On the border with Bhutan lies a breathtakingly beautiful northeastern Indian state called Assam. You’ve likely heard of the famous Assamese tea – one of the most popular exports of the region. Bright green tea gardens certainly make up a large part of the area, with almost 1,200 square miles dedicated to its perfectly manicured tea estates.
Yet, what makes Assam so special extends far beyond its popular exports. The state is filled with friendly, generous people, delicately flavored cuisine, and a unique, vibrant artistic heritage.
Songwriter and composer Immy, who is also the lead vocalist for the band Immy and the Mahoots, intends to change this narrow perception of what Assam has to offer the world. And at Crashfest 2020, Boston’s renowned international music festival, she was offered the opportunity to do precisely that.
Crashfest’s dark horse
Crashfest has made a name for itself as the festival that “crashes” boundaries, offering a stage to artists and cultural traditions from around the world. Some of its prominent performers include Fela!, Fatoumata Diawara, Bokante, and Cha Wa. The event organisers identified that the unique style of Immy would fit in perfectly, and her band was invited to perform on one of the main stages.
Nevertheless, Immy and the Mahoots had only been performing together for a year. They were still relatively unknown, so most of the audience was unsure of what to expect. After all, what more is Assam than the birthplace of Indian tea?
The band began performing its first song to a tiny audience of only about 150 people. However, as their set continued, the audience grew bigger with each song, and so did its enthusiasm. By the final song, the performance area had filled up with over 1000 people who were dancing along to the powerful blend of Western and Assamese music. In fact, the audience eventually overflowed into the bar area. The energy and aura excluded by both the audience and the band created an incredible experience.
Once the band had finished performing, the event organisers announced to the crowd that the kind of music Immy brings is the type of music that Global Arts Live seeks out. The band was described as a perfect example of world music that respects different cultures and nurtures each to shine even more. Reviewers of her performance also commented that Immy’s powerful and enchanting singing presents traditional Assamese songs in a beautiful and accessible way.
Defining Immy and the Mahoots
Creating her unique style took deliberate intention, however. Born in Goalpara, a small town in Assam, Immy studied classical Indian music from the age of six under the guidance of various gurus. However, her love for her own local music inspired her to evolve her sound, to show the world that Indian music extends beyond classical and beyond Bollywood.
Immy’s passion for sharing the essence of Assamese music with the world was met with a considerable obstacle, however. She found that her audience was not only limited to India, but to the state itself, which is the only place in the world that the Assamese language is spoken. She’d long since travelled to the United States of America and started her musical journey there. Hence, she recognised the need to create a new audience, and she’s done so in an innovative way.
She founded her band Immy and the Mahoots, and together they spent a year blending traditional Assamese songs with Western music styles. The result is a backdrop of contemporary drum beats and electric guitar riffs that sound rather jazzy, country, or old-school rock and roll. This is layered over by Immy’s captivating voice and the hauntingly beautiful Assamese songs. She refers to the style as “retrofit” as it combines different genres and styles of music, blending in contemporary styles without losing the essence of her traditional music.
What is particularly remarkable about her music is the way it transcends spoken language. Few people may understand the lyrics of her songs, but the passion she exudes is unmistakable. Through her singing, you can sense a broad range of emotions, from love to hope and even sadness.
Without a doubt, Immy is piquing the world’s interest in Assam and showcasing that the region has a lot more to offer than many realise. In fact, she’s is one of the first few artists in history to take the Assamese language and culture to a global, mainstream audience by performing traditional music. And she’s done it in a way that is engaging and captivating and is starting to gain worldwide recognition.
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