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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 May 2006, 15:22 GMT 16:22 UK
Homage to Bob Dylan - Indian style

By Soutik Biswas
BBC News, Shillong

Lou Majaw
Majaw started the Dylan festival in 1972 (Photos by Irene Slegt)
It's late in the evening and the music of Bob Dylan is pouring through a nondescript hall in the hill town of Shillong in north-eastern India.

On stage, Lou Majaw, the hill town's premier rocker-poet-troubadour, is belting out the Dylan standards - a ritual that he's been faithfully performing for the last 34 years on the singer's birthday.

It all began sometime in 1972 when Majaw began a folk festival to "honour Dylan" at a small auditorium on the singer's birthday.

A few years earlier he had been converted to the legend after he heard the seminal album, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan.

Since then, the Dylan fest has played out every 24 May at homes, parks, and halls.

The set list has been regulation 1960-70s edgy, angry Dylan.

"His songs lit up my life and gave it a lot of meaning. His new stuff doesn't touch me as much though," says Majaw, the 59-year-old rocker they call Shillong's Dylan.

But that's no reason at all for Shillong's Dylan to stop paying his annual obeisance to his idol.

'Little Dylan'

"Happy birthday, Bob Dylan, wherever you are. God Bless You", he says to the few hundred people in the audience in a gig that's being backed by a NGO to raise awareness about HIV/Aids.

Lou Majaw with his son, 'Little Dylan'
Majaw hopes to perform with his son one day

On stage, Majaw is anything but Dylan - an antithesis of the near stoic, low energy diminutive, frail legend.

Majaw is in impossibly tight frayed denim shorts, yellow socks, white sneakers, a short blue specked tee shirt, his long greying hair flowing down to his shoulders.

On stage, he is a like a voodoo child of the 60s, a cross between Angus Young and James Brown, stalking his musicians relentlessly, shaking his head, dancing like a rock and roll dervish, all the while singing the troubadour's classics.

And when a three-year-old boy cries Papa! from the audience as Majaw launches into a surprisingly ferocious version of Forever Young, Majaw doffs his tambourine to his little son, whom he fondly calls Little Dylan and says, "One day, I hope Little Dylan will come up and play with me."

Timeless anthems

There's an impressive number of out-of-towner Dylan singers who are keeping the fest going this year.

Liz Cotton performs on stage
Like Liz Cotton, many Dylan fans from other cities also perform

There's the father and son duo of Anjan and Neel Dutta from Calcutta singing acoustic versions of such standards as A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall and Tambourine Man, with even a hint of Indian folk on the guitar to Tambourine Man.

Anjan sings Bengali rock, acts in Bengali films, makes English films, and also sings Dylan. Son Neel listens to Buddy Guy and BB King and plays everything.

There's the brilliant Liz Cotton, a Delhi-based English singer, who brings down the house with I Shall Be Released and Mozambique.

Then as the lights go down Majaw and his old boys appear, they appear much like a band promising to belt out hard metal rather than timeless anthems.

They run through the Essential Dylan songbook effortlessly.

At the end of it, the old boys end another noisy and heartfelt tribute to the singer with a long, languid version of Knocking On Heaven's Door, which would possibly even leave Dylan astonished.

Someday, Majaw hopes the legend will grace the occasion.

There have been attempts to get through to Dylan's management but to no avail.

"I'd love to see Dylan come here, not as a performer, but as an observer to check out what we do to keep his legacy alive."

'Blown away'

Majaw's fatal tryst with music and Dylan began while listening to rock and roll while growing up in a "poor family" in the hills.

Lou Majaw performs on the stage
Majaw hopes that Bob Dylan attends one such festival

The family didn't have a radio at home, nor a guitar. Young Lou would hear Bill Hailey and Elvis Presley on friends' radio, and strum a solitary guitar in school when it was his turn.

And then Bob Dylan happened - and, he says, he was "blown away".

After playing in groups with names like Dynamite Boys, Vanguards, Supersound Factory and Blood and Thunder and playing in smoky bar rooms in Calcutta, Majaw returned home to his obsession.

"I am happy in my little kingdom", says Majaw cuddling Little Dylan.

It helps that his kingdom - a once-pretty hill town with over 260,000 people - is one of the most rock music-mad places in India.

It's a balmy night outside when the rituals end, there are no takers for Dylan look alike contest and a young girl accompanying her father to the fest wins an expensive watch in a lucky draw for sharing her birthday with the legend.

The show doesn't sell out, but the show must go on.

Next day, a local newspaper covers the festival on its front page and says: "Some of the songs were so emotional that one could see tears in some eyes in the auditorium".

Dylan's legacy is in safe hands in Shillong.




SEE ALSO:
Stones thrill in soggy Bangalore
04 Apr 03 |  Entertainment
Stones prepare for India concert
03 Apr 03 |  South Asia
Awards homage to Harrison
01 Dec 01 |  Entertainment


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