Bad Boy Eats the Yellow Snow
(Tapta in comparison and contrast - I)
By Ningombam Captain
I don’t mean to strike down clichés but Tapta is metaphorically, water. Everybody loves water. Am I making a nonsensical hypothesis? Maybe I am, but hey, I’m a fan of Frank Zappa, what more can I do bizarrely? The point is - everybody loves Tapta, except for the grumpy old lady, of course, who cursed at the bus driver to go to hell along with his cheap speakers for intentionally cranking up the volume of classic Tapta numbers, on our way to Thoubal. Tapta, to her, was noise and nothing more. But for the rest of us, he will remain a national treasure forevermore. Here, in this, which is going to be a series of articles, I’m trying to sing some of his legacy by critically appreciating his songs with analogous comparisons to other prominent artists’. This time, the artist is none other than the late American musician, filmmaker, and the “godfather” of comedy rock, Frank Zappa. I’m not comparing Tapta and Zappa appearance-wise, although it is quite irresistible for me to not mention that they both share the same curls, and the tall and lanky stature. Their story of prominence shared the same fate, too. Both were initially criticized by the unprepared audience for their non-conformity and the lack of emotional depth in their songs. But look at them now; they are historical icons in their respective cultures.
Tapta’s song “Bad Boy” is from his second album “Volume 2”. This is superficially comparable to the first four songs of the album “Apostrophe (‘)” by Frank Zappa. These four songs were often played together at live performances as “The Apostrophe Suite”. The suite comprising of the songs “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow”, “Nanook Rubs It”, “St. Alfonzo’s Pancake Breakfast”, and “Father O’blivion”, are often treated as one piece because of the relative musical transitions. So, let’s just call it a song for our convenience. The Apostrophe Suite and Bad Boy are both characteristic of genre fusions. The former is a jazz fusion on progressive rock while the latter is a fusion of rap rock and various styles of community-specific music of Manipur. Bad Boy opens in the form of a devotional song of the Meitei Pangals. The song metamorphs into a gospel melody featuring prominent drums; then after channeling through a Manipuri Sankirtana-influenced style, the song finally hatches into its rap rock form. Similarly, The Apostrophe Suite adopts a metamorphosis of styles ranging from jazz to hard rock. Instrumental sections are featured considerably throughout the songs. In the second half of “St. Alfonzo’s Pankcake Breakfast” section, an instrumental piece called “Rollo” succeeds, thus providing the jazzy feel. In Bad Boy, the tapped guitar solo and fast sweep picking renders it with a heavier sound.
After studying the lyrics, both of the songs can be classified as comedy rock. Bad Boy features satirical lyrics that critique the ethos of the Manipuri teenagers who indulge themselves in reckless marriages as a means to succumb their rebellous spirit, that too, without having a livelihood. Tapta sings in different vocal timbres to produce a humorous effect. In the section of:
Sinabro? Mi Loi Sinabro?
Tombakhoi Bothekhoi Isho Khoi Kantakhoi
Luhongbabu Yao, Loukhatpabu Yao Keina Katpabu Yaoriba Singsibu
Sinabro? Mi Loi sinabro?
Kanasu Khngbidraba Eigi diko...
Tapta adopts speechwise singing for a highly comedic delivery. In the case of Frank Zappa, his speechwise and normal singing are brought up to comedic heights by the absurd lyrics, such as:
At Saint Alfonzo’s Pancake Breakfast
Where I stole the mar-juh-reen
An’ widdled on the Bingo Cards in lieu of the latrine
I saw a handsome parish lady
Make her entrance like a queen.
These comedy rock design make the songs worthy of a comparison. Moreover, the obvious changes in the tempo and time signature give both, a progressive attribute. Hence, Tapta is the pioneer of progressive rock in the Manipuri music scene. The use of unusual percussions can also be noted as a similarity of the songs. The Apostrophe Suite features the sound of the Marimba. Correspondingly, Bad Boy has the Bortaal (hand cymbals) and the Pung (a handheld drum).
I’ve always felt Tapta as the “Frank Zappa of Manipur”. Their non-conforming style of music making and various experimentations, make them embodiments of the avant-garde spirit. They should be admired more for the compositional complexity of their songs, and their stand as astute social critics. Their respective influences on newer musicians are easily recognizable. They will always remain as the giants in the world order of the development and perpetuation of Rock and Roll.
(Ningombam Captain is the creator of Blue Bannerman Reviews. The writer is currently pursuing English Hons. in MS University, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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