Shiv Ahuja documents the energies of a rock music festival in Arunachal Pradesh
In 2012, Anup Kutty, guitarist with New Delhi rock band, Menwhopause, asked me to accompany him to a music festival he was curating in Ziro, the home of the Apatani people in Arunachal Pradesh. A two-day train ride and a back-breaking 18-hour road journey later, we were finally there. The same night, at a drinking hole, a few mugs of the local rice beer and I was out cold. I woke up to realise I had been photographed by my new friends with my hair tied up in traditional tribal style and my face decorated with bamboo-ash tattoos. Sometimes you visit a place and you feel an instant connection, an instinctive response to its energy—even though you will always be an outsider. I have been back every year since.
In the final weeks of September, what is usually a valley infused with a gentle calm, filled with paddy fields and surrounded by misty mountains, is transformed. The first year only saw some friends and a few locals in attendance; by its seventh edition the Ziro Music Festival was hosting several thousand attendees from all over the mainland as well as the Northeast, spread across multiple campsites and home-stays. As the sun sets across the fields and you settle into the smells of the smoky meats and local brews, it begins to feel like a giant release, a collective letting-go that the landscape is now charged with.
There is a story slowly unfolding and it’s about change, about growth. It’s about youth and energy, the mixing of cultures and sub-cultures. And it’s all set to the sound of heavy distorted guitars, fuelled by the local brew. These photographs were taken over six editions of the festival.
This essay was published in the April-June 2019 issue. The theme of the issue was ‘Heat’.