Category Archives: Musicians/ Bands
A unique folk fusion album, Rajabasa, was recently released at the Guwahati Press Club. The album is a collaborative effort of Karbi folk fusion band Jambili and singer Rajlakshi Bora. The album features a beautiful fusion of Dimasa folk songs with Karbi folk tunes.
Photo courtesy: Hafiz Ahmed
In conversation with eminent Assamese Tokari and Dehabisar Geet exponent Umakanta Bairagi
By Aiyushman Dutta
(First published in melange, Nov 27, 2017)
Whenever we talk of Tokari Geet or Dehabisar Geet, the first name which comes to mind is none other than Umakanta Bairagi. In a career that spans around fifty long years, Umakanta Bairagi has achieved eminence as the foremost performer of Tokari and Dehabichar Geet. A man who has performed throughout the country, he has spent an entire lifetime striving to popularise this ancient oral folk tradition of Assam through his performances, books and recordings.
Umakanta Bairagi was groomed in the traditional Tokari Geet and Dehabichar Geet tradition of Assam by his father Kanakeswar Gogoi. He began presenting the art initially on religious occasions and then on public stages. An institution in himself, he has been performing on All India Radio, Dibrugarh station regularly since 1969, and has later sung from the Dibrugarh and Guwahati stations of Doordarshan.
Not just performances, Umakanta Bairagi has also taken on the responsibility of documenting this centuries-old tradition for posterity. He has to his credit a large number of audio recordings of Tokari and Dehabichar Geet besides compiling two books on the same. He has also trained a number of students over the years and has established an institution for that purpose in Guwahati, ‘Kanakeswar Gogoi Memorial Dehabichar/Tokari Geet Prashikshan Kendra’, which has been named after his father.
Shri Umakanta Bairagi has been honoured for his work by various institutions in Assam. He was bestowed the title Bairagi by All India Radio, Dibrugarh, in 1971. But the foremost honour was when he received the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for his contribution to the Tokari and Dehabichar Geet of Assam.
I recently met the veteran artist in his residence at Guwahati to talk about his journey with Tokari Geet/ Dehabichar Geet. Following are excerpts.
Q. Please tell us a bit about your childhood.
Ans: I was born in Chaulkhora village of Khowang subdivision in Dibrugarh district in 1954. Our house was in a deeply forested area and I was born and brought up there. My father Kanekeswar Gogoi used to do odd businesses for our livelihood. I grew up along with five other brothers and sisters.
Since we stayed in a very remote area, it was difficult for us to go to school. Somehow, with a lot of difficulty, we managed to complete our Lower Primary schooling and also two classes of MP School. That however was the end of my formal education.
Q. How did you get interested in Tokari and Dehabichar Geet?
Ans: I have always been fascinated by the Tokari as an instrument. When I was a child, my father used to play the instrument but only after we slept. So on the pretext of sleeping, I used to listen to him play the Tokari instrument and sing Dehabichar geets. Dehabichar geet is a form of spiritual discourse carried out in the form of songs and which is accompanied by the Tokari. I used to love listening to these songs and also to the sound of the Tokari. I have never had a guru in life and I am an entirely self-taught artist.
When I was very young, a local MLA had come to visit our village and my grandfather had taught me two songs to sing in front of him. That was the first time I sang in public. But after that, nothing much happened as far as my singing career was concerned.
when I got married, I decided to learn the Tokari instrument on the sly. Once when my father left for a business trip, I used to play his instrument on the sly. You can say that just like Eklavya, I learnt the Tokari by stealing. So once, during a 6 day stretch when I continuously played the Tokari, I learnt how to play the instrument.
After learning how to play the Tokari, I and my friends would roam around the villages in the evening, visiting different households and playing in front of them for some tea and til or tekeli pitha.
Q. How did your tryst with the radio start?
Ans: In the year 1968, the Dibrugarh station of All India Radio had announced an audition for Tokari artists. One of my friends had applied for the audition and I had gone along with him. When his turn came, he could not play even a single song, out of the 15 songs that were asked to him, in front of the interview panel. I felt very bad because he should have been able to play at least one song.
I approached the station director and asked him if I could participate too. He made me fill up a form and accordingly after three months, a call letter came to my house. When I went for my audition, the interviewers did not let me finish even the first song, and said that I would definitely be hearing from them.
I did hear from them and they called me to record four songs. I cannot express my happiness at that moment. The four songs were aired at 4 pm in the month of January and I felt fortunate that I was able to sing my own composed songs in front of the people of the entire State. I counted my blessings and thanked god for making me, a person who sang for pithas, capable enough to sing in the radio.
From 1971 onwards, I become a regular artist of All India Radio and I continue to perform even today.
Q. You have been performing in different stages across the country. Do you remember how many songs you have composed and performed till now?
Ans: I have lost count of the number of performances but till now, I have composed around 775 Dehabichar Geets. All the songs are spiritual in nature or based on the story of Krishna or the Ram-Leela. In some of the songs, I question our own spiritual existence – why we were born, what is the purpose of our existence, and the like. They are sort of self-introspective in nature.
Q. Dehabichar Geet is an oral tradition which existed even before the time of Srimanta Sankardev. Please tell us about your efforts in documenting this centuries-old oral tradition.
Ans: Like you said, Dehabichar Geet is an oral tradition which existed even before the time of Sankardev. It did not exist in written form and the earlier practitioners did not think about writing it down. But although an oral tradition, a lot of changes has creeped into this tradition once we entered the Xankari era. In the songs of yesteryears, there used to be no mention of God but nowadays, it is mandatory to at least mention the name of one single God out of all the different gods we have.
I have taken the initiative to document and compile around 150-200 age-old songs and their meanings in the form of two books which I wrote in 2008. I was fortunate enough to receive the support of the central government under their “documentation/ preservation of cultural and traditional heritage” scheme. The government official was very supportive in my endeavour and I was able to record many ancient songs – right from my grandfathers’ times. Now there are around 400-500 songs of the present day period which I have not been able to record till now.
Q. Please tell us about your first audio cassette recording.
Ans: In 1985, I recorded an audio cassette, ‘Brindrabon’, in Jyoti Chitrabon. The recording was made possible with the support of Suresh Phukan, who was a folklorist and professor of Assamese in Joysagar College. ‘Brindabon’ was the first audio cassette of Tokari geets to be released in Assam. After ‘Brindabon’, I released another audio casette on Tokari geet, ‘Mathura’, and that was also produced by Suresh Phukan. Later on, Rubul Bora produced two of my other audio cassettes on Tokari geet like ‘Amiya Madhuri’ and ‘Porom Guru’.
Q. How many cassettes and recordings have you made till now?
Ans: Till now, I have produced around 6 audio cassettes and one audio CD. But I still have a lot of my songs which are yet to be recorded.
Q. Nowadays a lot of artistes are using the Tokari to create fusion songs. What are your views on this issue?
Ans: Nowadays, a lot of people are doing fusion music with the Tokari and Dehabisar geet. I personally believe that they should not do such kinds of fusion. Dehabichar geet is not for entertainment, it is not some kind of Bihugeet; it is more of a spiritual discourse that is needed for the wellbeing of the mind and body.
I feel this kind of fusion should stop because if it continues, the future generations will not be able to comprehend the real or true nature of Tokari and Dehabisar Geet. Many people are approaching me to accompany them on fusion tracks. But I have been refusing them all. I will not leave the Tokari to sing or play any other instrument or song.
Q. You have performed in a lot of places outside the Sate. How do people outside receive your songs and music?
Ans: Besides Assam and the Northeast, I have performed in various parts of the country, like Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Kolkata, etc. I have felt that people outside really appreciate our songs and performances. I remember one show in Haryana, especially, where young women and girls broke out in dance after hearing our songs. They later came and felicitated us on stage. That was one memorable performance we did.
Q. Do you feel that the upcoming generations will continue to embrace the tradition of Tukari Geets?
Ans: From whatever I have learnt after years of teaching, I feel that the Tokari and Dehabisari tradition will continue in the days to come. I say this because nowadays I find a lot of young people interested in this tradition. In our days, only old people used to sing Dehabisar Geets but nowadays, I find even bachelors coming forward to learn and perform these songs. The Tokari and Dehabichar geets are presently being performed on stage as well as aired on the radio and television. As such, I feel that the new generation will indeed embrace Tokari geets in the days to come.
Q. You have been bestowed with one of India’s highest honours in the form of the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award. How do you feel at receiving such a big honour?
Ans: I received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 2013. It was like a surreal feeling for me. There is an interesting story as to how I received the news of the award. When they announced my name on the TV, I was in a nursing home in Guwahati for some minor illness. The nurse was about to serve me food when the news broke out on TV. I did not know whether the news was true or not. Only later on when my family also verified the news, I realised that it was true. I feel thankful for receiving such a big honour and it has given me the much-needed impetus to carry on with my work.
It has been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride for Debo Borkotoky, who in a span of three decades has established his family business into a mega empire. His label NK Productions, a King maker of sorts in Assam, has seen it all – a stuttering start with simple humble beginnings, which reached its crescendo during the nineties, to now reach a stage where it has been compelled to diversify to other allied industries in the wake of the fast evolving music industry and stiff competition from national and international labels. The evolution of NK Productions through the past few decades has stood as perfect testimony to the fast transitioning music landscape of Assam.
Having been in the business for the past 29 years, NK Productions started off a family business in the Borkotoky family when they used to produce Bihu albums, besides records of Khagen Mahanta and devotional music albums. Debo took over the reins of the business in 1985, at a time when the physical market was rapidly growing in Assam. The eighties was a defining point as their albums started registering huge sales, with one particular Bihu album selling around 60-70,000 copies.
Although NK Productions major focus area was Bihu albums and devotional albums – both of which enjoyed a lot of popularity in Assam during that time, young Debo also started the trend of introducing contemporary artists. One of NK Production’s major finds was none other than Zubeen Garg, one of the most popular singers in the history of the State and the State’s first export to Bollywood. His debut album, Maya, which was released under this label sold a record 7 to 8 lakh pieces in the first year alone. “We have released records of almost all the popular artistes of Assam. Khagen Mahanta, Bhupen Hazarika – they have all shared a long relationship with us,” says Debo.
Just for the record, NK Productions is the only music label in Assam to have a full professional set up. “I installed a Loopbin system in 1995 and also have three studios with my own dedicated manforce of directors, assistants, technicians and other crew members,” says Debo. Banking on this set-up, Debo also was the first to produce audio and video cds on a mass scale and make it available to the average consumer for sums as low as Rs 12- 20.
Dwelling on his move, he said, “Piracy was a major menace that we had to encounter. We decided to sell our cds for as low as possible to beat the threat of piracy. We also started the concept of making short Bihu video albums where all the songs were weaved around a story. We normally used to produce 15-20 such albums every year during the Bihu season, all of which were much in demand among the public and registered sales of around 15-20 lakh copies every year. One such product, Janmoni, had become a craze and we had to produce it sequels every year.”
However, the VCD craze has also petered out and Debo released only 2 VCDs this year. “After the entertainment channels came up in Assam, the sale of Bihu VCDs totally diminished. People still love to listen to their preferred music. The only difference is that now they won’t buy for it,” he rues.
During the heydays, another strong factor in NK Production’s favour was its extensive distribution network. “We have our own dealers in every major town and city of Assam and we do our own production as well as distribution.” While other national and international labels are now foraying into the Northeast’s folk and devotional music market, Debo certainly has a upper hand here.
While Debo made a smooth transition from cassettes to cd productions, the changeover to the digital era has been pretty taxing. In his words, “Assam is the only State in the country where physical sales continued till the last. While the switch over to the digital era has hit us hard, we are doing whatever little we can to keep pace. For instance, we have uploaded our entire database of songs on the internet and have also tied with all major telecom companies for revenue sharing on song downloads. But the market is not even a shadow of what it was a few years back and we are gradually diversifying into film production.”
It started off as a small celebration amongst a few friends. But the Bob Dylan tribute concert organized by Lou Majaw of Shillong has literally assumed gigantic proportions, with its popularity spilling over to various parts of the country and even abroad. So much so that Lou has almost become synonymous with Bob Dylan himself in India.
Lou – a icon in the Northeast himself – has started the Bob Dylan celebrations on May 24, 1972. What started off a small get-together amongst friends has continued for more than four decades now, with the magnitude of the show increasing every year. Also has increased Shillong’s passion for one of the greatest musicians in the world.
While hundreds of people from different parts make a beeline for this small hill town of Meghalaya ever year to take part in the festival, Lou has been pressurising the government of Meghalaya to declare the day as a government holiday. A number of well known bands have performed in Shillong on May 24 every year to honour, what Lou says, “how his music infuses life with meaning”. “His songs lit up my life and gave it a lot of meaning. His new stuff doesn’t touch me as much though,” says Majaw, the 59-year-old rocker who grew up playing in clubs of Shillong and Kolkata.
Since 1972, the Bob Dylan fest has been organized in Shillong with unfailing regularity – irrespective of whether there is rain, or a venue, sponsors being a second entity. Be it in parks, halls or personal residences of the many music aficionados living here – Bob Dylan is sure to come alive in Shillong every May 24. And in every tribute session, the set list remains the same – edgy, angry Dylan, which somehow reflects the youth angst of this hill station.
The festival is slowly spilling over to other parts of the region as well. Musicians and music lovers of Guwahati who have been part of the festival with unfailing regularity had started their own tribute concert in the capital city last year. Christening themselves as the Guwahati chapter of the Bob Dylan society, these musicians join Lou celebrate Dylan’s birthday over a distance of 100-odd kilometres.
“Lou is undoubtedly India’s own Dylan. However, it has become increasingly difficult for us to go up to Shillong every year to take part in the celebrations. That does not, however, mean we will stop celebrating the day. So some of us friends decided to open the Guwahati chapter of the Dylan society so as to make it easier for us,” says Dr. Nandan Phukan, one of the founders of the Guwahati chapter.
Last year, the celebrations were held in Cafe Hendrix – a local pub in the city which saw a host of senior and new musicians jamming together to celebrate the day. Veteran bassist Dr Ganesh Deka, vocalist Hridoy Goswami joined the Guwahati chapter of the Dylan society and classic rock bands Stags celebrate the occasion.
This year too, several initiatives have been lined up in different towns and cities of the region. While Lou is all set to celebrate his idol’s birthday in his hometown, the Guwahati chapter has organized a night of creativity to mark the occasion. The event, organized in association with Eastern Beats Music Society and Cafe Hendrix, will be held in the newly inaugurated performing lounge of Cafe Hendrix in the city. Besides jam sessions of Dylan numbers by musicians of the city, popular Manipuri rock band Cleave and city-based band Bolt from the Blue is also scheduled to take part in the celebrations.
Dr Nandan says, “Dylan is a person who advocated creativity and change throughout his life. So this year, the theme of our celebrations will be creativity in any form – it can be writings, poetry, music, songs, whatever. Anyone who has a piece of something creative with him or her is encouraged to come and take part in the event.”
Meanwhile, the sense of creativity has been taken up in Shillong as well. Noted poet and folklorist Dr. Desmond Kharmawphland has also organized a “poetry and song” event in Cafe Shillong on May 25. “All those who write poetry or sing songs are invited to come and be part of the event,” he said, even as he asked Dylan fans to spread the word among their friends.
Thanks to Lou Majaw, Dylan certainly lives on in Northeast India. And will surely do so for quite some time to come!
Robust Network, Dimapur in collaboration with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, successfully organised a grand cultural show to commemorate the 8th Bamhum Day with performances by various artistes at Soul Speak Studios Hall, Nuton Bosti, Dimapur last Thursday. The Bamhum is a wind instrument invented by Moa Subong of Grammy nominated experimental rock band Abiogenesis.
Abiogenesis presented the first ever Bamhum songs composed by them like Saramati Tears, Misty Dzuko, Wah Taj and Hitch Hiker. All these songs are from their first album Aeon Spell, which was released by Saregama and which was listed for nominations in the 50th Grammy Awards. Arenla, the front lady of Abiogenesis, said that the invention of the Bamhum brought about Howeymusic, a fusion of Naga music with various genres of music.
A young upcoming rock band from Dimapur, ‘Gentlemen and Slippers’ also presented a few numbers during the concert. A jam session followed the programme where musicians got to meet each other and played and jammed together for a few hours.
The Best of the Northeast lined up for the North East Spring Festival
The onset of springtime is undoubtedly the most preferred time to visit Northeast India. For this is the time when the people of the region, belonging to different tribes and races and with myriad ethno-cultural traditions, languages and religious beliefs, give full lease to their joy and exuberance in the form of unbridled festivities celebrating the mood of nature.
In keeping with the Silver Jubilee celebrations of Zonal Cultural Centres (ZCCs) of the country, the North East Zone Cultural Centre (NEZCC) is organizing in Jorhat a mega Northeast-centric carnival capturing the mood and brilliance of springtime. With more than 250 artistes participating, the festival will showcase the biggest ensemble of folk dances, folk music, craftsmen, choral singers, tribal folk musicologists and others who will present the best of regional dance, music, culture, et al.
The North East Spring Festival, will be inaugurated in the presence of Honourable Chief Minister of Assam Shri Tarun Gogoi, Cultural Minister Pranati Phukan, NEZCC Chairman and Honourable Nagaland Governor Shri Nikhil Kumar and a host of other luminaries, at the Jorhat Court Field on March 24 next.
From the rhythmic steps of the Nunu Pipi dance of the Adi tribe of Arunachal Pradesh to the mesmering Cheraw of Mizoram; be it the fierce display of warrior skills of the Thang-ta and Maibang dances to the graceful moves of Wangala dancers – this festival will reflect the best of the culture from each North-eastern State. A 60-member troupe from the other Zonal Cultural Centres (ZCCs) will also be participating in the festival, which also has performances by premier experimental musicians Guru Rewben Mashangva of Manipur and Naad Brahma from Assam lined up.
The decision to host the Spring Festival in Jorhat of Upper Assam was made following the tremendous success that the NEZCC’s premier Octave festival received in other parts of the country in the past few years, and also in keeping with the mandate of the cultural Centre. NEZCC Director Som Kamei says, “Our Centre annually organizes a showcased event, “Octave” in different parts of the country to highlight the rich cultural heritage and art-forms of the region. In fact, Octave has become one of the biggest and most successful events to be organized by the Zonal Cultural Centres under the aegis of the Ministry of Culture, Government of India. Following the tremendous success of the festival in other parts of the country, there have been demands within the region itself for such festivals wherein we introduce people in second-tier cities with the richness and diversity of our culture. With 2012 being the Silver Jubilee year of the ZCCs of the country, Jorhat, with its rich cultural heritage, was undoubtedly our first choice for the festival.”
A major thrust area of the NEZCC has been to promote the lesser known art forms of the different States of the region, especially in the hinterland. Not surprisingly, the North East Spring Festival seeks to place lesser known art forms like Khupilile of the Pochury tribe of Nagaland and Ghantu dance of Sikkim on the same platform as much more established folk dance forms like Bihu of Assam and Dhol Pung of Manipur, informed Kamei.
The entire festival will be choreographed by internationally acclaimed Assamese folk musicologist Dr Prassana Gogoi. Entry to the event is free.
About Northeast India and Northeastern spring festivals
Northeast India is known for its geological marvels, nature’s splendor and an unparalleled spectrum of ethno-cultural multiplicity. A multitude of tribes and races with myriad ethno-cultural traditions, languages and religious beliefs live here side by side keeping alive their traditions, institutions, languages and religious practices. A fine texture of diverse hues spraypainted on a beautiful landscape makes this melting pot of human races a true ethnological wonder, perhaps the only one of its kind in the whole world.
About the Folk Art performances to be featured in North East Spring Festival
The following art performances from the Northeast will be featured in the spring festival.
1. ARUNACHAL PRADESH – Nunu Pipi
2. ASSAM – Bihu
3. MANIPUR – Dhol Pung
Guru Rewben Mashangva
4. MEGHALAYA- Wangala
5. MIZORAM – Cheraw
6. SIKKIM – Ghantu dance
7. TRIPURA – Mamita dance
Md Chanu Miah group
8. NAGALAND – Khupilile (Pochury)
OTHER ZONAL CULTURAL CENTRES: 60-member troupe
Instilling hope in times of despair
Providing a spark of hope during the tumultuous times that the north-eastern State of Manipur is going through, a group of musicians and music lovers of the State have come out with a first-of-its-kind compilation music album. Rock Music Manipur Vol. 1, a compilation album of original music featuring 25 bands and individual artists, was released in a formal gathering of Manipur’s most well-known musicians in Imphal last week.
At a time when normal life in Manipur has been virtually ripped apart on account of one of the worst phases in the State’s tumultuous socio-political history, the production of the compilation has instilled renewed hope and enthusiasm among the minds of the musicians here. As Sanjeev Thingnam, guitarist of Imphal-based band ‘Fringes’, says, “This is indeed a path breaking moment for musicians of the State, irrespective of which genre they belong to. Despite everything that ails Manipur, the production of this compilation proves that we still have it in us to move ahead.”
The production and marketing of this compilation was an initiative taken by the Rock Music Manipur (RMM), a community of rock musicians and enthusiasts living in the state, as well as a few people who are now settled outside. This community has compiled a total of 37 tracks of different genres, creating a sort of history in the age-old tradition and culture of Manipur. The album also features a couple of tracks by two of Manipur’s most well-known bands in the national and international circuit at one point – Post Mark and Phynyx.
“Quite a number of Manipuri musicians and rock bands have written original songs, and some of them released their songs and albums via internet and as CDs or Cassettes. These are usually known in private circulation while many are unaware about the songs and the musicians who created them. The idea behind RMM Vol. 1 is to make the musicians and their songs reach a wider audience, right from the grassroots level,” says Ithooiba Potshangbam, one of the coordinators of the compiling team.
Many would not be aware that the genesis of heavy metal as a genre in our country can be traced to the emergence of a couple of bands in Manipur in the late eighties. Bands like Post Mark and Phoenix had took heavy metal to all new levels of popularity.
For a State where independent artists have not really got the opportunity to be promoted in an organized and professional manner, the release of the compilation augurs hope for a new beginning. Internationally acclaimed tribal folk musicologist Guru Rewben Mashangva, who was present in the ceremony, said, “It’s hard to compose, record and release an album. It also takes a lot of money to record an album. I thank RMM and the music lovers for making this compilation a reality.”
Featuring artists from Maram, Ukhrul, Tamenglong, Imphal and Bishnupur in Manipur to Bangalore and Delhi-based Manipuri bands, this compilation album is sure to carve a common platform to share and act as a social force of consciousness and change. Most of the songs in this compilation too reflect life in general and more particularly various situations in Manipur – be it the deteriorating law and order scenario in the State or the transitory moral values.
Besides just bringing the music fraternity of Manipur together, the compilation has also brought to light several other facets of the music industry in Manipur, like the absence of good recording and mixing facilities. “We need good recording studios in Manipur. The sound system in Manipur hasn’t improved much over the last few decades; it’s the same sound system we have been seeing since our heydays in the 1990s. Sponsors and organizers are virtually a non-entity here,” said Selin Takhellambam, founder member of the pioneering extreme metal band Black Insurgent.
Eroz Laishram, the vocalist of Sandrembee, an Imphal based band, added, “Due to the almost perpetual power crisis, people out here in Imphal don’t have access to the internet like people in other parts of the country do. The production quality of our songs has also been often criticised. This kind of compilations will help us stop and introspect and revaluate ourselves.”
While no marketing strategy has been chalked out as of yet, RMM plans for an immediate distribution of the compilation to various Yaoshang sports venues in different leikais (localities) in Manipur. “While copies of the compilation cd will be sent to different clubs in all the districts of Manipur, the CDs will also be made available for sale at various musical and related events. Money raised from the sales of the record will be evenly shared among all the participating bands and artists,” Ithoiba informed.
The release ceremony for the compilation album, which was held at the Young Pioneer Organization (YPO), saw some of the biggest congregation of musicians of the State. Some of the veteran musicians who participated in the ceremony included Ingocha Thingom, Paras Nongmaithem, Boycha Konjengbam, Bobby Nameirakpam, amongst others. Members of bands like Kradle O’ Beats, Scribble Link Purgatory, Chem Weed FM, Cleave, Deeparaj Oinam, Uttam Haobam, Fringes, Dead Mobster, Wild Flower, White Fire, Yuthak Wah, Sandrembee, too were present in the ceremony.
Sunita’s raagas-meet-folk concept album on violin strikes a chord
And if you thought that Bihu was all about dancing and merry-making, you better think once again. The melodious Bihugeet, which has long been overshadowed by the associated dance moves of Bihu songs, has finally been brought to the forefront in Assamese fiddler Sunita Bhuyan’s unique concept album, Bihu Strings by Times Music, which was launched in the city by Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi last week.
It would not be wrong to call Bihu Strings a first-of-its-kind music presentation in the national and international circuit. For Sunita has used original Bihu melodies, with its thoughtful and socially relevant lyrics, and blended the same with the inherent raga patterns of the classical music world to create an exciting medley of sounds. What makes it even more special is the fact that the songs in the album have been performed entirely on the violin, making Sunita the first ever violinist in the country to do a complete folk and fusion album on the fiddle!
The violin which has had the image of being a western instrument adapted to Indian styles have so far been played in the classical forms i.e. the Hindustani and Karnatic forms in India. This stereotype has finally been broken with Bihu strings as Sunita plays an entirely range of tunes, ranging from classical ragas, Assamese folk tunes, Scottish tunes, jazz elements, et al. “My attempt is to demonstrate the prevalence of the universal seven notes in all kinds of music, be it classical, folk, rock, western jazz etc. The age old Bihugeet, blended with classical ragas and a bit of western folk and jazz – that is Bihu strings for you,” says Sunita, who is the daughter of Minoti Khaund, senior disciple of Pt VG Jog.
The songs in the album too have been thoughtfully penned and each number reflects an inherent facet of Assamese life during the Bohaag Bihu season. The album begins with ‘Bholuka Baahore’, which talks about the sensuous tresses of a girl which are adorned with beautiful flowers. The piece is based in raag dhani – the all pervading raag of most bihu melodies. The next track, “Luitor Baalite” talks about the fun and frolic of two youngsters on the banks of the Brahmaputra, which is a fusion of Bihugeet with Irish folk and rock percussions.
Then there is Ganga Siloni, which is based on Raag Bhupali. The song talks about the heralding of the spring season through the first chirping of the migratory birds. From the expression of teenage love as portrayed in ‘Xosakoi Bor Dhuniya’ to the more subtle ‘Ranga Nadi’, the lyrics in the album touches on an entire gamut of socially relevant issues. ‘Ranga Nadi’, in fact, dwells on the recurring problem of floods, which brings normal life to complete disarray every year in the State but which cannot dampen the spirit of Bihu among the people.
While the lyrics have been written by Gupta Borthakur, a number of talented musicians have collaborated with Sunita in his album. While Rupam Bhuyan and Prasanta Kaur have joined sunita with the vocals, the percussion instruments have been handled by Pranjal Barua, Dibya Jyoti Changmai (tabla) and Diganta Saikia and Lachit Gogoi on the “Dhol”. Noted guitarist Shantanu Baruah has added the western flavor in Luitore Baalite, while the keyboard and sound mixing is by Rupam Talukdar.
The album has been released on the Times Music label and the songs will also be available for download to mobiles and other handheld devices after the album’s digital release in Mumbai next week.
Attempts being made to set up musuem for late Elwin’s works in Guwahati
SHILLONG, Feb 22: A little known aspect of the life of pioneering anthropologist late Sir Verrier Elwin, one of the founding father’s of the Indian Government’s policy towards tribals, was brought to the fore when a collection of his poetry was released in Shillong on February 22 last. The collection, 28 poems, was released in Bookmark, a small bookstore in Nongrim Hills, by his wife Lila Elwin, son Ashok Elwin and NEZCC director Som Kamei in the presence of a host of litterateurs. The publication of the book was facilitated by the North East Zone Cultural Centre (NEZCC).
Born on August 29, 1902 in Dover, Kent, late Sir Verrier Elwin came to India as a missionary. A visit to Sabarmati Ashram and a meeting with Mahatma Gandhi changed his life and he became a staunch supporter of the Indian national movement. Although not trained as an anthropologist, his studies about the tribals and his writings on their customs, myths, folklore, poetry were pathbreaking for both anthropology and for understanding the rich cultural diversity of our nation. He spent a considerable amount of time with the tribals of Northeast India and finally settled down in Shillong.
Releasing the book, Som Kamei said that the royalty collected from the sale of the book would be given to the Elwin family. He also presented a cheque of Rs 25,000 to his son Ashok Elwin and Lila Elwin, wife of late Sir Elwin.
Kamei further said that his department was trying to set up a musuem displaying certain memoribilia and souvenirs from the late anthropologist’s personal collection in Shilpgram in Guwahati. “Sir Elwin protected the rights and cultures of the tribals of Northeast India to a huge extent. The manner in which we perceive the Northeast and the way we live today has been determined by his efforts to a huge extent. We hope our plans to set up a musuem in his memory become a reality.”
Ashok Elwin, son of late Sir Verrier Elwin, said that he was thankful to NEZCC for facilitating the publication of the book. “My father’s writing about the tribes of Central and North-eastern India definitely had an impact on the policies of the Indian Government towards the welfare of tribes of Northeast India. The collection ‘28 poems’ was first published in 1956 for private circulation only and it was only because of a chance meeting with Som Kamei that resulted in its formal release today,” he said.
A number of noted poets and critics dwelt on the significance of the poetry collection. Noted folklorist and poet Prof Desmond Kharmawphlang said that late Elwin had a deep understanding of the relationship between folk and the narrative which was evident in his poems. “The manner in which he used the power of narrative to depict simple issues having such deeper significance is simply amazing,” said Kharmawphlang, the head of the department of folklore and creative studies of North East Hills University (NEHU).
Dwelling on the collection, noted poet and critic Dr Ananya Guha said that love was one of the most significant elements in late Sir Elwin’s poetry. “Love in all its many different forms is one of the many recurrent themes in his poems,” said Dr. Guha. Another acclaimed poem Prof Robin Ngangom also read some of the poems from the collection.