The Multi-Instrumentalist, Singer, Composer and Producer Angaraag Mahanta, popularly known as Papon, talks about his musical journey and key influences which helped him become an extremely versatile artist and the composer in a tête-à-tête with Loudest.in.
The North East region of India bestows a vibrant musical legacy, providing a variety of tribal and folk music culture that is the intrinsic part of the numerous tribes present in the area. With a lively mix of the Baul Music of Bengal and influences of Gospel, Choir, Rock, and Blues, due to some missionaries in the area, which has indeed been the inspiration behind this virtuoso, as he crafts through various genres with equal ease.
Papon talks about the beginning of his musical journey by saying, “In fact, I did not choose music till very late in life, although I am the third or fourth generation musician in my family. My parents were legendary folk music performers from Assam, who perform the traditional Vaishanavik Music of Assam, my father being a producer himself. I saw my grandparents practice this music form in the Kirtan Ghar’s of Assam, thus technically I belong to a traditional musical family, although I was put to learn classical music from my mother and her guru in Bhatkhande tradition of Indian Classical Music, and traditional music (devotional and folk) from Assam.”
Elaborating on the traditional form of Music that Papon learned as part of his family legacy, he says, “We have this traditional Assamese folk music which has a very complicated raga and a beat structure, which is very different from the Indian classical music repertoire. So it has this 14 beat Taal called ‘Puri Taal’ and a 12 beat Taal called ‘Jyoti ‘Taal’ which plays on the percussion instrument called the ‘Khol’. Unfortunately, this musical form is still not known or established outside the North-Eastern region and thus feel very strong about taking this tradition forward and promote this music form.”
Talking about the challenges he faced initially, “My parents wanted me to concentrate on academics, as my father was working as a station director of All India Radio and he believed in a secure salaried life. Moreover being born in a family of musicians, I felt privileged being the part of this rich lineage, but at the same time, I was unsure whether I was good enough to live up the legacy. I wanted to become an Architect and even went to Delhi to pursue my education, but now I am happy that eventually, I decided to pursue music.”
His innovative experiments, let him explore across genres ranging from acoustic Folk, Indian Classical sounds, Electronica, New-Age and Electro Ghazals he being a big admirer of Jagjit Singhji and Mehendi Hassan Saheb. Describing his early stints with Music, Papon says, “During my stay in Delhi, I got an opportunity to Jamm with a lot of local musicians and also met the band the Indian Ocean which was very popular then, they heard me and encouraged me to pursue music, which gave me the initial confidence to pursue music as a career. Eventually, I started composing and sequencing for jingles and ‘that’s how I started earning my living through music. However, somewhere I felt a little incomplete within till I composed my first album ‘Junaki Raati‘ in Assamese at the end of 2004, which took six years to come out. The album marked a new kind of a regional sound, which became a cult in 2-3 years, as its received critical acclaim from the older critics who appreciated me for its lyrics and sound, which helped to make them believe in young talents again. Also, Myspace helped the album transcend boundaries of language, as my music reached across the globe.”
Talking about the grooming of a musician and the process behind it, Papon Said, “Making music is very instinctive, sometimes the musicians have not been formally trained in music, but have had some musical ambience that influenced them. Be it some music they heard in the early years of their lives, or a distant relative playing an instrument or composing a tune, that they have learned on a subconscious level. That’s why they reached where they are or if someone is born in that kind of an environment in a musical family, then it’s a blessing. While on the other hand, those who don’t have that advantage, formal training does help to get a bigger perspective on the art.”
Talking about the contemporary music scene and scope for independent musicians, “I am very positive as I have been working on the independent music for almost a decade now. There was Indian pop, then it became only film music, and now independent music is coming back.”
Papon made a strong point to have an Indigenous Indian Music Industry by saying, “In- fact, we do not actually have a music industry, we only have a film industry and to call it a music industry we need to create a lot of original music other than the film music. When we have an industry which survives solely on music and not on the films, then there will come the need to establish the departments and segments like Regional, Folk, Classical, Devotional, Traditional, Religious and so on. Music Industry is not just only about creating and selling singles, but we need to create a wide variety of music content across genres and languages in this country. So there is such a broad scope of creation that is waiting to be explored, and then only we should call it as an Indian Music Industry.”
Talking about the languages and repertoires he has experimented with and current projects, “Well I have sung Tamil, Kannada, Punjabi and Assamese of course. I just finished a beautiful project in Bangladesh where I sang amazing music with some of the musicians from across the globe, including Mark Dunn from Aristocrat. I am coming up with a couple of singles with Meet Brothers like, ‘Zaroori Hai Kya Ishq Main’, before this we did ‘Mujhe Kaise Pata Na Chala’ which got 100 million views and became very popular. Along with it, I am working on my Ghazal Album.“
Exploring Ghazals and the ‘Ranjish Hi ‘Sahi’ experience Papon said, “It was MTV who asked me to do an Unplugged song, so I convinced them to do this all-time favourite classic of Mehendi Hassan Sahib. The song eventually got a great response on YouTube, but was later removed from there and put on VOOT, their own OTT platform, since they didn’t want to share revenues with YouTube.“
On being a part of the Music Inc Session on ‘The Lost Genres of the Indian Music landscape’, Papon was highlighting on crucial hindrances in the propagation of Folk music. He said, “While I have seen my father who’s a folk artist performing in front of lakhs of people who are jumping to his beats, I think folk music can be rocking and can be on mainstream too. However, here in India, anything that is not the film music, i.e. Folk or Classical, is facing difficulty in reaching the audiences, since the mainstream music industry is not promoting them. It’s been in only last 5-6 years that folk music is considered as ‘cool’; otherwise, it had vanished from the music scene in the previous decades.”