Guru Rewben Mashangva – ‘King of Naga Folk Blues’

Guru Rewben Mashangva the well known folk musician of Manipur has been devoting and contributing his entire life to the development of Folk Music of Naga.

An ingenious Tangkhul Naga with very less education and background from Choithar a remote village in the Ukhrul district of Manipur, North-East India, Rewben Mashangva becomes one of the most popular and respected Naga musician of the country. And he has been hailed as ‘King of Naga Folk Blues’ while some journalist named him ‘cultural ambassador of the Nagas’.

Born in 21st June 1961, Guru Rewben has come a long way in search of his true music. He is a composer, performer of Tangkhul (A Dialect speak in Ukhrul District, Manipur) Naga Folk and has been involved in how to exponent the music.

Apart from that Guru Rewben is also a researcher of folk music of the tribes on North East India and presently serving as Director as well as Guru of Naga Folk Music Academy and also the manufacturer of traditional folk musical instruments of the Naga.

Guru plays the guitar producing a ethnic folk sound like no one can, the mouth organ, the four hole flute know as Yangkahui , the Tingteilla (folk fiddle) & his rare cow bell percussion. He has reinvented the traditional Tangkhul Naga flute Yangkahui which is getting ready to be patented and also modified and polished the folk fiddle to suit the western tonal scale.

Guru’s prominent trademark is his ‘Haokuirat’ (the traditional hair style of the primitive Nagas) and the colourful traditional outfit which he wears wherever he performs. It was something that the Nagas had never heard and seen before.

Way back in the 70’s in his village in Choithar in Ukhrul district, a group of young boys formed a guitar club. The members bought a piglet costing around 15 rupees and raised it. As it grew big, they sold it and bought a guitar. The guitar was kept locked in a wooden trunk in a house and everyday the members played for 5 minutes each by attending to a clock. Though Rewben Mashangva was not part of the club as he was too young, he secretly used to watch them play.
In 1992, a grand meeting was to be held in Ukhrul organized by Naga Students Federation and Rewben Mashangva where he wanted to present a song that was appropriate for the event. Since he didn’t know how to write lyrics in English, he stole the lyrics ‘Trust yourself’ of Bob Dylan and fitted it into the tune of one of the Tangkhul Naga Folk song.

And being brought up in a poor family Guru Rewben suffered from various things which he actually desire to have during his childhood days. But his father being a carpenter, he was unable to ask anything from his parents rather than helping them. However, he was interested in music whenever the entire family go for prayer at Church on every Sunday and at that time he didnot have any idea about Guitar.

But he was introduced to guitar by one of his friend who studied outside Manipur. And from that very moment he decided to play guitar at any cost. Later, he realised that he could not play music and sing the English song and so he took the decision to play music in his own style – which is Naga folk music.

But Guru Rewben’s distinct quality lies in his ability to interpret and adapt old Naga folk songs in a way pleasing to his modern listeners. He can do so for he deftly understands the psychology of his modern listeners and the kind of intricate technology and global cultures they are exposed to.

Winner of State Kala Akademi Award 2005 and recipient of the honorary title ‘Guru’ from Ministry of Culture, Government of India Guru Mashangva lives quite a hectic life with performances all over the country and parts of Southeast Asia, attending seminars and guiding folk music scholars. And in the next phage, Guru plans to introduce his typical genre of Naga Folk Blues to Europe and American countries.

Guru Rewben also acclaimed two albums to his credit “Tantivy” & “Creation”, and Guru Rewben has given music for the State and National award winning Manipuri feature film Mayophigi macha and various short films.

He even sang in the Manipuri language in a track titled ‘Hare Ram (Hare Krishna)” for Koken, a crossover feature film by alternative filmmaker – Oinam Doren.

And the duo has united for two more film projects; a very stylish commissioned documentary “Songs of Mashangva” on Guru Mashangva’s music targeting an international audience and a feature film in development tentatively titled ‘The Lonely Village’. ‘The Lonely Village’ is a very funny and heart warming story of how a Naga village disappeared from the planet. The personified Guru will act as well as compose music for the film.

Guru Mashangva laments that the Naga folk songs will gradually die with the death of the old folk singers who lives in remote villages untouched by proper roads and means of communication. The younger generation of Nagas ensnared by Christianity, a changing lifestyle and exposure to more sophisticated gaudy culture of the West are no more interested in the traditions of the forefathers.

Consequently, this could be the sad demise of the Naga identity. Guru’s sole mission is to preserve the folk songs through his own adaptations and lure the younger generation.

Saka Mashangva, Guru’s endearing juvenile son who is just 8 years old supports him in this devout mission with performances all over the country. Saka’s first performance was in November 2004 when he was barely 4 years old in a reception of the Prime minister of India Manmohan Singh when he visited Manipur.

The main objective of promoting his son Saka Mashangva is to preserve the Folk Music of Naga and stop it from extinction as he believes that with global modernization the coming generation will lose touch with folk music until it slowly disappears, something he has dreaded all his life.

So, his son will handle the folk music further and take it to higher level, and carry on the folk music long after Guru’s demise.


Donny Meisnam Luwang is a young Manipuri writer / reporter based at Imphal. He is a regular contributor to

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