May 27, 2009 - Thirty-seven years have elapsed since musician Lou Majaw first decided to honor the birthday of his icon, Bob Dylan, with an annual celebration in the remote, pine-crested hills of northeastern India.
Empires and ideologies have risen and fallen, but the 62-year-old Majaw has held to his word.
Every year since then, he has staged a celebration of music and poetry on Dylan’s birthday in India, even though sometimes no one came, and it sometimes poured rain.
"It’s because of the respect I have for Dylan," said Majaw, as he prepared to mark Dylan’s birthday in the town of Shillong, on Sunday. "I respect him as a lyricist, as a writer of songs and poetry."
Dylan turned 68 this year. This time, Majaw had workers erect a stage on a local weed-choked basketball arena.
As he prepared to perform, Majaw seemed blissfully undeterred by the dark clouds swirling menacingly overhead.
He even seemed cheerful, energetically darting around the stage in skimpy sawn-off denim shorts, a shiny blue necklace and bright white sneakers to the sound of Dylan songs.
Left Speechless At The Power Of Dylan
Majaw first heard Dylan in 1966. He has yet to forget the impact it made. "I just could not say anything — and then later on I said, ’Hey this is it.’ It had so much power!"
"If people really, really listen, if they really see the meaning of what Dylan’s writings are — I am sure that we shouldn’t have had any war; everything would be so peaceful."
Eight out of 10 Indians are Hindus. But in Shillong most people are Christians, a byproduct of the British colonialists and the Western missionaries who appeared during their rule.
The missionaries brought in music, and the English language. This seems to have fused with a strong local tribal tradition of music-making to create a community that is unusually receptive to Western music, including rock ’n’ roll.
A Strong Musical Tradition
"Here in the hills everyone loves music," said Banteilang Rumnong, head of a cultural organization representing the Khasi tribal population, which dominates in this corner of India and has a strong musical tradition of its own. "Khasi always says that you should always learn to laugh. When a Khasi celebrates, then he celebrates it with music. It sets the soul free."
His words seem to hold true on the streets.
The people of Shillong may not know Bob Dylan too well. But every other resident appears to play an instrument, learned by ear.
Few are as musical as Majaw himself, especially when he is singing Dylan.
Several hundred people braved the rain to hear him and his fellow musicians perform on Dylan’s birthday.
No one seemed disappointed.
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