From rock riffs to Padma Shri: How Naga folk won over a rock ‘n’ roll heart

Moa Subong and wife Arenla have developed howey music together.

It is not uncommon for musicians to dabble in different genres, but it is rare for a veteran rock musician to receive the fourth highest civilian award for his efforts to popularise folk music. And on April 5, when musician, actor and activist Moa Subong received the Padma Shri award in Art for his distinguished contribution to folk music of Nagaland at Rashrapati Bhawan, he probably became the first in this regard.

“Rock and folk are two sides of the same coin and when astutely fused together, the end product can be very satisfying. That’s the beauty of folk-rock,” believes the 62-year-old, who was heavily into rock and roll before getting the “call” to revive native folk. And today, after 18 years of toiling to popularise the latter, Subong has invented a new musical genre, produced films around it and has also designed an indigenous wind instrument from bamboo.

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Until 2005, Subong’s preferred genre of music wasn’t folk-rock. He and with his wife, Arenla, were packing venues as a duo belting out good ol’ rock and roll. By then, the guitar player’s admiration for his native folk music was mostly confined to a lick or two in a couple of original rock pieces and his tryst with howey music was yet to occur.

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