Music has been a badge of honour, a unifying language for Northeast India. From being the preferred place to perform for international bands and artistes to being home to several music festivals, northeastern states have taken pride in their legacy and history. But according to Angaraag ‘Papon’ Mahanta, the sound of Northeast is still struggling to find an identity as most musicians and singers from the region are stuck on Rock & Blues because of the vast influence of Western music.
“Most of the music from the Northeast sounds like rock songs sung in Assamese or Khasi or Naga. If you take the language out, there is no sound or instrument of the place. If a person is playing Country songs, he or she is only translating it, there is no essence or soul of Northeast in it,” says Papon, who has also sung many popular Bollywood songs.
“We need to find the roots, traditional melodies and work on it while preserving its core. Look at what Korea is doing, it’s a cultural revolution. They have taken over the world while being identifiable,” he adds.
‘Problem of plenty on digital space’
Two guitars adorn the wall behind him, as Papon sits down for an interview with ThePrint, a week after he released the song Kahani Koyi, written by Gulzar on the lyricist’s 88th birthday. “It’s a dream to work with Gulzar saab, we have grown up with his music.”
According to Papon, these kinds of songs, which are longer and narrate a story, are difficult to put on digital streaming platforms due to the change in the format of music and uniformity. “While the digital space has a problem of plenty, most of the music is similar. Either Bollywood or Bollywood-like, and a bit of Indie. There is a need to make all types of music easily accessible,” says Papon.
‘Assamese folk is my core’
While he has given Bollywood many memorable songs, Papon, as he is popularly known, has also been among the few who put the spotlight on folk music from the Northeast. Most of his initial songs on MTV Coke Studio had a flavour from Assam — Pak Pak (a medley of Bihu songs), Dinae Dinae (folk song from Goalpara), Tokari (traditional folk music originating from Assamese instrument Dukari), Jhumoor (journey to the tea gardens).
“Assamese folk is my core, my root. That’s who I am,” he says. It is no surprise then that his eyes light up when asked about his favourite instrument. “I love playing what’s called ‘Khul’ in Assamese, which is also ‘Khol’ in Bengali, but the shape, sound, and structure is very different,” says Papon, who is on a mission to bring back the forgotten instruments of the Northeast.
“Many instruments are lost and forgotten because there was no documentation in the past. There are so many interesting instruments, different sounds, if we can get some old manuscripts or designs, we can get craftsmen to make it again.”
Keeping Assam and its music at the centre stage, Papon is also producing two films — ‘The Mystical Brahmaputra’ and ‘Land of Sacred Beats’. “It’s a journey to try and find songs of different tribes and ethnic groups,” Papon says as he signs off with a Bihu song.
(Edited by Prashant)