As music lovers around the world look forward to an exciting time on 5th July when the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra will play several songs composed by Joi Baruah, the illustrious singer and composer of Assam – there is now a sense of realization and reflection of the immense creativity and musicians of the region. Effect of. Baruah has worked in several Bollywood films, such as Laila Majnu, Agent Vinod, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Margarita with a Straw, and Dev D etc., and his eccentric style includes a symphonic mix of jazz, soul, rock and folk. music.
Some of Barua’s pieces included on the London-based orchestra’s playlist are The Jungle Song, Teleportation, Alan the Musical theme song, Ode to Alan, Synthetic DNA, and ‘New World Order. Barua’s collaboration with Susan Lim — a surgeon, musician and lyricist — on The Lim Fantasy of Companionship for Piano and Orchestra built aroundAlan the Musical, and recorded by the London Symphonic Orchestra (LSO) at Abbey Road Studios in London, in 2019, further shot him to global recognition.
Lim was in awe of Barua’s rendition of the song — Rabha — from his album Pride. Barua collaborated with American saxophonist George Brook to tell the story of an unsung revolutionary — Assamese polymath — Bishnu Prasad Rabha.
He has also worked with three other composers on the original songs, namely Manu Martin, Matthieu Eymard and Ron Danziger. “For any musician, to hear one’s own music in an orchestral fashion is a milestone and an amazing experience. It is the same for me. I am glad that this journey has roots in an Assamese phenomenon,” Barua says.
Barua is just one of many Assamese artistes whose works have now transcended the borders of India and have cemented the place of Assam on the global music map. Take Kalpana Patowary, for instance, and her array of Bhojpuri folk music, including Pachra, Purvi, Kajri, Chaita, Vivaah Geet, Sohar, and Nautanki. She is the first Bhojpuri singer to take the age-long Khadi Birha tradition to the global stage through performances on international platforms.
Patowari’s signature can be found in Bollywood, Tamil, Bengali, and Assamese movie industry, and has worked with the likes of AR Rahman, Pritam, Devi Sri Prasad, and Anand Raj Anand. Some of her most memorable performances include at the Paddy Fields Mumbai, Commonwealth Games Queensland Australia, and Oslo Norway Mela festival, to mention a few. As she says, “You must explore yourself. The world of music is very interesting. Music has only one language and that is the language of feelings. Today, it is not possible to survive only on talent, one has to market herself/himself properly.”
There are others like Tezpur-born producer, performer, and songwriter, Mrinmoy Sarma Baruah (also known as Mellodye Mafia) whose national and international reputation saw him perform at England’s Wembley Stadium and at Doha during the FIFA World Cup. He has worked with renowned singers with the likes of Sunidhi Chauhan, Bombay Vikings (Neeraj Sridha), Vishal Mishra, and Asees Kaur. At present he is an active music director in the record label Tips Official (Kumar Taurani).
“We’ve plenty of interesting subjects to find inspiration from. Recently my friend Kukil Pratim Saikia and I have completed an album and documentary in tribute to Bonkonwar Anandiram Das. It is a documentary with a few songs recorded in Budapest. We see it as a cultural exchange between European music and music of Assam. The works of Bonkonwar Anandiram Das have gone extinct in the last 100 years, and this was our only purpose of uniting world music with Assamese sentiment. Budapest’s East Connection Recording Co loved the 100-year-old melodies and now are part of their music studies and internship programmes. Soon, we are going to stream the project in Assam and across the country,” he says.
Dibyajyoti Nath is another name to reckon with in the musical scene. The bass guitarist has worked in Mumbai for more than 15 years, travelled to almost 27 countries for concerts, and collaborated with Bollywood A-listers like Shankar Ehsaan Loy, Sajid-Wajid, Adnan Sami, Farhan Akhtar, Mohit Chauhan, Raghav Sachar, and Salim Sulaiman, and late KK.
It is easy to remember Nath from MTV Coke Studio Season 1 TV show and his scores on movies like Rock on 2, Bodyguard, D Company, and Jazbaa among others.
Challenges and Way Forward
Despite the strides, many artistes and professionals still believe there’s more to do to transform the Assamese music craft into a truly global phenomenon. In the words of Anindita Paul — India’s playback singer — notable for her National Film Awards nomination for her works Kor Ejak Shopun Jen Boroxun from the film Dinabandhu and Biphol Sokupanire from Jetuka Pator Dore, Assamese artistes need to reinvent themselves. “Assamese music has become stagnant since the last 15 years and there is not much creativity which can challenge mainstream music, be it popular or others.
“The lack of proper knowledge and learning is the main reason behind it. We have a strong folk foothold and I am not talking about Bihu alone, which is by far the most explored and popular, but there are others like Tukari, Kamrupiya, Goalpariya which also have very interesting rhythmic patterns. We have our most unique Borgeet which has few resemblances with jazz. This potential connects us to our roots. Assamese music industry is very constricted to one set of popular forms and it hasn’t evolved in certain spheres after 2010. We must change that,” she says.
Renowned composer, producer, instrumentalist, and recording artiste, Ambar Das cannot agree less. As someone who has worked with some of the biggest brands in the world, including Google, Lufthansa, Ford, Tata, Myntra, ICICI, and Standard Chartered as well as for media stations like NatGeo, Star World, ESPN, Zee TV, Colours, B4U, and produced scores for movies, jingles, documentaries, web series, and other productions, his modesty is inspiring, as he notes that what he considers his best works were never released. With over 60 audio albums to his credit, Das says, “Out of them my favourite works are the background music for the movie ‘Sunglass’, the last movie of the legendary Rituparno Ghose, which sadly remained unreleased following his untimely demise. And another would be a TVC for a very reputed company. It was about a lesser-known lower caste tribe from Chhattisgarh called the Ramnamis.”
On challenges in Assam music industry, Das says, “Our major problem is lack of proper infrastructure and opportunities. A section of young artists from the region are doing exceedingly well. They are focused and uncompromising when it comes to their art and this is very important, but we must match these with an enabling environment to help hone and promote their talents and craft.”
This is a challenge Paul ties to poor funds for the industry. According to her, “Assam has very limited funds for artists and we should have government aid for artists who want to work on original Assamese music.
“At the moment, we have to work on our own projects, and we spend a lot of money from our own pockets. That becomes quite difficult after a certain point. We want to show the nation what we have to offer, and for that to happen, we need support from the government. Otherwise, a time will come when some so-called popular music or song would become the identity of the state. This would be really sad,” she adds.
While Paul points out that the artiste also has a part to play, including engaging in strong PR, putting in the work, and being disciplined and unique, Nath notes that taking advantage of social media is a necessity in today’s world. “Social media is a very powerful platform and your work can be seen, but you must focus on the work, not the publicity you would get from it. Also, we come from a state where nature has a lot to inspire our souls, so I feel we are more blessed than others. Seek inspiration from your own place and be a fine musician which top notch artists of Bollywood cannot ignore,” he says.
As a bit of encouragement, Das says artistes should display good character going forward. “Believe in yourself and put all your effort and dedication to make it happen. Thanks to all the technological advancements, things have become easier today. Be really good at what you do and focus on it. Success is an inevitable by-product. You don’t have to go with the flow, try not to go down the path and never give up, ”he says.