Northeast Fest (NEF) chief organiser Shyamkanu Mahanta Credit: EastMojo image 

Guwahati: The stage is all set for the 7th edition of the much-awaited North East Festival to be held at IGNCA, Janpath in New Delhi from November 8 to 10. Compared to last year, the festival has scaled up this year with several cultural performances, around 40 food stalls presenting diverse Northeastern food, and a fashion show with 20 designers including some of India’s best to showcase their products lined up.

In the run-up to the three-day festival, EastMojo caught up with Shyamkanu Mahanta, founder and chief organiser of North East Festival, in Guwahati recently. Here are the edited excerpt from the interview:

North East Festival is just around the corner. Can you tell us about the inception of the festival? How did it occur to you that there should be a festival celebrating Northeast in Delhi?

The festival has become very big compared to the year when we started it in 2013. I was working in Delhi and there were racial attacks happening there. You might have remembered the issue of Nido Tania, who was killed in 2012. So a lot of people in Delhi joined hands and said that we must do something to create some awareness about Northeast. Then Mary Kom came on board, Adil Hussain and Arnab Goswami too. In fact, every Northeastern person came and that was the beginning of North East Festival. Initially, it was an attempt to create awareness about Northeast India and we never thought that it will become so big. We started in 2013, then held it again in 2014, and it kept on happening year after year.

It has now become a platform to showcase Northeastern talents and food, music, fashion, craft, etc. It has become a strong cocktail for Delhi’s attention and perhaps gets the highest footfall in Delhi.

Now, it has become more of a tourist festival, a platform where Northeastern people showcase their talents. So a lot of excitement is there. We are starting on November 8, 9 and 10. A lot of buzz is all over social media. About Northeast festival, I am pretty excited. But, it’s really tough to pull it through because resource requirement is pretty high and we are fighting hard to meet the requirement and getting the entire components ready.

The festival is only few days away now. So what can we expect from this 7th edition?

The first thing I must tell you is that North East Festival is not about only rock and roll, fashion, food — that is just one part. It has become the biggest musical platform. Rock music is the strength of Northeast.

So it has remained as the strength of northeast. We are taking a lot of young bands. Earlier, we were only taking experienced bands but now we are also talking about young bands. There is Wishes from Manipur who was a winner at Shirock Festival last year, David Angu from Arunachal Pradesh, Trance Effect from Nagaland — they are all very talented bands. This time, we are trying to introduce some young bands who have the capacity to become legendary bands.

This is also an event for traditional languages and, you know, Northeast has got so many languages and a lot of these languages are facing extinction. There is a need for this to be told. So this time, we are doing a workshop, a film presentation and a discussion on traditional languages of Northeast like Limbus, etc, and a lot of traditional languages, which actually need promotion and workshop and the entire venue will be decorated with motifs of traditional languages.

There will be a discussion session on multilateral trade and business opportunities in India’s Northeast, as the region is surrounded by 90% by Southeast and South Asian countries.  So what we are trying to do is a discussion session through which the trade commissioners of ASEAN countries are coming and will interact about opportunities on trade, investment and tourism in Northeast India.

These are in the new edition. Otherwise, rest of the things are mostly about a large art exhibition — hundreds artists are coming and they will be presenting doodle arts, string art, all as a canvas of Northeastern talents. And the rest, if I can tell you, the attractive part is the fashion show. We are doing some spectacular fashion shows. You know Rewati Chetri, Aradhana Buragohain and all the top names from Northeast India, who are doing extremely well in Mumbai, are coming.

Altogether, 15 designers are coming and will be presenting various kind of fabrics from Northeast. So, we will be on a different level this time. We are also inviting a lot of fashion bloggers , exclusive boutiques. Musically, this is going to be rocking  musical festival. Northeastern young hip-hop artistes are doing well in Mumbai.

Zubeen Garg is the brand ambassador of Northeast Festival and he will be present since Day I. Papon is coming to Delhi after a long time. Lot of rock bands will be present. Lot of cane and bamboo products will be promoted, handloom products will also be displayed there. A spectacular northeastern food festival where 40 food stalls with the best of cuisines of northeast will be there. Food attracts maximum crowd and we are a non-vegetarian festival.

Arunachal is bringing the monastic dance form, from Nagaland we have the warrior dance, Naga unity dance, Cheraw from Mizoram, Sattriya dance from Assam.

Also Read: How Mary Kom won over Delhi crowd with rendition of ‘What’s up’

Bringing so many things under one roof is not an easy task at all. I am sure that there must have been a lot of challenges and hiccups, especially during the first edition days? Can you share your experiences?

Challenges have been mostly about money because the private sector is very limited. We hardly have sponsors. SpiceJet has been our major support system because this festival costs a lot of money and we are taking artists from every nook and corner of the country. If somebody comes from a remote corner of Manipur, the cost of travelling is extremely high, support is very limited.

Promotion is a challenge. Because, we need a lot of money to promote. If you put hoardings in Delhi, it is very expensive. Altogether 5,000 artists form different parts of the Northeast are participating in the event.

Logistics, resources, publicity are the three challenges. However, the positive side is that doing something good and making it a big brand which is a kick to do something.

We are seven sisters and a brother, united as a region. So how do you feel when you tell people that you belong to the Northeast?

Initially, there was a lot of misconception about  the Northeast while I was working there. Now it has gone down drastically. Although it still exists in some pockets of Delhi and they have given derogatory names. But over the years, people’s perception has changed. We look different but we are proud Indians. The festival is actually helping them. We, of course, need more initiatives.

The misconceptions are historical mistakes as there is not enough information or books. Particularly, the older generations face that issue and now, things have changed. I feel, with proper awareness, the problem has gone down and I feel proud to be belonging to this part of country and overall a proud Indian.

How do you think this festival is bridging the region and the rest of the country?

The ‘Chicken’s Neck’ is the 22-km corridor connecting Northeast to the rest of India. That is simply a physical connectivity and am talking about the mental connectivity. We are trying to address that connectivity. This festival is helping to address that they see Northeast in terms of food and craft, etc., which promote tourism. But through media, we are trying to talk about history of Northeast, we talk about the freedom fighters who contributed for the nation.

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