Category Archives: Personalities/ Interviews

Complete information of Utpal Borpujari’s new film, ‘Ishu’

 

 

Guwahati / Mumbai, Aug 3: Children’s Film Society, India (CFSI)’s newest production “Ishu” is a feature film that will instantly take the viewer to a world of a kid whose innocent and happy-go-lucky world turns topsy turvy thanks to the superstitious society of adults around him.

Set in a remote tribal Rabha village in Lower Assam area bordering Meghalaya’s Garo Hills, this Assamese feature film is based on renowned Assamese writer Manikuntala Bhattacharjya’s popular novel “Ishu”, and marks the feature film debut of National Award-winning film critic and acclaimed documentary director Utpal Borpujari.

The film takes a look at the inhuman practice of ‘witch hunting’ that is prevalent in parts of Assam as well as some other parts of India, through they eyes of an innocent child whose favourite aunt is branded as a ‘witch’ by the evil village “Bej” (quack) who conspires with another aunt to do so.

Treated like a fairy tale albeit set in today’s times, “Ishu” is a sensitive take on how such incidents impact a child psychologically, with the narrative taking the viewer along protagonist Ishu’s quest to find his aunt who goes missing after being assaulted by the villagers at the instigation of the villainous quack.

The social evil of ‘witch hunting’ has been a recurring problem in Assam, so much so that the state Assembly unanimously passed the Assam Witch Hunting (Prohibition, Prevention and Protection) Bill 2015, following years of sustained campaign by civil society organisations and an intervention by the Gauhati High Court. The Bill, however, is still awaiting the President’s assent to become a law.

Several incidents of witch hunting has been reported in Assam during this year too, while according to data placed in the state Assembly, 93 cases of witch-hunting were reported and 77 persons, including 35 women, were killed during 2010 to 2015.

“However, despite its sensitive and serious backdrop, my film treats to subject in a way that it is suitable for viewing by children. In fact, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has given it a U certification without any cuts,” says Borpujari, who believes that children’s films can affectively take up social issues if handled sensitively.

CFSI Chairman MukeshKhanna said this movie will give a clear message to the people that social evils are bad and must be eradicated from the society. “Children are the future of our country and should always be motivated. By practicing social evils like ‘witch hunting’, we are making circumstances worse for children and disturb their psychology. This will have an adverse effect on the children and will not help them in their career and overall development.”

“Movies like ‘Ishu’ bring awakening in the society about the ill-effects of social evils and educate people about their harmful aspects on the society. CFSI will continue to make and promote such films whose themes are aimed at bringing about transformation in the society for the benefit of mankind, particularly children,” he says.

According to Dr Shravan Kumar, CEO of CFSI, “This is a highly sensitive film in which exploitation of people due to social evils such as ‘witch hunting’ is highlighted. The movie is informative, educative and throws light on the harmful effects of social evils practiced by people in the society. The movie tells the audience that such evils harm children and have an adverse effect on their psychology. Our attempt at CFSI has always been to focus on issues concerning children and their welfare.”

“I am happy to note that in Assam, a Bill to prevent social evils like “witch hunting” has been passed by the State Legislative Assembly, and is awaiting President’s assent. Let us hope that it would become a law soon.”

“This is the first feature film made by well-known film critic and documentary film maker Utpal Borpujari and we hope that children as well as elders will like it,” he says.

Incidentally, the script of “Ishu” was chosen as the only Asian entry into the 2012 Junior Co-Production Market of Cinekid International Film Festival, Amsterdam.

In the film, the lead role is played by 10-year-old Kapil Garo, who hails from Sonapur area near Guwahati. Kapil, who has given a performance with a maturity much beyond his tender age, was selected for the role after the director and his team interacted with nearly 300 kids across Assam. “Kapil has the required innocence and charm that I had visualized in Ishu, and being from a village himself, he blended naturally with the character,” says Borpujari.

The film also stars two-time National Award (Special Jury Mention)-winning actor Bishnu Kharghoria and National Award-winning Manipuri actress TonthoingambiLeishangthem Devi, along with veterans like Chetana Das and Pratibha Choudhury and talented younger actors like MonujBorkotoky, DipikaDeka and NibeditaBharali. Others in the cast include Mahendra Das, Rajesh Bhuyan, Naba Kumar Baruah, MonujGogoi, etc.

Along with KapilGaro, other child actors in the film include MahendraRabha, SrabantaRabha and UdayRabha.

The film’s dialogue, with emphasis on how the Rabha people living near Goalpara area speak Assamese with a particular accent, has been written by Borpujari in collaboration with award-winning theatre director SukracharjyaRabha of the famed Badungduppa Kala Kendra of Rampur, Agia.

Several actors from the Badungduppagroup, including Dhananjay Rabha and Basanta Rabha, have acted in pivotal roles in the film, which has been shot in pristine locations of several Rabha tribal vilages near Agia in Goalpara, located on the south bank of the mighty Brahmaputra.

It may be mentioned that NSD graduate and actress Pranami Bora conducted an 8-day workshop for the actors of the film at Badungduppa Kala Kendra premises, and MadanRabha and BasantaRabha were in charge of imparting accent training for the actors so that all of them could deliver their dialogues in the local accent.

The film has been edited by the legendary A Sreekar Prasad, while its sound design is by Amrit Pritam Dutta and music is by Anurag Saikia, all National Award winners. The cinematographer is Sumon Dowerah, a veteran of many award-winning and mainstream films in Assamese, while other prominent crew members are JItendra Mishra (executive producer), Hengul Medhi (final sound mixing), Monjul Baruah (associate director), Homen Borah (production manager), Golok Saha (art director), Rani Dutta Baruah (costumes) and Achitabh (Shanku) Baruah (make up). The assistant directors of the film were GhanshyamKalita, Ronal Hussain and MonujBorkotoky.

Director’s Profile:

An M.Tech in Applied Geology from IIT-Roorkee, Utpal Borpujari won the Swarna Kamal for Best Film Critic at the 50th National Film Awards of India in 2003. As a professional journalist, apart from cinema, he has written extensively on politics, society, culture, literature, etc., while working with some of India’s top media houses. Since 2010, when he decided to turn a filmmaker, he has made several acclaimed documentary films that have been screened across the world in various film festivals. Among them are “Mayong: Myth/Reality” (2012), “Songs of the Blue Hills” (2013), “Soccer Queens of Rani” (2014) and “Memories of a Forgotten War” (2016). Borpujari has also served in international film juries as an erstwhile member of the International Federation of Film Critics, apart from having served on juries for National Film Awards and Indian Panorama. He has also curated films as well as served as a consultant for the Northeastern sections in the International Film Festival of India as well as various other film festivals. “Ishu” is his debut fiction feature. He is currently developing scripts for a Hindi and an Assamese film.

Taking Bihu to the World

Prashna gogoi  (12).jpg

Whenever we talk about culture and traditions of Northeast India, especially related to music and dance, one of the first names that comes to our mind is none other than Dr. Prashanna Gogoi – an ethnomusicologist who had earned world-wide acclaim with his numerous research studies, spell-binding performances, choreographer of prestigious national and international festivals with his constant hallmark being innovation. The recipient of numerous awards and distinctions from across the world, and one of the youngest members of the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi, Dr. Gogoi has spent an entire lifetime, trying to understand the nuances of our diverse folk traditions and practices, taking them in front of the global audience and being in a constant bid to experiment and innovate, while keeping the basic rules in mind. To talk about his latest achievement, he has been entrusted with the music production of the entire SAARC games – an event which brought immense fame to Assam.

While very little needs to be said about him, for the uninitiated, Dr. Prasanna Gogoi is the illustrious son of late Bhuban Chandra Gogoi and Srimati Kiran Gogoi. Although his family hailed from Konwar Gaon of North Lakhimpur, Dr. Gogoi was born and brought up in Ziro of Arunachal Pradesh on account of his late father’s posting and where he did his initial schooling. A multi-faceted personality who excelled in numerous streams, Dr. Gogoi passed out from Ziro HS in 1st division. A keen sportsman with a passion for medicine, he later on joined the Assam Agricultural University to pursue his B.V.Sc and A.H. degree.

Although the recipient of numerous fellowships from the Indian Government, like the ‘Junior Fellowship from Ministry of Culture, Govt. of India in Sept. 2005 for the Research Project-An Echo of Assamese Folk music with special reference to Scientific and Acoustic improvisation of the traditional ”Bin” and recognizing it as one of the major assisting instrument in Tokari Geet, Deh-bichar Geet, Borgeet and Satriya Dance of Assam’, ‘Senior Fellowship from Ministry of Culture, Govt.of India in 2014 for the Research Project-Semantics & Semiotics of Bihu Dance of Assam with reference to music & musical notations’, Dr. Gogoi shot to international acclaim when he won the bronze medal in  Double Reed Traditional Wind Instrument (juria pepa) and the prestigious Delphic Laural Award in Traditional One or Two Stringed Instrument (bin), representing India, in the  III Delphic Games – 2009, held at Jeju, South Korea.

Having performed and conducted seminars and workshops and felicitated in more than 25 countries, he was nominated as a Guru for Bihu dance by the Union Ministry of Tourism & Culture, Govt. of India, in the year 2003, under the “Guru Shishya Parampara” scheme. Earlier last year, he received another major honour when he was appointed as a member of the Advisory Committee of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, for Folk & Tribal Arts – one of the youngest cultural personalities to be bestowed with the honour.

A regular artist of AIR, Doordarshan and an artist who has performed in countless programmes across the country, some of his most memorable achievements are personal Bihu performances in Delhi for the President of India Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, composing the music sequence of Bihu dance for the Republic Day tableau parade in 2005, performances in the closing ceremony of Commonwealth Games-2010, organized by Zonal Cultural Centres Ministry of Culture, Govt of India,  on 13th October, 2010, besides countless others.

In the international arena, some of his notable performances include performances of folk music and dance of Assam in Mauritius and Reunion Island, France in November’ 2001, presentation of folk music & dances of Assam as a solo performer and with troupe in Mauritius, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Botswana, South Africa & Dubai in November’ 2007, performance during during Incredible India’s @ 60 Festival – depicting a panorama of rich Indian Culture, besides many others.

While Dr. Gogoi’s expert as a performer and musicologist is well known, he is all a choreographer of repute, having choreographed prestigious shows on Dance & Music of India during the ”Festival of India Celebration” under the sponsorship of Ministry of Culture, Govt of India, at Bushan & Seoul, South Korea and Naminara Island Republic in 2009. Besides composing and directing the music sequence for the Republic Day Tableau for Assam in 2005, some notable choreographic shows include choreography of a cultural programme on musical ensemble of Manipur, Tripura and Assam with folk dances in honour of Her Excellency Smt. Pratibha Devi Patil, President of the Republic of India and Her Excellency Dr Michelle Bachelet, President of the Republic of Chile at the Rashtrapati Bhavan Auditorium, New Delhi on March’ 16, 2009 to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations between India and Chile.

A north-easterner at heart, he was also the choreographer and Music Director of – ”Unity Dance” & “Drums of the Hills” in the opening ceremony of Hornbill Festival-2013  during the visit of President of India on 50 Years of Statehood Day in Kisama, Nagaland.

As mentioned earlier, innovation is the hallmark of Dr. Gogoi’s career and he personally manufactures his own musical instruments. The same have been widely appreciated and he has been invited on numerous occasions to teach and showcase his instruments. Some of his visits on those lines include a musical training tour to Reunion Island (France) on the eve of “ Dipawali Celebration” there in October, 2011, invitation to demonstrate the crafting of folk musical instruments of Assam and teaching folk music & dance to the students of University of Valladolid, Spain, amongst others.

As a researcher and master craftsman on traditional / folk musical instruments of Northeast, his sole efforts are aimed at their revival for the upcoming new generations. Amongst his innovations, he is the inventor of ‘Hansa-Bin’ – a chordophone (fiddle-string instrument) of Assam, which he developed under the research project – An Echo of Assamese folk music with special reference to Scientific and Acoustic improvisation of the traditional ”Bin” and recognizing it as one of the major assisting instrument in Tokari Geet, Deh-bichar Geet, Borgeet and Satriya Dance of Assam, in September, 2007. He is the inventor of Cane Drums for a 50- member Nagaland State Cultural Delegation in 2013 to take part in the Royal Edinburg Military Tattoo Show in Scotland and for Hornbill Festival 2014, at Kisama Heritage Village, Nagaland. Not just craftsmanship, he is presently working as a research person for the documentation of all traditions of Bihu of various communities of Assam, for archives under Sangeet Natak Akademi (SNA), New Delhi.

In the field of academics, he has been teaching traditional/folk dance, music and musical instrument crafting to various interested students and individuals by organizing workshops in different places since 1997 till date. Regularly invited to demonstrate the art of musical crafts making across the country and globe, his list of achievements are simply endless and not possible to recount here.

In recognition of his immense contributions to the field of culture and innovation, he has been bestowed with a plethora of awards, which includes the ‘Asom Shrestha Pepa Badak ” ( best buffalo horn pipe player of Assam ) award consecutively for three years since 1993, 1994 and 1995 in Guwahati Bihu Sanmilani, Latasil ; in 2002 & 2003 again the  same  title  in  different places of Assam, the ‘Asom  Bihuwa 2002 award’ at Chandmari, Guwahati in  April,  2002, ’Shrestha Asom  Bihuwa’ (best Bihu all-rounder of Assam ) in 2003 and the much prestigious ‘BOR BIHUA’ title in the year 2011.

Dr. Gogoi lives in Guwahati with his wife Mousumi Saikia Gogoi, a Bihu Samragyee herself, a son, Chao Boncheng Gogoi, who has already started performances on stage and in films and a young daughter, Nang Chenxun.

I recently got in touch with him for a candid conversation. Although the conversation stretched on for quite many hours, following are excerpts:

Aiyushman: Thank you for taking out time.

Dr. P. Gogoi: It is a privilege on my part.

Aiyushman: You were born and brought up in Ziro. How did you develop a fascination for Bihu?

Dr. P. Gogoi: Well, you are right. But during the winter months, we always used to come down to our native place. And we had a very strong influence of tradition and culture at home. So Bihu was something which came naturally to us.

Aiyushman: You studied medical sciences. So there were no initial plans to be part of Bihu project as such?

Dr. P. Gogoi: Bihu has always been there in our lives. My aim ambition was to join the Army which was followed by medicine. So even while I joined AAU, not many people that I was really keen abour horseriding. In fact, I had represented the NCC for two years in the horse squad of NCC during the Republic Day celebrations.

Aiyushman: So how did Bihu happen?

Dr. P. Gogoi: You can call it accidental. We were performing our cultural activities simulataneously.We always used to perform Bihu songs as per their original structure. When I was performing, Mukul Bora noticed me and approached me to be a part of their troupe. My first public performance as such was at Rangapuriya Silpi Samaj in Ganeshguri. While everyone was playing modern versions, I stuck to the original Bihu traditions. I received the first prize then. And from 2005 onwards, I started getting invited for shows abroad.

Aiyushman: As a performer and ethnomusicologist of repute, what are your views on the current spate of Bihu in Assam?

Dr. P. Gogoi: Well, I always tend to get in the midst of controversies but I need to speak what is in my mind. Bihu today is no longer what it used to be in the ancient days. Most of the people of Assam are merely acting like parrots, totally avoiding any adaptation. One should understand that Bihu was never meant for stage. The moment it came to stage, it lost its basic essence. We have to adapt to changing times. Most of our performers play by learning. But I play with staff notation. You can call it like a classical form of music. There was a big controversy about it because people did not want to accept it. But at the end of the day, folk is also like classical music. We also have our own matras, just like classical music.

To put it simply, Bihu was earlier performed in the Rajdarbars while table used to be performed in kothas. But table today enjoys classical status while we don’t. Even Sattriya dance would have, in all probability, remained a folk dance if it was not the efforts of late Dr. Bhupen Hazarika.

So basically, I feel that the mindset of the people should change and they should be more receptive to adaptations and change. Things are getting modernised. We have to adapt to changes. That is why research plays an important part here so that we can bring in new influences while retaining our traditional influences.

Aiyushman: How would you define tradition and culture?

Dr. P. Gogoi: Very interesting question. See, culture is not just about music and dance. It is about our way of life. Of Course, music and dance is there but in today’s age, cultural practitioners have been relegated to mere entertainers. One one hand you talk about retaining tradition, and on the other you have a traditional cultural performance before any event, be it a political event or sports ceremony. The mindset needs to change.

Aiyushman: What are your views on the current trend of Bihu workshops and Bihu shows being aired on channels?

Dr. P. Gogoi: To be honest, it is a good sign. Parents want to teach their children about the basic of their culture. But at the same time, people should know as to who the experts or teachers are. Who are conducting the workshops? Do they have sufficient knowledge about it? For instance, the kind of Bihu performances that are being aired during Magh Bihu are not performed at this time. While the exposure is definitely good, we should not teach wrong things.

Aiyushman: How did your interest in developing your instruments start?

Dr. P. Gogoi: It all happened by chance. When I was in the Veterinary College, we had to go to the 9th Mile area to collect parasites. While there, I saw a lot of buffalo horns which were thrown away. I started collecting them and tried experimenting with the tone and scale of the sound. That is how I developed my own pepas – all of which have their own scale. The research continued further on.

Aiyushman: How do you feel with the immense recognition that you have attained?

Dr. P. Gogoi: I definitely feel good. But it gives me more pleasure to know that I have taken our own instruments to the world outside and see people appreciating the same. It has been a tremendous exciting and learning experience for me as well, which I believe will continue to go on.

(First published in The Sentinel)

 

The Shillong Experiment

How Padma Shri awardee Neil Herbert Nongkynrih made the Shillong Chamber Choir adept at Khasi opera as well as Hindi film music

For a person credited with adding a sizzling new layer to Meghalaya’s musical traditions, Neil Herbert Nongkynrih’s celebrations after winning the Padma Shri earlier this year were muted.

The founder of the Shillong Chamber Choir is not given to overt exultations, and the recognition by the government for his contribution to the arts is yet to sink in, 44-year-old Nongkynrih says. “I’m happy today because I’m at peace. Coming back to Shillong was a huge decision and I would question myself. But I don’t regret it,” says Nongkynrih.

To celebrate the Padma Shri, Nongkynrih ordered Chinese food to share with Assamese film-maker Jahnu Barua, who was awarded the Padma Bhushan and was a fellow boarder at Nongkynrih’s hotel in Delhi.

A winding road takes you to Nongkynrih’s Shillong home, Whispering Pines, which also doubles as the school for the choir. Piano strains drift into the spacious living room of the house, built along traditional Assamese lines. White-painted walls display framed memories of previous awards. A light breeze blows past stark white curtains to reveal a beautiful garden outside. Sitting on a leather sofa, Nongkynrih places a kwai (betel nut) in his mouth, and smiles warmly.

“After 13 years in Europe, life had become pretty monotonous,” he says. “A successful career awaited me as a (Western classical) concert pianist but I wanted something more out of life. I decided to come home and produce a choir with a difference.”

At 15, Nongkynrih won a piano student’s passage to London’s acclaimed conservatory Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the prestigious Trinity College, where he found Europe’s foremost pianists, Phillip Fowke and Katharina Wolpe, as teachers.

Back in Shillong, after having performed for British royalty and given recitals across Europe, Nongkynrih suddenly found himself armed with a purpose in life. “Away for 13 years, I felt ashamed with my own life. Doctors said I was stressed out and needed to rest. When I came to Shillong for a short vacation, I felt I was needed here. That’s a great thing, you know—the feeling that you’re needed.”

While he was ready as a teacher, students, though, weren’t as forthcoming. Nongkynrih’s frustration mounted at the high dropout rates of the few who came along, prioritizing their school and college education over that of a start-up choir. In 2002, Nongkynrih took a calculated risk by starting his “home school”, where music would be taught alongside regular courses of study.

His first student, Ibarisha Lyngdoh, now 22, is the “mascot of the home school”, says Nongkynrih. Gifted with an amazing voice, Lyngdoh can sing in Asomiya, English, French, German, Italian, Latin and Khasi. “She gave a solo recital in Switzerland at the age of 13. Such is her potential,” says Nongkynrih.

Lyndoh was followed by further enrolments. “Initially, I wanted only musically gifted children but soon felt that was being too elitist,” says Nongkynrih. Most students have come from troubled families or suffered some sort of mental turmoil. Some parents turned in their children for them to be a “good human being”. “These children now stay with me. I’m very concerned about the present education scenario in India that prevents children from being their true selves. My school is about living together and enjoying music. For me, music is a means to participate in the society.”

Jessica Shaw Lyngdoh, a member of the choir, finds the education at the school life-changing. “It’s not all about singing, but it’s about evolving spiritually. Among the most important lessons Uncle Neil taught me was to lead by example. He is more than just a teacher.”

When the choir gave its debut performance at Shillong’s Pinewood Hotel in January 2001, there were 25 musicians at hand to perform pieces from Handel, Bach, Gershwin, Mozart, Neil’s own compositions, Khasi folk songs and popular adaptations of Queen and ABBA—music with positive vibrations, as Nongkynrih describes their repertoire. Globally inclusive as their set list is, their performance of an opera in Khasi—a language rooted largely in Meghalaya—won the group a silver medal at 2009’s World Choir Championships in South Korea. Sohlyngngem, the Khasi opera, was essentially about a girl’s grief for her lost lover, but tied in contemporary Khasi socio-political events—widespread alcoholism, cruelty towards animals, the maternal uncle’s role in a matrilineal society, among others. While promoting local folklore through different forms of expression and showcasing music written in Khasi—“a dying language”—was part of Nongkynrih agenda, “the opera itself was based on a very dark subject interspersed with dark comedy,” he says. “The voice of North-Easterners, especially of the Khasi people, has elements of sorrow in it: (there is) a unique emotional appeal. It perfectly complements the Khasi folk tales which are mostly tragic in nature.”

As an empanelled entity with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, the Shillong Chamber Choir has performed in Europe, the UK, Canada, the US, South Korea, West Asia and South-East Asia over the years, and before the US President Barack Obama at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in 2010. But much of India got to know—and love—them for their effervescent interpretation of Bollywood music when the choir participated in 2010’s edition of the TV show, India’s Got Talent, which they eventually won.

While many think the choir was the first group from Shillong to sing Bollywood songs in mainland India, Nongkynrih says it was Amit Paul—the Shillong-born runner-up in Season 3 of TV show Indian Idol—who pioneered it. The choir’s riveting reworking of Hindi film music, nevertheless, stood out against the cultural and socio-political environment in Shillong that has over the decades fed an anti-dkhar (outsiders) sentiment and a highly polarized Westernized culture.

Folklorist, poet, musician and head of the department of cultural and creative studies at North Eastern Hill University, Prof. Desmond Kharmawphlang, feels that Nongkynrih has struck the right chord by fusing old Hindi numbers with choir music. “It is a continuum, you see, as music can never be divided into two poles. One cannot deny that old Bollywood numbers were a big hit way back in the late 1970s,” he says.

Shillong was the capital of undivided Assam till the capital shifted to Dispur in 1972. With the state of Meghalaya also concurrently coming into being, a strong wave of discontentment amongst the Khasis against dkhars followed. It still occasionally flares up through sectarian strife in the hill state.

“What Neil has done is really commendable,” Kharmawphlang says. Similar views were echoed by retired Indian administrative service (IAS) officer Toki Blah: “Living in a place like Mawlai, which is known for the immense anti-dkhar sentiments of the people, I have found that his music has been highly appreciated. It just goes to show that music has no boundaries.”

“This choir is a combination of music and voices that gives goose-bumps to listeners and transports them to an ethereal world,” says journalist and Padma Shri awardee Patricia Mukhim, a founder-member of the choir. “They are perhaps the only choir in India that brings a synthesis between East and West and raises Bollywood numbers to a different level.”

That music for them floats above clannish concerns is apparent in the way Lyngdoh, the choir’s first student, describes their genre-defying approach. “If you attend our concerts, you will find that our foundation is classical music and we blend it with other genres. Our popular numbers include Barcelona, a mixture of opera and rock, which I perform with William Richmond Basaiewmoit, (a choir member); and medleys between Bollywood masala numbers like Yeh Dosti/Ajeeb Dastan; Kaisi Paheli Zindagani/Stand By Me, Kal Ho Na Ho, Manwa Lage and Bar Bar Dekho/’S Wonderful. We also perform Uncle Neil’s own compositions, some based on Hindustani classical music.”

“Most people never thought that a choir group can be fun, can dance on stage and can also make the audience dance along. Most people perceive us differently now,” says Donna Marthong, one of the teachers at the choir. “We never dreamt of performing Bollywood music but when the time came, we had to do it. Now we find that Bollywood music is also catchy.”

“In the beginning, we were quite content performing classical pieces and our Khasi folk operas in front of niche audiences in Shillong and Guwahati,” says Nongkynrih. Then came the call-up for India’s Got Talent; the need to fit 12 different voices into a song and careful selection of new material; fame that contravened man-made borders; the tiring demands of long journeys; culminating with the Padma Shri and a wider engagement with audiences.

“It all started with India’s Got Talent and once we started, I actually started enjoying the joy of revamping these songs and reaching out to more and more people,” Nongkynrih says.

First published in HT livemint. For more details, please write to me or lounge@livemint.com

Books on Bhupenda, Mamoni Roisom released in World Book Fair


Delhi came out to remember two of the State’s greates cultural icons recently. Two new books on the life and times of Bhupen Hazarika and Indira Goswami (popularly known as Mamoni Raisom Goswami, whose demise last year resulted in intense outpouring of grief not only in Assam but across the subcontinent, were released in the New Delhi World Book Fair. The event witnessed tremendous participation by book lovers and members of the Assamese community residing in Delhi.

Bhupen Da: The Bard of Brahmaputra has been written by late Hazarika’s close associate Kamal Kataky and Devajit Bhuyan. On the other hand, Indira Goswami: Pain and Passion has been edited by Uddipana Goswami. The books have been published by Spectrum Publications.

late Bhupen Hazarika

Talking about the release of the books, a source said, “After the demise of the two legends, many writers, scholars and journalists had came up with critical appraisals of their works. However, very little work was done in English, and probably that made Spectrum Publications to come up with the idea of two new books by people who personally knew Hazarika and Goswami and who are well-known faces in the literary and cultural sphere of Assam.”

Bhupen Da: The Bard of Brahmaputra has been launched as a hardcover edition for now with a paperback edition coming soon. The project was successfully completed within just a month. The book was launched by Shanta Sharabjit Singh, Vice Chairman of Sangeet Natak Academy. It should be noted that Bhupen da was a past chairman of this institution. Singh recollected the memories of her association with Hazarika and said that the mass gathering of people at his funeral was testimony of the sheer genius he was.

The book’s joint author Kamal Kataky, who was a close associate of the bard, said that it was practically impossible to confine the legend within the pages of a single book. “I was moved to a large extent while preparing the book,” he said.

On the other hand, Indira Goswami: Pain and Passion, is an anthology having contributions from literary giants like UR Anantha Murthy and Amitav Ghosh. The book was released by Dr Mukunda Kam Sharma, President of Assam Association. Uddipana Goswami, the editor of the compilation, is a noted litterateur and presently the literary editor of Seven Sisters’ Post. Provided a brief sketch of the life and achievements of Mamoni Raisom Goswami in his speech, Dr Sharma said that she was highly popular among the Assamese community in Delhi.
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Indira Goswami: Passion and the Pain is a biography of a different kind. It is a collection of articles by various scholars, writers and activists who have known the writer from close quarters or studied her works avidly. The book brings out the various facets of her life and shows veryclearly her humanitarianism, strength of conviction, empathy and angst.

Many critics have observed that Indira Goswami’s literary creations draw heavily from her own life and experiences. The articles in this book also cast light on the autobiographical aspects of her works while at the same time, reading the author’s own life as a text.

It was her passion for life that saw her through long phases of depression till she reached the pinnacle of glory, bagging award after award. In her life, Indira Goswami came in contact with many known and unknown people from different walks of life – literature, academia and activism. In her death, they show their affection and pay their tributes to the woman who showered her characteristic warmth and brilliant smile on everyone.

Report based on a press release mailed to me

Nabina Das to enter Sangam House

Popular writer from Guwahati Nabina Das is one of the residents of Sangam House 2012. She is among 18 writers from various parts of the world selected for the residency programme this year.

Sangam, in Sanskrit, stands for confluence. As the name indicates, the intention of Sangam House is to bring together writers from around the world to live and work in a safe, peaceful setting, a space made necessary on many levels by the world we now live in. The residency programs are designed for writers who have published to some acclaim but not yet enjoyed substantial commercial success. Sangam House seeks to give writers a chance to build a substantial and influential network of personal and professional relationships that can deepen their own work, in effect, expanding and diversifying literature. “We understand that literature can and must remain a thriving force of illumination for our times,” the programme curators say.

Assembling writers from various cultural backgrounds broadens the scope of each individual’s work. Exposure to regional and national trends in literature, to multiple political and economic obstacles and varied social and cultural milieus enhances each writer’s understanding of his/her work, as well as his/her own notions of identity and home. Recognizing the dearth of such opportunities in South Asia, Sangam House strives to encourage the work of those writing in all langauges, regional and dominant. Such a unique environment enriches the work of its participants and the texture of international literature.

The Sangam House program also facilitates interaction between the visiting writers and the local communities. Cultivating such an intersection infuses the local communities with inspirations and new ideas, while allowing each participating writer to deepen his or her understanding of the diverse emotional and social climates in which literature is conceived and received.

Another writer born and brought up in Guwahati but who is now settled in Delhi, Nitoo Das, will also be part of the residency program.
First published on January 14

OF GRIEF, LOVE AND RESPECT


A Sentinel photo by Rajib Bhattacharjee

Mur Gitor Hazar Shrota
Tumak Nomoskar
Gitor Sobhat
Tumie Tu Prodhan Alankar
Prayax Koru
Tumar Uthat Hahi Bilabole
Proyax Koru
Tumar Dukhot Xosai Kandibole

While the news of Bhupen Hazarika’s demise is yet to sink in the minds of the people, the visionary himself seemed to have visualized the impact of his songs and life on the people long back. But even the bard might not have fathomed the extent to which his songs and poems had influenced the people of Assam as lakhs and lakhs of teary-eyed people swelled on the streets of the State, in a manner never witnessed before, since early morning today to receive the body of their much loved balladeer.

Indeed, Bhupen Hazarika might have left his physical state here on earth but the fact that he will continue to live forever in the hearts and minds of every Assamese was evident in the heart-rending cries of “Bhupen Hazarika Amar Hok” (Long live Bhupen Hazarika) that was let out by the mammoth crowd that had assembled at the Lokapriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport to receive his body. Watching the sea of humanity –– perched atop trees, on top of trucks, bridges and jostling for space on footpaths – trying to stop their tears while screaming their maestro’s evergreen numbers in a bid to suppress their grief, provided for the creation of a poignancy that is bound to remain etched in one’s heart and mind forever.

Even as the huge crowd in the airport sobbed inconsolably as the legendary humanitarian’s coffin was brought out of Jet Airways aircraft 619, hundreds of thousands of people holding placards, photographs, wreaths and petals continued to come out on the streets of Guwahati, assembling along the 26-km long route through which the coffin was supposed to pass, so that they could pay their last tributes to a man whom they have epitomized as the torchbearer of Assamese culture and identity. As shops all over the gateway city of the Northeast downed their shutters as the body reached Dighalipukhuri paar –– where the bard had unveiled his own statue a few years back –– a teary-eyed Assam today did indeed bid adieu to their legend in a befitting manner.

As the coffin was brought out of the airport before a ceremonial guard of honour at around noon, Governor JB Patnaik and Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi paid floral tributes to the legend. “I am numbed and speechless,” an emotionally charged Tarun Gogoi, who is otherwise known for his witty repertoire of speech, said in front of mediapersons.

The hearse carrying the coffin, decorated with flowers, was accompanied by Kalpana Lajmi, his partner and companion for the last four decades, his family members, his nephew Mayukh Hazarika, Manisha Hazarika, State Culture Minister Pranati Phukan and Kamal Kataki. Lajmi, who had always been by the maestro’s side despite coming under scathing criticism from the people of the State on quite a few occasions, said, “I have lost my father, mentor and husband. He may have died, but his spirit would remain forever.”

The district administration had yesterday chalked out an itirenary for the hearse to follow, underlining the places where it would stop on its way to the Nizarapar residence from the airport. However, the tremendous support of the people threw the State government’s plans totally off-gear and it reached his Nizarapar residence only at around 7 pm in the evening –– much later than the government’s scheduled time of 2:30 pm.

Heart-rending scenes were witnessed all along the route from the airport to the Chandmari area of Guwahati today as lakhs of people waited along both sides of the road, lighting earthen lamps and holding placards, along with photos of the maestro that were placed atop bamboo plantains.

The first major stop of the procession was at Gauhati University –– a place where Bhupen Hazarika had spent some of the most memorable events of his life. With a group of students rendering Jilikabo Luitore Par –– a song he had written on the university –– the crowd of more than 4,000 people that had gathered stood silently with tears streaming down their face as they watched life coming full circle for their legend. GU VC Akhil Kumar Medhi, GU Registrar Uttam Chandra Das, Tezpur University VC Mihir Kr Choudhury, Guwahati MLA Robin Bordoloi, Director General of Police Shankar Barua and Chief Secretary Naba Das were also present in the university.

The procession later on stopped at Garegaon, Gauripur, Adabari, Maligaon, Pandu, Kamakhya Gate, Kalipur, Santipur, Lalit Chandra Bharali College, Bhootnath, Bharalumukh, Fancy Bazar and Dighalipukhuri paar.

Once in his Nizarapar residence, the body was taken inside the balladeer’s bedroom while troupes from a neighbouring naam ghar performed gayan bayan outside the residence. The coffin was placed on his usual bed, which was shrouded in a white cloth and adorned with yellow flowers. Singing lines from the immortal Biswar Sande Sande, family members performed the requisite Hindu rites and rituals inside his bedroom, smearing the body with turmeric, even as traditional nam kirtan and prayers were performed alongside the bard’s bed.
The body was later taken to Judges Field in the city where it will be kept till tomorrow afternoon. The cremation will take place tomorrow afternoon at Gauhati University.

Written by Aiyushman Dutta and first published in The Sentinel (Nov 8, 2011)

Naga writer harps on “adaptability” in Kathmandu Literary Jatra

Susan Waten among ten invited delegates in Nepal’s first literary fest


Susan Waten, popular columnist and writer from Dimapur, Nagaland, was one among the ten invited delegates to attend Nepal’s first ever international writer’s fest. The fest known as Kathmandu Literary Jatra was held at the historic Patan Museum inner courtyard last month.

Kathmandu Literary Jatra was masterminded by and conceived in the lines of the Jaipur Literature Festival by Sujeev Shakya, CEO of BEED, a Consulting & Advisory firm. Namita Gokhale, the established writer and publisher from Delhi, was the Festival Advisor. The fest brought in ten select international writers from countries such as India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and the UK on a common literary platform with fifty writers and poets of Nepal, and was attended daily by packed audiences numbering in thousands. Various workshops, readings and thematic discussions on topics pertaining to Nepal and South Asia in both the socio-political and literary contexts were held.

Susan Waten shared the stage with Devendra Bhattarai (author of Registan Diary, a critically acclaimed book on Nepali migrant workers in the Middle East) and the revered Indra Bahadur Rai (a pioneering Nepali writer and literary critic who won the Sahitya Akademy Award in 1976 for the book Upanyaska Adhar Haru) for the assigned topic, “Nepali Literature beyond Nepal.” She spoke about the well-known Nepali writer and social activist (who also contested elections against J.B. Jasokie in Nagaland), Hari Prasad Gorkha Rai who lived and died in Kohima. Taking into consideration the valuable input given by writer Lil Bahadur Chetri of Guwahati, Ms. Waten highlighted on the nature of “adaptability” that the Nepalis generally exhibit in their Diaspora.

To her credit, she has published a poetry book called, White Spirit and also compiled and edited a book of contemporary short stories by 20 writers from Nagaland entitled Of Voices And Paper, both backed by the North East Zone Cultural Centre, under the Ministry of Culture, Government of India. She has written a book for the Nagaland Beekeeping and Honey Mission called, Rock Bee Honey Harvesting in Saramati Range at Kiphire District. Besides contributing to newspapers and working on various government book projects, she runs an organisation called Holiday Abode for Writers & Artists (HAWA), which provides a platform for creative expression under the motto: spiritual renewal for artistic inspiration.

At the Jatra, her presentation was well received and many from the audience came back-stage to meet her. A number of them showed keen interest in the literature of north east India, and the possible collaboration.

The Jatra was a huge success in terms of the literary and intellectual exchange between the invited international delegates and the information-hungry audience, and also the popular uplifting response of the country to it’s first-ever event of this kind and magnitude. To mention some of the delegates who graced the Jatra: Tarun Tejpal, Journalist and Publisher (his book The Alchemy of Desire won Le Prix Mille Pages); British Historian William Dalrymple ( White Mughals won the Wolfson Prize for History, Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India won the 2010 Asia House Award for Asian Literature); Alka Saraogi (her novel Kali-Katha: Via Bypass won her the Sahitya Akademi Award); Mohammed Hanif (A Case of Exploding Mangoes was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Prize and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize).

‘Consumer taste is same, only loyalty has shifted’

    GUWAHATI RETAIL MUSIC MARKET – THE UP’S AND THE DOWN’S

For Arvind Ajitsariya, life, or rather the music record, has played its full cycle. From starting off as the only music distributor-cum-retailer in the Northeast with a booming business to the present day state of affairs today when retail sales of physical records are at the lowest minimum, he has seen it all. As owner of Meghali Music, the foremost and oldest music store of Guwahati, Arvind and his wife Usha had managed to create an enviable reputation for themselves as the music lords of the region. “If you don’t get that tape in Meghali, you wont get it anywhere else,” is still the unanimous view of most music lovers in Guwahati and other towns of the region.

However, a few years back, the pitiable state of the music retail industry had prompted Arvind to diversify into other areas like mobile handsets and electronic items. “The music retail industry won’t last for more than five years,” he makes a definite claim. The sadness, evident in his voice, is understandable. In the heydays, the same retailer used to sell more than 500 audio records of movies on a daily basis for three-four months at a stretch. “Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, Dil to Pagal Hain were some of the movies which sold like hot cakes during those days. Nowadays, it’s a big thing even if you manage to sell 10 copies.”

While the birth of T-Series marked the start of the music revolution in the country, emergence of music retail chains was one of its defining factors. “T-Series literally stopped the monopoly of HMV in the entire market but the mushrooming of the music chains marked the beginning of the downfall. While they themselves did not make any profit, they did spoil the entire market,” says Arvind.

However, he still has his hopes pinned on the market. “The dynamics are always changing. I am hopeful that it will come back to square one someday. After all, the consumer taste is still the same. Its just the loyalty that has shifted – you don’t want to pay for your music today. But quality will always have the last say.”

Having veered into music production for a brief period as well with my production house Nisha Audio, Arvind strokes my curiosity when he claims that in terms of volume, North east India has the highest market in the country for physical sales. He explains, “I have spoken to many music distributors all over the country while taking regional distributorship of a number of films and had realised that the North east accounts for almost 30 to 35 per cent of total sales.”

A much loved retailer of western music lovers for his collection of English tapes, Arvind has done it all, even bringing in pirated English cassettes from Nepal and then recording it in blank cassettes for music lovers here. “We used to get those cassettes from Nepal for Rs 150-200 during those days and re-record them and sell here. Copyright was an alien concept during that time,” says Arvind, who was arrested for the offence in the late nineties and kept in police remand. “Piracy is now the biggest threat to the music industry. The entire phenomenon has now been transformed into an organized crime with mafia groups running the show in places like other towns of the Northeast,” he says.

ARVIND’S VIEW OF THE GUWAHATI MUSIC MARKET

1. What genres sell in the city and who is the target audience buying physical music?

Arvind: There has always been a mixed audience for music in Guwahati. Ours is probably the only market in the country where such diversity in tastes exists. Folk, local and classical music are equally popular here, besides of course the Bollywood numbers. In other parts of the Northeast, there is a huge market for international catalogues.

2. Difference in margins to retailers for regional versus bollywood music versus international catalogue.

Arvind: Apart from local, the margin is almost the same. Margin is much lesser in international catalogues.

3. How has music retailing evolved with chain stores like Landmark, Planet M stepping in a decade back?

Arvind: It can be compared with a revolution. While these stores did not manage to make any profit themselves, they did spoil the entire music retail market.

4. How many stores were there in Guwahati earlier and do they still exist?

Arvind: There were around five major independent music retail stores in the nineties. Except one, all have diversified and the one which has not diversified is on the verge of closure.

Mahesh Saharia first north-easterner to be appointed Honorary Consul of Indonesia

Lt General (Retd) Andi M Ghalib Ambassador of Indonesia assures full cooperation for Eastern India Industry


In his maiden visit after the signing of the historic set of agreements during the visit of Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono worth US $ 15 billion for trade and investment with India, Indonesian Ambassador to India Andi M Ghalib assured the investors and businessmen of Eastern India to take active part in the current burgeoning relation between India and Indonesia. Addressing businessmen, industrialists, investors in a series of meetings with the various leading Chambers of Commerce based in Kolkata, Ambassador Ghalib emphasized on the current geopolitical situation in which with the Look East Policy of the Government of India and the implementation of the ASEAN-India FTA agreement, the trade and investment between India and emerging economic superpower and the largest economy in ASEAN is likely to have many fold increase, informed N Dasgupta, the Executive Assistant of the Honorary Consulate of Indonesia.

Ghalib’s call to investors and businessmen of Eastern India attains significance because during the visit of the Indonesian president as the chief guest of India’s 63rd Republic Day celebrations, there were no participants from this corner of the country even though the scope of discussions covered was very wide, ranging from areas like mining, infrastructure, power, airport, railway up gradation, and others.

Narrating the age-old cultural ties between the two countries, Ghalib called India a cultural super power and went on to explain how Indian culture impacts and influences the daily lives of Indonesians. Earlier he inaugurated the new Honorary Consulate office and introduced Mahesh Saharia as the Honorary Consul of Indonesia. Reading out the proclamation of Commission of appointment by the President of Indonesia and the degree of acceptance by President of India, Ambassador Ghalib praised the competence, ability, integrity and fidelity of Mr Saharia based on which President had issued the appointment.

Mahesh Saharia, the newly appointed Honorary Consul, while accepting the highly prestigious appointment as the first ever person from the North East of India thanked for the confidence reposed upon him by the President of Indonesia Excellency and emphasised on the strategic partnership between India and Indonesia. Saharia explained that there are many similarities between India and Indonesia both emerging as economic powers and yet struggling with large poverty, inflation, infrastructure issues. He mentioned that the resolve by the Government and people to overcome the challenges in both the countries are so strong that both countries are moving forward capitalizing on its human and other resources overcoming the obstacles. He urged the industrialists in eastern India and NE India to take due and rightful share in the fast expanding relations with Indonesia and assured all possible assistance as the Honorary Consul of Indonesia.

Ambassador Ghalib accompanied by economic counselor Mr Otto and trade attache Mr Imbang requested the participants to take advantage of the Indonesian Expo scheduled at Jakarta in October and the high-powered CEO Summit scheduled in December, at Bali and further stated that it is his endeavor that we can drive from North East India to Indonesia in future soon.

Joi to the Soul

When Eleuterio Sánchez Rodríguez was convicted and sentenced to death in Spain for a crime he professed to have never committed, it marked the birth of an outlaw who gave the Spanish law enforcement agencies a torrid time. The erroneous conviction of Rodriguez and his subsequent fight for freedom stirred the emotions of many, and the same went on to become the subject of many a creative endeavour, including a hit single by German band Boney M. The song in question was titled El Lute, which took a bit of time to pick up on the charts but which, over time became symbolic of imprisonment, hope and liberation.

Eleuterio Sánchez Rodríguez


Thousands of miles away from Europe where the song was conceived and being performed to appreciative audiences, a principal of a local school in remote Jorhat district of Assam introduced one of her students to the piece. The said number’s powerful portrayal of hurt, hope and longing for freedom cast a deep spell on the young boy’s mind; a spell which was woven in deeper as he watched his teacher being moved to tears as he sang it in front of her. It was then he realised the immensity of the power of music, the fact that a piece of art is defined by the manner and way it touches the soul. Therein started the young boy’s tryst with music; a long, arduous and passionate journey as he explored the world of rhythm and tried to sing along with his soul.

Kajal-streaked eyes, which you are hesitant to look into at first in case you get lost in their depths. A soft and at the same time confident voice that draws you close, at times unnerving you with its rawness but which also reflect a long-drawn communion with the inner self, making it linger long afterwards in your mind. A person who leaves his presence with you even after he departs. That is Joi Barua for you at first sight – our own home-bred futuristic musician and composer who is increasingly making his presence felt in the music circuit of the country.

Born in Digboi to Rohin Dhar Barua and Ranjana Barua, educated in Shillong and Guwahati, and now based in Mumbai, Joi has worked in a number of films as a playback singer, vocal arranger and background singer and has also sung for hundreds of ad jingles. The list of popular mainstream Indian movies where he has lent his voice runs long and the list includes the likes of 2010’s Filmfare Award Winner (OST) Udaan and National Film Award Winner Dev D. Practicing a mixed musical style incorporating elements of rock, soul, jazz, folk and world music, he shot to international limelight last year when he was among the 20 handpicked fellows at the first INK (Innovation & Knowledge) Conference, a TED- affiliated multidisciplinary conference, in Lavassa, and where he performed his song Tejimola, based on an ancient Assamese folklore, to a front row audience of celebs like James Cameron, Matt Groening, Linda Barry, amongst others.

He, along with his band Joi, released their debut Assamese album ‘Joi: Looking out of the window’ in December last year and the same became an instant hit, besides going on to redefine standards of contemporary Assamese music as a whole. The album fetched him the best debut awards at the 1st Big Fm Music Awards this year, but more importantly helped bring due recognition to this artiste who strives to let his compositions communicate with the soul.

The quest to commune with the soul

Many would associate soul singing, based on rhythm and blues, with legendary musicians like Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin or the “King of Soul” Otis Redding, amongst others – who helped take the genre of soul music to its pinnacle in Northern America and from where it spread to other parts of the world and blended with other musical genres. However, Joi’s style of singing, in case you got confused, is not limited to just soul music.

Joi is inspired by soul legends like Otis Redding


“For me some of the biggest soul singers have been Bruce Dickinson, Sting, Freddie Mercury, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Bhupen Hazarika, Bob Dylan, Tracy Chapman and the like. The soul in the singing is what really matters to me; that is what stays with me after the music dies. Peter Gabriel, another fine example of soul and world music; the way Joe Satriani plays, that’s soul. I want to sing with my soul, that’s what music means to me.” And this desire of Joi’s finds adequate reflection in his numerous compositions as well as all his other endeavours.

Feel is Paramount

In all probability, Joi’s love for music is probably something he was born with. But the contributions of a few people in his life cannot be overlooked; one being his school principal Sister Mabilia who guided Joi’s love for singing while in junior school and whom he regards as his first and only guru. A lifelong inspiration, as he puts it. The earliest inspiration, however, was his father who gifted him his first violin. “My father was the one who kickstarted the passion by teaching me the rudimentary notes ‘do re mi’. An amazing musician himself, he played with great feel and he was the one who taught me the important lesson that in music feel is paramount.”

The quaint oil township in the upper reaches of Assam where he spent his initial days and his subsequent days in Jorhat, growing up with his family and following the intrinsic Assamese traditions and rituals, also contributed a lot to the growth of the artist in him. “Digboi was a beautiful colonial-looking oil town with lovely houses amidst a thickly forested landscape. The beautiful quietness of the town then is what I liked about Digboi; in the evenings one would get to see large bat-like flying squirrels jump from tree to tree. Looking back now, when images of the town come to my mind, it was like we were living inside a period movie where time stood still – the air was clean and silence was a companion. It was lovely to walk around the small roads and nooks and smell the trees, the lushness.”

The quietness of the evenings in Digboi where he played his violin to the fading sun was in sharp contrast to life in the joint family in Jorhat where his family later shifted. The music however was constant. “Ours was a joint family. There would be lot of people, a lot of energy, a lot of madness; we would play cricket, football, run, sing. I used to play my violin while my cousin would play his sitar. My grandfather used to insist that we sing our devotional songs every evening; that is how I learnt to play the negera, khol, taal and sing our guxai naam.”

As he grew up, rock too began to make an impression on him and he and his cousins spent countless hours listening to music, jamming together and making new songs. “Right from the Beatles, Eagles, Deep Purple, MSG, Simon and Garfunkel, Iron Maiden etc, we sang them all.” From Carmel School in Jorhat to Commerce College in Guwahati where he did his graduations, the music kept flowing. The way fishes take to water, Joi did to music and looking at any stage of his life, from any perspective, it is difficult to visualise him doing anything else.

Mumbai beckons

The feeling of stagnation and the need to break through from monotony is probably something which many an artist has to contend with. Joi was no different and it was this very feeling of stagnation that forced him to shift from Delhi – where he had moved to after his graduations – to Mumbai in 2003. “The first person I called was Zubeen and he really helped me a lot. I stayed with him in the initial period and he took me around to meet music directors and the other key people in the industry.”

the band joi


It was a fun audition with Jatin Sharma which brought Joi his first break in Bollywood. “My first recording with Jatin was for ‘Sajana hai mujhe’ – a remix with singer Vaishali Samant and which was mixed with Shaggy’s ‘Sexy Lady’. This became an enormous hit. This was then followed by another magnum production – ‘Dekh Le – the club mix’ from Munnabhai MBBS with Sunidhi Chauhan.” After two mega hits, life was never the same again for Joi. “I used to sing in English and that became a rage. There was a huge initial bulk of work that I did with Jatin Sharma and working with him led me on to other people like Anu Malik, Ram Sampath, Anand Raj Anand, etc.”

Besides films, Joi has also been a part of some of the biggest advertising campaigns in the last few years and the organizations he has sung ad jingles for includes the likes of Fiat Linea, Vodafone, Reliance, LG, Hero Honda, Nescafe, Club Mahindra, Yatra.com, Raymonds, Tata Tea, Coca Cola Minute Maid, amongst others. “I was once singing for a film called Khakee for music director Ram Sampath, who is also one of the country’s biggest advertisement music honchos. He gave me my first break in an ad for Sanfrisco Jeans. This was noticed by other people and I soon found myself in the thick of the advertising world. Maybe I’ve sung for every major brand that there is in the country and with India’s top advertising people.”

Looking out of the window

Though Joi has been making music since his childhood and has also established himself in the music industry of Mumbai, it was ‘Looking out of the window’ that made people in his own State stand up and take notice of the musician in him. The album, however, stemmed more as a result of his desire to “just sing some Assamese songs of his own”.

looking out of the window - album cover

As such, the fanatical response of the people towards his debut endeavor was something he never visualized. “Some of the people have just gotten to the songs. Yet the response has amazed me, humbled me. It has just reconfirmed my belief in the power of good, sincere music.”

Six months past the release of his debut collection, as he walks through obscure, nameless streets in Shillong, he is yet to get used to people walk up to him wanting to shake his hand; while walking on crowded streets back in our own State it will still take him time to get used to his new slow gait, on account of the frequent stops he has to make doling out autographs and smiles to young kids dragging along their helpless mothers; still get used to the cries of adoration from young women for whom he has become their latest heartthrob, one of their very own. And though it gets tiring, for everyone he encounters Joi always has a smile and a moment to stop and chat.

On one particular evening in the lobby of Hotel Brahmaputra Ashok, after battling yet another sudden crowd of fans that surprisingly appeared from nowhere, Joi and me got talking about his music and the genesis of his debut album. “I had been composing songs, random tunes with no specific intent, for a while now. Last year I played a few of them to Abani Tanti and within the next two days, the project Joi was born. Pawan Rasaily, Manas Chowdhary, Ibson Lal Baruah all agreed to be part of this music and take it ahead.”

Though the music was the defining factor, all of the members had different reasons for wanting to be part of the album. “Manas and Ibson wanted to sink their teeth into a project that involved good honest music. Pawan Rasaily felt that this would be a great gift from all of us to the people of Assam, now that we have the means and resources. Abani Tanti wanted to take it to the next level and set a benchmark for new sounds while I just wanted to sing my own songs.”

Listening to the album, the first thing to strike you is that the album has converged from a band’s point of view. A blend of rock, soul, folk and world beat, all the members have brought their own influences and ideas into the music. The defining factor of the album is the clean and clear music devoid of gimmickry of any sort, which is complimented by the excellent production quality – a first of sorts in the State.

A track which exemplifies this is the song Aaikon Baikon, which is being widely aired on the television channels and which seems to be on everybody’s lips on account of the catchy tunes and lyrics as well as the beautifully produced video. “I had made the initial scratch with some nonsense and funny lyrics though I did not know what to do with it. Keeping the phonetics same, it was Ibson who conceptualized the whole Aaikon Baaikon theory and the song took off like dynamite.” The lyrics revolve around the carefree lives of two young girls, Aaikon and Baikon, who used to play games in the usual carefree manner of children, and compares their childhood freedom to today’s modern day life, marked by its closed spaces and closed rooms.

Then there is the track Tejimola, which shifted the focus of the entire world community to Assam as he performed the number at the INK conference in Lavassa. Based on the Assamese folklore about Tejimola and her evil step-mother, the song has Joi asking the young girl not to be afraid and to smile on and keep playing with her dolls. With Lyton accompanying him on the piano, Joi’s soulful rendition does not fail to tug at your heart strings and has caught the fancy of the entire youth brigade. “That was an unforgettable experience. I was singing Tejimola in Lavassa to a front row audience of celebs and they were all in tears by the end.”

The album took about a year to be completed and during the entire process the members went about with ease, each of them contributing their ideas, experience and feel to this gift of theirs to the State where they come from. “We’ve all come from various backgrounds. Our stories, expressions and emotions have found a way through the music that we created. All the music that we’ve heard over the years – Sting, Clapton, Floyd, Bhupen Hazarika, Rahman, Rossini, Beethoven – have been responsible for nurturing our musical sensibilities. There is all of them there. And the best part is that all of us kept complimenting each other throughout the process.”

The journey has just begun

While the success of the album is yet to sink in for Joi and his band, the album is just a beginning for its members. On a personal level, his recently released song ‘Khirki’ for Hengool theatre is fast picking up and is well on its way to become one of the hits this year; the number Dil Dharakne Do which he sang for Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy in the recently released Jindagi Na Milegi Dobara is also earning a lot of appreciation in the national music circuits.

But success notwithstanding, the quest remains on making clean and clear music. This is best reflected in Joi’s own words, “I love singing and I go about it every day like I breathe. But now that the State and the people have extended so much love and support to my music, it gives me even more strength and resolve in my belief that I can and I should do much more.”

And once the soul gets singing, that doesn’t seem to be much difficult, does it?

References by author:
1. The Queen Of Soul by Mark Bego
2. Singing in a Strange Land: C. L. Franklin, the Black Church, and the Transformation of America, Little Brown, 2005.

Feedback: aiyushmandutta@gmail.com

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TEAM joi – As seen by Joi Baruah

Ibson Baruah – Lyrics
Penned the lyrics from his soul. A traditionalist, true to earth musician who’s maybe the finest gentleman you will ever encounter

Manas Choudhary – Bass
His bassplaying has nurtured right from the nooks and crannies of Assam and now the world’s embracing it.

Pawan Rasaily – Guitar, Arrangements, Music programming
His playing has so much soul, always pushes me ahead to crack the new level. He defined the soundscope that we were looking for and many a times he was the sounding board, critique and counterpoint of my compositions. His feel will be matched by a very few.

Abani Tanti – Mixing and Production
The guardian angel. He was the man behind the machine and the album that u feel was something he created and gave birth to. He always believed in me and we knew that someday we would collaborate on something amazing. Maybe ‘Looking out of the window’ is absolute testimony to that belief.