Category Archives: Musicians/ Bands

Classical Guitar Festival leaves Guwahati enthralled

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Classical music aficionados of Guwahati were in for a treat last week. The reason was the 2nd Guwahati International Guitar Festival which was held at the Directorate of Museum, Government of Assam in Ambari on December 20th last.

The Guitar Festival was initiated by the Indian Guitar Federation and city-based Mineral Water led by Lueit Hazarika. Into its second edition this year, the guitar festival featured a few master classical guitarists and others nylon instrument and who kept the entire audience mesmerized till the very end.

The performing artists in this year’s edition included Johannes Moller from Sweden, Thu Le and Lorenzo Bernandi from Italy and Ricardo J Martins and Fernando Ponte from Portugal. Before the concert in the evening, a classical guitar workshop was held in the lawns of the State Musuem in which around 65 students and music enthusiasts participated. Talking about the workshop, Lueit said, “Like last year, the workshop was open for all students and youngsters who have the basic guitar playing skills. We had around 65 participants this year for the workshop which were held on the lawns of the museum.”

The evening concert featured performances by the invited artists and the small auditorium of the State Musuem was packed to the brim with many people sitting on the stands to watch the eclectic performances. The evening began with a performance by Swedish composer Johannes Moller. An ambassador of the ZhenGan guitar of China, Johannes Moller had won the Concert Artist Competition Guitar Federation of America (GFA) in 2010 and performs close to 100 concerts across the globe every year. He started the evening with some of his own compositions and finished off with a unique fusion of Western Classical notes based on Indian Classical music.

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The second performer, Thu Lee is an international award winning performer. Originally born in Hanoi, the guitarist who now lives in Bahrain. An influential classical music guitarist, she has earlier performed in countries like Italy, England, France, Germany, Spain, Bulgaria, Romania, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, USA, Nepal, Turkey, etc.

The final act of the evening saw master guitarists Ricardo J Martins and Fernando Ponte from Portugal. Both of them are ambassadors of the Portugese Guitar which is the main accompanying instrument for the Fado music of Portugal. Fado is the traditional folk music from Portugal described by UNESCO as an “Intangible Cultural Heritage”. It is usually characterised by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea or the life of the poor, and infused with a sentiment of resignation, fatefulness and melancholia.

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After the concert in an exclusive conversation with the writer, Ricardo spoke about the influences of Potugese music, especially Fado, in other parts of the world, especially in Goa of India where they are scheduled to perform before the end of this year. Lueit too spoke about the similarities of the music of a few communities of India and those of Portugal

Veda Aggarwal, Director General of the Indian Guitar Federation, said that the concert was an attempt of the federation to give people in the Northeast a chance to experience the best classical musicians of the world. The concert had earlier travelled to Calcutta and Imphal before coming to Guwahati.

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Sananta Tanty: The ‘Aangbang’ poet from Assam

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Sananta Tanty. Photo by Kushal Dutta.

In Conversation with Legendary Assamese Poet and Sahitya Akademi winner for 2018 Sananta Tanty who is fighting a tough battle with Cancer

“I am an ‘aangbang’ person. ‘Aangbang’ in Assamese means innocent or someone who doesn’t understand the ways of the world. I am ‘aangbang’ because I don’t understand politics and the management of life. I do not even know how to compromise with my time. As an ‘aangbaang’ person, I have only one fascination in my life – the fascination of hope. I love hope. From the beginning to the end of the day and from the evening to midnight till I go to sleep, I always think about hope, hope and hope – the hope of a beautiful mind, hope of a beautiful society and hope of a beautiful world. And I live with the hope of a beautiful future for mankind.” – Sananta Tanty

One of the most distinctive voices which appeared in the Assamese firmament in the 60s and 70s, and which continues to be heard with the same zeal and rebelliousness, is none other than that of Sananta Tanty. A legend in his own right, his poetry, in the words of noted critic and translator Pradip Acharya, gives us a feel of alien realities. Dealing with themes like corruption in public life, unemployment, poverty and hunger, Tanty’ voice is raw, unadulterated and compels the readers to listen to him with full attention. Tracing his origins to the exploited tea garden workers of Assam, Tanty was among the few poets who heralded the emergence of a new breed of poets from different ethnic grounds in the 1990s.

A rebel who chooses to voice his dissent through the words of poetry, Tanty is considered to be one of the most popular and radical poet of his times – a position he strives to maintain even to date with his unique style of writing, thoughts and observations. The recipient of numerous awards and citations, his poems have been translated into different national and international languages, and have been published all over the world, including the much revered ‘Asymptote Journal’. He also served as members of various literary committees, including the Assamese Language Advisory Board of the Sahitya Akademi, Children’s Literary Trust Assam, All India Radio, etc. Besides being a poet of repute, Sananta Tanty served as a responsible gazetted officer and retired from service in 2012 from Assam Tea Employees’ PF Organisation

Sananta Tanty was born in 1952 in Kalinagar TE of Karimganj district in Assam. Hailing from an Oriya-speaking poor Tea Garden Labourer family, he was brought up in a semi-urban environment of Ramkrishna Nagar. During his childhood and adolescence, he was exposed to Bengali literature at the hands of his elder brother and it was love for him at first instance. Through the Bengali language, he first learnt and fell in love with literature and also wrote his first poem, a love lyric, in the language.

His early college life in Shillong made him a person of great sensibility but his stay in Jorhat at the threshold of his youth, and the lucidity and life of the Assamese language forced him to write in Assamese. His left radicalism and sensitivity during the time of the great political unrest in Assam in the eighties made him a voice to be reckoned with. A poet who is originally an Oriya, educated in Bengali but who writes in Assamese is definitely not an easy task. But that is Sananta Tanty for you – a man who had to face battles after battles throughout his life but who, as a valiant warrior, gears up for every new encounter with an upright chest. Tanty, who was diagnosed as suffering from Cancer in 2010, has been battling the dreaded disease with a strength and determination that only a true warrior and eternal rebel can possess.

I had met him at his residence in Guwahati in the month of May, 2018 to talk about his journey in the world of poetry. Following are excerpts.

Q. Can you please tell us a bit about your childhood. Where did you complete your education and how did you get interested in the world of poetry?

 Ans: I was born as the youngest of five siblings to Loknath Tanti and Baitarani Tanti in Kalinagar Tea Estate of Karimganz. My father was a tea garden labourer and we remember growing up in abject poverty. Out of my five brothers and sisters, only me and my second eldest brother received formal educated. I did my initial schooling in Kalinagar Tea Estate Primary School and did my higher secondary from Ramkrishna Vidyapith in Ramkrishna Nagar, which was near our tea estate. My eldest brother, Basanta Kumar Tanti, did not receive any formal education but was a voracious reader. He used to read all the magazines and books collected by the wife of our tea garden manager. I got interested in reading after watching him and by the time I was in Class 4 or 5, I had already started reading the works of writers like Somoresh Basu and Mahasweta Devi. I wrote my first poem in High School but that was in Bengali as we studied in Bengali medium and grew up in a Bengali-dominated environment. After that, I went to Shillong to study in St. Anthony’s but could not complete my education due to lack of finances.

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Receiving the Bharat Dalit Sahitya Akademi Award. Photo courtesy by poet.

While in Shillong, I stayed in the tea garden hostel called Prime Rose Villa where I met a lot of fellow acquaintances from the tea garden community. I was exposed to the culture of little magazines in Shillong and my first poem was published in a little magazine. Therein I joined the students wing of a political body and met a professor Udayan Ghosh who encouraged me to read poetry. That is how my interest in poetry developed further. However, since I could not pursue my studies, I had to leave Shillong to search for a job.

I accordingly landed up in Jorhat where I worked as a clerk in a tea plantation company. While in Jorhat, I attended night college and completed my graduation from night college. It was in Jorhat that I was exposed to the world of Assamese literature and I would read the poems of stalwarts like Nilomoni Phukan, Hiren Bhattacharya, Dr. Nagen Saikia, and others. Living in Jorhat and being exposed to such rich Assamese literature made me start writing poems in Assamese.

Q. You have around 14 collections of poetry to your credit and all are highly acclaimed by your readers as well as critics. Can you please tell us about the journey from your first collection?

Ans: My first first collection of poetry, ‘Ujjwal Nakhatrar Sondhanot’ was published in 1981, followed by ‘Moi Manuhor Amal Utsav’ in 1985, ‘Nizor Biruddhey Sesh Prastab’ in 1990, ‘Sabdat Othoba Sabdahinotat’ in 1993, ‘Mrityur Agar Stoppageot’ in 1996, ‘Toponito Ketiaba Barisha Ahey’ in 1997 and ‘Dhuan Sair Sopun’ in 1999. After a gap of three years, my collection ‘Dirno Bosontor Saurav’ was published in 2002, which was followed by ‘Apuni Apunar Hotey Yudhha Koribo Paribone’ in 2004, ‘Moi’ in 2008, ‘Mur Nirabhoron Atmar Sokaboho Sobdobur’ in 2010, ‘Kailoir Dinto Amar Hobo’ in 2013 and ‘Mur Priyo Sopunor Osore Panzore’ in 2017. Besides these copies, a bulk of my poems have been translated and collected in the book ‘Selected Poems Sananta Tanty’ by Dibyajyoti Sarma in 2017.

Q. You have received a number of awards. Can you please tell us about the awards that you have won? Growing up in a tea garden family of Karimganz, did you ever think that you will earn so much popularity as a poet?

Ans: As a child, I never thought that I would become a poet, and that in Assamese language. But destiny has played its part. However, even as a child I was very strong-willed and full of determination to success. Despite being surrounded by poverty around me, I knew deep inside me that I would make a mark in something or the other.

Coming to your first question, awards and recognitions do help a person to improve himself but I have never wrote any poetry with the hope of winning an award. Nor have I lobbied for any award, which is usually seen in this type of domain. My first public recognition was the Mrinalini Devi Goswami Award which was conferred by Asom Kavi Samaj in 1992. After that, I received the Beer Birsha Munda Award by Dalit Sahitya Akademi in 2002, Osman Ali Sodagar Samannya Award by Char Chapori Sahitya Parishad in 2011, Krantikaal Samman in 2014, Nizora Kavi Sailadhar Rajkhowa Award by Asom Sahitya Sabha in 2015, SIRISH-OIL Literary Award by APPL Foundation in 2016 and Pandit Padmanath. Bidyabinod Smriti Sahitya Puraskar in 2016 by Ramanath Bhattacharya Foundation.

Q. The Assam Valley Literary Award 2017 by Magor Education Trust, Assam was conferred on you recently. Can you please tell us what inspires you to write poems, something which you had so beautifully described in the award acceptance speech?

Ans: I am an ‘aangbang’ person. ‘Aangbang’ in Assamese means innocent or someone who doesn’t understand the ways of the world. I am ‘aangbang’ because I don’t understand politics and the management of life. I do not even know how to compromise with my time. My IQ is so low that I sometimes think over these words, not twice or thrice but hundreds of times. However, at the end, I feel like a zero. And as such, I avoid participating in discussions relating to life, politics, literature and criticising others.

I am a small person with big dreams. I am a dreamer, a big dreamer. I sometimes dream so big that I cannot control myself from taking the measurement of time, look closely at my surroundings and my position as a human being. I begin to express myself through the window of my heart. My readers say that these expressions of my heart are poetry and they call me a poet. Of course, I am obviously proud of being called a poet.

As an ‘aangbaang’ person, I have only one fascination in my life – the fascination of hope. I love hope. From the beginning to the end of the day and from the evening to midnight till I go to sleep, I always think about hope, hope and hope – the hope of a beautiful mind, hope of a beautiful society and hope of a beautiful world. And I live with the hope of a beautiful future for mankind.

Sananta Tanty with Poets Jivan Narah,Hiren Bhattacharjya,Devabrata Das in a SahityaAkademi Programme

With poets Jiban Narah, Hiren Bhattacharya. Photo courtesy Sananta Tanty.

Q. Your optimism towards life is truly exemplary. On a personal note, you have been suffering from Cancer for quite some time now and have had to face a lot of hardships to fight the dreaded disease? When were you diagnosed with the disease and don’t you feel discouraged at times?

Ans: I was diagnosed as suffering from Cancer in 2009 or 2010 and since then, I have been taking treatment to fight this disease. I guess I am in what they call the third or fourth stage now but I have still not given up hope. And as far as disappointment is concerned, I do not let these feelings come into my mind. It has been a very tiring journey for me and my wife, Minoti Tanti, and our two sons, without whose support it might not have been possible to come so far. But the hope and zeal for life pushes us to carry on, despite all the odds that are facing us.

Guru Ramkrishna Talukdar: A Torchbearer of Sattriya dance

 

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In the field of Sattriya dance, Guru Ramkrishna Talukdar is a name which hardly needs an introduction. A renowned choreographer and educator of Sattriya and Kathak dance, he is the first formal graduate degree holder in Satriya dance and music in the State. Besides being a renowned choreographer and teacher of Sattriya and Kathak dance, Ram Krishna Talukdar has been showcasing Assam’s famed Sattriya dance in various stages across the entire world for more than 40 years now. It can be said without an iota of doubt that his efforts towards the scientific study of this dance form paved the way for the official recognition of Sattriya dance as a classical dance form by the Indian government in 2000.

Trained under the Guru Shishya Parampara, he has spent an entire lifetime learning, as well as teaching the intricacies of Satriya dance to members of the new generation and has conducted several lecture-demonstrations/ workshops/ seminars in Sattriya dance – both in India as well as abroad. The first “A” Grade Artist in Satriya dance of Doordarshan, New Delhi, RamKrishna Talukdar was one of the first and very few Satriya exponents to undertake a scientific approach towards the study of this ancient dance form. Besides completing the five year B. Music degree from Guwahati University, he has also pursued a four year course in Nritya Visharad from B.S.V. Luknow, a two-year M. Music, Nrityalankar Diploma course from ABGMV Mandal, Mumbai and then a two-year Master’s Degree from IKS University, Madhya Pradesh.

Ramkrishna Talukdar was born at Bamakhata in the district of Barpeta in 1963 to late Gajendra Nath Talukdar and Dhaneswari Talukdar. He spent more than 25 years learning the intricacies of Sattriya dance under the Guru Sishya Parampara from doyens like Ananda Mohan Bhagabati, SNA awardee late Rosewar Saikia Barbayan, Padmashree Jatin Goswami and Padmashri Ghana Kanta Borbayan. Ramkrishna Talukdar has groomed several students in the art form through his institute, Nartan Kala Niketan, and his list of students includes dancers from other countries like Belarus, Japan, Kazakhastan, USA and France. In an illustrious career, both as an educationist and as a performer, he has produced more than 12 dance dramas and composed and choreographed around 30 dance numbers.

As an educationist, Guru Ramkrishna Talukdar has also authored the book, ‘Nrity Kala Darpan’, which is the prescribed course book for 10th standard students studying under the Secondary Education Board of Assam. He is also a member of the Srimanta Sankaradeva Studies department of Guwahati University, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations – Northeast region, under Ministry of Culture, and a member of the Expert Committee for Sattriya dance, Ministry of Culture, Government of India.

Recognising his immense contributions in the field of Sattriya dance, he has been felicitated and honoured by a host of organizations, like the Asom Sahitya Sabha, Asom Sattra Mahasabha and the like. He has been conferred with various titles by different socio-cultural organizations like “Asom Gaurav”, “Sangeet Jyoti Award”, “Nritya Ratna”, “Kala Gaurav”, “Nrityanjali Award”, etc. Earlier this year, his name was announced for the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi award to be conferred later this year.

I met the illustrious dancer and educationist at his residence in Guwahati to know more about his life and journey in the world of Sattriya dance. Following are excerpts.

  1. At the outset, please accept our congratulations for being named for this year’s Sangeet Natak Akademi Award. What were your immediate feelings when your name was announced for the award? Do you feel that the award should have come your way much before?

 Ans: I am definitely thrilled at receiving the Sangeet Natak Akademi award. Any recognitions or awards for that matter go a long way in encouraging performing artists like us to pursue with our passion. I have spent my entire life in the pursuit of Sattriya dance; in fact, I know nothing else apart from this dance. Growing up in Assam and being the first student to take formal training in Sattriya dance from Guwahati University, I have had to face a lot of humiliation on my decision to pursue dance as a career. Many people rubbed me off saying that I had lost my mind because of my decision to pursue dance. However, I am glad that I have been able to survive and establish myself in this chosen field.

Coming to your second question, I do not feel that the award has been late. In fact, I feel that the award came a bit too soon because now my responsibilities have increased manifold.

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2. You were born in Bamakhata of Barpeta district. Please share memories of your growing up days and how you got interested in the field of Sattriya dance.

 Ans: I was born to late Gajendra Nath Talukdar and Dhaneswari Talukdar in Bamakhata of Barpeta district September 4, 1963. Our house was located right opposite the Bamakhata Sattra and my entire family is involved with the Sattra. In fact, I belong to the third generation of the family involved with the Bamakhata Sattra. I was the fourth son among six brother and sisters.

My father was a renowkned folk artist of Kamrupiya and Goalpariya folk songs. Although he was not formally educated, he was an institution in his own right and possessed a lot of knowledge of the folk songs of that era. My mother, late Dhaneswari Talukdar, was a teacher in Bamakhata Sattra. My entire family members are involved in the Sattra in some way or the other.

3. Please tell us about your education.

 Ans: I passed my matriculation from Soukhuti High School and completed my higher secondary education from Bajali HS. During that time, the Assam Government decided to establish the first State Music College at Rabindra Bhavan. The Guwahati University prescribed the course for the same and in 1982, I joined the B.Music Course of the State Music College as its first student. That was the sole music college in Assam at that time. Of course, in 1982, Sattriya dance has not received the classical status that it enjoys today and it was taught as a folk tradition. Eminent scholar late Dr. Maheswar Neog was instrumental in setting up the college. He was of the opinion that Sattriya dance needed to be taken out from the Sattras and brought in the ambit of formal education so that this glorious tradition could be passed amongst the new generations. I paased out in first class as the first graduate in Sattriya dance.

The Directorate of Cultural Affairs then sent me outside to study classical dance so that I could find out why Sattriya was not being accorded Classical dance. I learnt Kathak in Luknow under my guru Sri Surendranath Saikia. After coming back, I was offered a job at the State Music College in 1992.

After that, I went to the Madhya Pradesh to study at the Indira Kala Vishavidyalaya, was the sole Music and Fine Arts University of India during those days. Students from all over the world used to come and study Hindustani music there but very few people in our State knew about its existence. I completed my Master’s degree from that university in 1997.

4. You were the first Sattiya exponent to study the dance in a scientific way. Please tell us about those days.

 Ans: As I mentioned, I was sent by the State Cultural Affairs department to learn Kathak dance in Luknow. My primary aim was to find out why our Sattriya dance was not able to receive the recognition of a classical dance form. While in Luknow, I realised that our Sattriya dance was not being taught in a scientific way. I found that compared to other classical dance forms, there was a difference in the theory and practical presentation of Sattriya dance. Experts like Dr. Maheshwar Neog were indeed presenting papers on the theoretical aspects of Sattriya dance but there was no dance expert who could practically explain those aspects through the medium of dance. I, through the Directorate of Cultural Affairs, tried to incorporate those aspects in modern stage presentations of Sattriya dance. I was lucky to be associated with luminaries like Ananda Mohan Bhagabati, SNA awardee late Rosewar Saikia Barbayan, Padmashree Jatin Goswami and Padmashri Ghana Kanta Borbayan, who first took the initiative to study Sattriya dance in a scientific manner.

We had to meet with a lot of controversy once we started teaching Sattriya dance in a scientific manner. Although my colleagues and office bearers of the cultural affairs department were confident of my capabilities, people outside, especially in the Sattras were hesitant to incorporate the new changes because they did not want to tamper with the originality of our dance form. But once Dr. Bhupen Hazarika became chairman of Sangeet Natak Akademic, it became easier for Sattriya dance to achieve classical status.

5. You have also authored a book…

 Ans: In 2004, I studied six classical dance forms. I underlined the reasons why our dance was not accorded the classical dance status despite it being a classical dance form. That book is now the prescribed course book for 10th standard students of SEBA.

6. What were the main steps you took towards the scientific study of Sattiya? Please tell us about your steps towards the popularisation of Sattriya dance.

 Ans: Having studied other classical dance forms and being a teacher of Sattriya dance, I realised that practice was crucial for Sattriya to be recognised as a classical dance form. While dancers practicing other dance forms would practice more than 8 hours a day, we could hardly find a Sattriya dancer who would practice for even an hour. I started the trend myself because I had to show the way to others. I began practicing the dance for more than 14-15 hours a day.

Besides I was the first A grade artist in Sattriya dance for Doordarshan. Then I took the initiative to produce video CDs on Sattriya dance for mass dissemination. Then we also created a website where people from all parts of the world could know about Sattriya dance.

7. Please tell us about your family.

 Ans: My wife and daughters are all involved with Sattriya dance. My wife Rumi Talukdar is an empanelled Sattriya artist with ICCR and has performed all across the world. My daughters have both received national-level scholarships from CCRT, under Ministry of Culture, Government of Assam, to study Sattriya dance.

Minoti Khaund: Creating a Legacy of Music

Recording with daughter Sunita Bhuyan Khaund

Minoti Khaund with daughter Sunita Bhuyan Khaund

A musical career spanning 50 years.. a single-minded devotion to Hindustani Classical music and its science and art… an instrument called the violin… one of the most difficult instruments to master… and weaving with the bow and strings a magical power to induce both happiness and tears with the same notes. That is the virtuosity of Minoti Khaund, the veteran violinist from Assam who has spent a lifetime in the pursuit of Hindustani classic music and its promotion in the region.

A musician who has established her mettle as a specialist amongst her craft globally, she has been a staunch guide and supporter to hundreds of musicians who have come under her tutelage and who have carved a name of themselves in their own right. But she perhaps takes pride in the fact that she has managed to groom and lay a strong foundation for her own daughter Sunita Khaund Bhuyan, who is presently earning critical acclaim across the globe through her mastery with the bow and fiddle.

Born in 1940, Minoti started playing the violin at the tender age of 10 years. Born to a musically enriched family in the music loving town of Jorhat in Upper Assam, she first expressed her desire to play with the fiddle to her maternal grandfather, Mr. Biswa Sarma, a noted connoisseur of the fine arts himself. Her grandfather could sense the passion in the girl child’s eyes and bought her a violin. This is when Minoti’s ethereal journey started with the violin and classical music began to encompass a rich musical career which has spanned more than 50 years now.

Initial Days

Reminiscing about those early days, she recounts, “My grandfather was the President of All Assam Music Conference – Jorhat chapter. Everyone in my family had a huge inclination towards music. We were exposed to a lot of music shows where maestros used to come and perform. That atmosphere helped me a lot in my career. I must have been eight or nine years old when I started my career in music. There was a music school in Jorhat run by Late Lokanath Sarma where children from well-established families used to come to learn music. We learned under the guidance of Indreswar Sarma.”

Her family’s deep rooted interest in music also helped her develop as a musician. As she says, “My mother wasn’t a musician, though, but she stood by me through thick and thin, to become my source of inspiration to pursue music. At that time, learning music wasn’t easy as teachers were not available and there weren’t many institutions as well. But my sister, Pronoti Khaund is a singer. My brother (who is no more) used to play tabla, flawlessly. The All Assam Music conference played a pivotal role in our lives for giving us abundant opportunities of performing in different platforms, and at the same time meeting the experts and learning from them. I can recall many instances when in the December month’s chilly nights, people used to sit all night long clad with their blankets to listen to music, until 6 am in the morning, with a lot of patience. It was highly motivational for us. I was already performing before marriage, for I was the only lady violinist in the town, perhaps in the whole of Assam. I got married at the age of eighteen.”

The turning point in her life came when she was performing at the All Assam Music Conference in 1972 and violin maestro Pt. V.G.Jog heard her on stage and offered to impart his art to Minoti.

Minoti, already a mother of two and the daughter-in-law of then Deputy Commissioner Rabindra Ram Khaund, agreed to this god sent opportunity and started her apprenticeship under Pt. Jog. Her husband Kabindra Ram Khaund and her family supported her completely in her journey seeing her thirst for music and devotion towards the violin.

Fifty Glorious Years in Music

Thereafter started the traditional Gururshisya Parampara between Minoti and Padma Vibhusahan Pt Jog. Minoti bloomed as a musician under Jog’s able guidance and the exposure of performing on live shows besides him. For Indian Classical Music this is the best way that a student of music can imbibe the nuances and intricacies of the science and the art of classical music, accompanying the guru and simultaneously building a rapport with the audience.

Acknowledging the huge role of her guruji in her life, Minoti says, “Getting opportunities of seeing the performances of noted violinists, and also performing with them, has played an integral role in my learning. When I used to go to Calcutta to learn under my guruji, he used to take me to various music conferences, and to meet various other gurus, to see and learn from them. I met A T Kana, vocalist (a maestro). We played vocal music, not in words, but with our fingers. Pt. Budhadeb Dasgupta, another noted musician, also shared his knowledge, and I could learn a lot from him and his gharaana. He was a very liberal person. And, he is the one who inspired me to learn from everything. He said that I should grab a piece of learning from everyone and everywhere, wherever there is something good to learn.”

The Rising Talent Conference at Kalamandir Calcutta in 1978 introduced Minoti as a talented artiste in front of the knowledgeable gurus and music hungry audience of Kolkata. There has been no looking back since then. The Amir Khan Music Conference at Rabindra Sadan Calcutta, Benaras, Burdwan, Cuttack, Bhubaneshwar, Tatanagar, Rabindra Natya Mandir Mumbai, India International Center Delhi, Mehta Memorial Hall Allahabad, IIT Festival, Shankardev Kalakshetra Guwahati, National Gallery of Modern Art Mumbai, India Habitat Centre Delhi, Women’s International Forum Goa, Kala Ghoda Fest, Mumbai, Nehru Centre London, Glasgow, Nehru Centre Mumbai, Madhusudhan Manch Kolkatta, Kameshwari festival, SAWF Sri Lanka, Ganga Mahotsav Varanasi, Sangeet Natak Academi, ITC SRA series, etc were some of the platforms that Minoti performed in and enthralled the audience and press alike. She became the foremost violinist of Assam and did her motherland proud, earning accolades by blending the tantrakari style of Pt Jog with her own inherent melody.

Innovations and Awards Galore

Minoti continued her parallel studies in the field of music and attained Sangeet Nipune from Prayag Sangeet Samitti, Allahabad, in 1986, bagging a gold medal for her Sangeet Visharad. During this period, she also got associated with vocalist Pt. A.T, Kanan of the Sangeet Research Academy, Kolkatta and imbibed the “gayaki ang” in her style. She also underwent music studies in the field of raga improvisations and rhythmic patterns of “tala” from sarod maestro and musicologist Pt. Buddhadev Dasgupta. She became an empaneled Artist of ICCR, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India in 1990.

Minoti’s new composition on Durga Shakti with her daughter Sunita Khaund Bhuyan, “Invocation of Ma” has taken the mother daughter duo across the country and abroad. She was conferred the title of Sangeet Jyoti and was recently conferred the Shilpi Award by the Assam government for having completed 50 years as a violinist and music teacher. She also received the Lifetime Achievement in Music recently by the Paschim Guwahati Durga Mandir Trust recently. Besides, she brought glory to Assam when she received the Exceptional woman: Creating a Better World Award at the Women’s Economic Forum in 2018 and the R. G. Baruah Award for Excellence in her Craft in 2017.

Contribution to the Field of Music

All through her musical career, Minoti has been contributing towards society by propagating Classical Music amongst the youth and teaching the violin to the young and old alike. Her vast experience in the performing art and musical studies gives her the edge to impart music lessons on the violin with technically accurate systems and methods.

Pt Jog was so impressed with the way Minoti had groomed Sunita into the intricacies of the instrument that he also offered to train Sunita under him and thus carried on the “guru shisya parampara” across two generations of violinists. The mother and daughter have been currently performing jugalbandis together

Minoti currently is the visiting faculty of a reputed music college of Guwahati and is a panel examiner for music courses at the State College of Music and Art. She is currently focused on spreading the knowledge of music as a sublime recreation and frequently speaks in music forums and conducts workshops and seminars. She has also retained her penchant for writing and is a prolific writer of music columns and articles in journals and newspapers. Her endeavor has been to propagate music among today’s generation and make music a medium of achieving inner peace and harmony and thus spreading positive energy and harmony throughout the society.

When asked if she felt that her achievements in the field of music have not been acknowledged at par, Minoti Khaund, as a true musician, says that her inner satisfaction is paramount and that “no external titles” can deter her from her passion. “I have spent an entire lifetime in pursuit of music which has brought happiness to me from within. I am well aware of my own capabilities and I have crossed the stage when I have to look to others for approval.”

Encouraging Fusion, But a Purist at Heart

A purist at heart, Minoti Khaund has strived to keep the flag of classical music flying high. But she is also aware of the need for cultural evolution. She encourages today’s youth to experiment with different kinds of music as she believes that all melodies in the world centers around the 7 notes of Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni. However, she maintains that mastery in any kind of music can be attained only through the pursuit of classical music. This has been the content of many of her speeches and columns, which has inspired a large number of young people to learn classical music.

As she says, “We all have to evolve with the changing times. During my jugalbandi performances along with my daughter, while I encourage her daughter to go ahead and experiment with other genres, I myself stop after a certain point,” she says.

 

Release of Rajabasa – a collaborative album between Jambili and Rajlaxmi Bora

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 AhmedRelease of Rajabasa - a collaborative album between Jambili and Rajlaxmi Bora

MUSIC FOR THE SOUL: UMAKANTA BAIRAGI

Umakanta Bairagi11

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.

 Umakanta Bairagi

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.

‘Market is not even a shadow of what it was a decade back’

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.

A NK production release

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.”

Northeast all set to pay tribute to Dylan

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!

8th Bamhum Day celebrated

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.

Manas Robin’s Bihu Jatra


Glimpse of popular Assamese singer Manas Robin’s Bihu Jatra in Assam, 2012