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The guitar festivals in Imphal and Guwahati happened immediately after the big Calcutta International Classical Guitar Festival in December 2018 with a few featured musicians (Johannes Moller, Lorenzo Bernardi, Thu Le, Ricardo J Martins and Fernando Ponte) travelling to the North East. Indian Guitar Federation, an informal association of guitarists and guitar societies across India, facilitated the organization of these festivals.

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In Imphal: The festival that nearly didn’t happen

The first ever Imphal International Guitar Festival was nearly called off because of a strike. A week before it was scheduled to begin, there was a 48-hour Manipur strike called over the date of the festival. We considered changing the dates, cancelling the event altogether and eventually decided to go ahead with the 18th of December. At the very least it could be in a private venue with no promotion, with a smaller guest list.

On the morning of the 18th, the strike was lifted. Arambam Nongpok quickly created a Facebook page, and WhatsApped everyone he knew. The festival was officially on!

The Imphal International Guitar Festival took place because Arambam moved back to Imphal to start a music school. A guitar student of Aribam Uttam Sharma (a professor at NEHU in Shillong), he was focused on this vision and headed back to his hometown after completing the ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music) diploma for guitar performance. Once in Imphal, he used all his resources and network to put this festival together.

There are absolutely no sponsors for in Manipur. Before 2018, there had been not a single performance by a professional classical guitarist in the entire state. The Imphal International Guitar Festival is an entirely community-driven effort. Friends offered their cars and volunteered to drive us around, other families offered homestays, dinners were slow cooked on an open fire with everyone joining in. The Arts and Imphal Festival was a partner. A ground-up festival, this was conceptualized by a small group of artists and art practitioners, the first edition of which will be in the winter of 2019.

Cyclone Phethai that hit the Andhra coast, was responsible for non-stop rain in the north east region while we were there. Despite this and despite the fact that there was very little promotion, over 70 people turned up. It was a cold evening, and a fabulous concert. Johannes Moller began with his original music, Lorenzo Bernardi and Thu Le (courtesy the Italian Institute of Culture) performed a programme of Italian music and the duo from Portugal – Ricardo J Martins & Fernando Ponte – introduced everyone to the Portuguese guitar, the traditional Fado and new original music.

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In Guwahati: There was no space left to sit!

The sun was out when we landed in Guwahati. Lueit Parasar Hazarika picked us up. Luiet’s a professional architect who also fronts the band mineral water. He used all his resources to get sponsors for each thing that the festival needed. This was the second year he organised the guitar festival and everything was bigger than before. Prag News was our official media partner, we had a sponsor who agreed to pay the cost of our homestay expenses, someone else lent their car and driver, and the Assam State Museum welcomed us back again.

That evening Prag News invited us to their studio to film an hour-long special that was aired for the New Year.

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There were workshops scheduled after breakfast and over 65 students (most from the Sarala Birla Gyan Jyoti School) had signed up. On that winter morning, they sat outside, on the lawns of the Assam State Museum and got lessons.

The auditorium at the Assam State Museum was packed. It’s a small hall and about half an hour into the concerts, it was so full that people were standing up at the back and sitting on the floor right next to the stage. Partly because of the promotion we received, but more because almost everyone at the concert had either attended the festival the previous year or had heard a great review about it from friends who were there. For the third edition of the festival in Guwahati next year, Luiet and his friends have promised us a larger venue!

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