On the North Eastern Festival menu at the India International Centre was Nagaland star, pianist and performer Nise Meruno. As the evening shades gathered around a magnificent grand piano, a handsome young man dressed in a flowing Prussian blue coat took his seat at the instrument that looked like a raven with a raised wing.
“My performance will be split into two parts,” said Meruno to the audience who had gathered to partake of his performance. “The first part is a piano tribute and the second is in song.” There were essentially two aspects to the score: arpeggios (mostly in the piano) and sustained, mysterious chords (in the deeper tones). The moment he ran his fingers along the keys, the dynamic remained pianissimo. Sitting there in a haze of mellifluous melodic notes, it was almost like listening to the flow of water down a mountain and watching the reflections or peering into the sky and seeing a kite merging with the clouds. When Meruno played a dulcet Nagaland folk fusion, it seemed as if time was slipping through your fingers. He played with hypnotic intensity, making each note of the arpeggios feel like the discovery of a new staircase of possibilities. It was love at first sound.
“I mix folk with classical to create new sounds,” said Meruno. “It’s about creating awareness about the beauty and the magic of music in the North East.” The arrangement of the compositional impulses, reflected his sheer genius, it could gravitate toward the sublime, trip into the realm of the harmonious, soar into the joyous, plumb the depths of despair and sustain in the plane of the beautiful and the peaceful.
Korean artist Yiruma’s “Kiss the Rain” was Meruno’s piece de resistance. It was played with ethereal quiet and stillness, to produce a sense of something unworldly. Meruno unravelled as a tactile composer who loves design and texture. The Mumbai medleys with compositions of Salim Merchant and Pritam were both fun and resonant filled but it was the solo vocal renditions of “What a Wonderful World” and the “Phantom of the Opera” numbers that enchanted beyond words. Meruno skilfully brought back memories of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” in tone and tenor.
The two “Phantom of the Opera” songs (Andrew Lloyd Webber ) from Meruno’s repertoire amply conveyed his prowess. “Music is what brings beauty to this world,” said Meruno, “The two songs from the Phantom of the Opera remain the best in composition .”
“Love me, that’s all I ask of you” and “Help me make the music of the night” both became stellar renditions. Meruno’s hybrid ascent of tenor and baritone is thoughtfully and lovingly crafted, with intricate textures and subtle symmetrical form. As a singer, he blends the experimental with the relatively conservative. His confidence of tonal variations pushed boundaries as he offered an ascent into the familiar territory of lush choral harmonies. In all his renditions, he remained in continual, ever-changing play in perfect pitch.
“I will sing to you Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite hymn as a conclusion,” said Meruno. He sang two verses in the local dialects of Nagaland and the third in English. When he opened the notes of “Abide with Me” in the vernacular, not only did he show sure intonation, he also revealed a spirit of soul that was not overtly expressive but born of the realms of evocation. Meruno’s strength lies in creating islands of devotion within the orbit of concentration as he makes the chords of crystal clear notes sound like breaths taken, each unique but born from the same source.
Meruno is fiercely protective of his land, and is now training teachers to teach music and train choirs. “There is so much music talent in Nagaland, we need good teachers,” he states.