The dormant valley of Ziro comes to life as artists from across the world unite together with the local artists to celebrate music. It started in 2012 after the Delhi based band, Menwhopause’s tour was interrupted by a two-day curfew in Arunachal Pradesh and they landed up in Ziro, the hometown of Bobby Hano of Phoenix Rising India, the event management agency. There the band guitarist, Anup Kutty, came up with the idea of a music festival as he was overlooking a World War II airstrip and thus the Ziro Music Festival was born. And now it is the biggest outdoor music festival in the country.
Hosted by the local agrarian Apatani tribe, the festival is a melting pot of cultures. Right from the food and drinks offered to the choice of the venue itself, it is an exhibition of the heritage of the place. Food stalls offer the local cuisine ranging from pork BBQs to bamboo steamed fish and from a collection of home-made millet wine to the famous rice beer- apong. In between acts, one can explore the villages and the native lifestyle as life outside the festival continues. The only tribe with wet cultivation, it has a lot to offer as they open the doors of their home and their heart to the inquisitive festival goers. From their paddy fields to their fish farms, there is much to learn from their lifestyle. And for someone more adventurous, river rafting over the Kamle River or biking or cycling through the terrains are also favourable options.
But at the centre of it, is music. The two stages owe its nomenclature to the local language get even more vibrant with the presence of the artists from across the world. There are bands to crooners to instrumentalists expressing and sharing in the universal language of music. It is a platform to showcase both the local bands and the international acts in a perfect synchronization. The festival this year will be graced by the Chennai based electro-rockers, The F16s, Mumbai based alternative hard rock band The Koniac Net, both of whom have been previously nominated in vH1 ‘Sound of the Nation Awards’, and Delhi based electronic music band, Dualist Inquiry who has been a recipient of these awards. Along with them, there is the Mumbai based electronic music band, Nicholson and one of the two only known harpists of India, Nush Lewis. And not to forget the regulars of the festival- Delhi based singer-songwriter, Prateek Kuhad and the trio from Nagaland, the Tetseo Sisters. These are to name only a few of the acts lined up for this year. Stretched over the period of four days of the festival, there are about 40 acts (and counting!) to make it even more memorable.
Not to delude anyone, Ziro might be a bit hard to reach. You will even need a permit to enter the state, both for Indian and foreign attendees. The closest convenient airport, Guwahati, being about 450 km away from Ziro, it is surely a long ride. It might include an overnight train journey from Guwahati to Naharlagaun or a twelve hours road trip through the gates of the Sunrise State. You might even find yourself hitching a ride with the locals. But the arduous journey is worth it once you reach the dazzling green valley surrounded by the pine clad indigo mountains. And anyway, the weirder the journey the better the stories you’ll get to tell!
This year the festival is held from the 27th to 30th of September when the clouds come down to touch the ground. As the sky takes on a steel blue shade, just sit by the stage and enjoy the melody of crooners as the mountain breeze is filled with the aroma of the delicacies, reeling with the waft of the bamboo steamed dishes. Evenings might be a bit nippy but it is easy to forego as you sit by the bonfire chugging apong from bamboo glasses. Take a walk through the clouds before headbanging to the beat of the electro-rockers. And after a satiated meal and a fulfilling musical extravaganza fall asleep to the sight of the luminous sky with a billion stars.
The Ziro Music Festival is much different from the urban scene of its contemporaries. As the weather takes you into a trance, the hospitable locals will warm your hearts. But what makes it a bucket-list worthy event is the purity and simplicity of it. And as a local host once said when asked to describe the festival- “Everything is possible here”