but at the end of the day, we are all the same.”
Apple’s introduction to the ‘100 Best Songs of 2020’ playlist says: “Music gives us so much — an escape, a salve, a reflection of the world in which we live. But in 2020 it felt vital in a new way. Music of all types and perspectives brought us closer together at a time when many of us have been forced apart. That is the story of the year.”
Imchen agreed. “I made it a point to work on soothing, comforting music because the lockdown was a hard time for everyone. I just wanted to make people feel better,” he said. Like he did when he was 13, and along with his two brothers, launched an album of gospel songs. “We went door to door to promote our album and spread the message of love. That’s when I knew I had to make music,” he said, “All my life.”
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