Talking to Papon or interviewing him is always been full of fun and laughs as the particles of his ‘Sense of Humor’ get infuses simultaneously as he starts expressing his heart. But yeah, recently one of such particles had led this multi-instrumentalist, singer to the controversy when he commented on the national anthem on a lighter note. Thankfully, this misunderstanding did not last long as Angaraag Papon Mahanta clarified the matter on the very next day. So, leaving aside these things I was at Papon’s place at Nigaji Pam, Guwahati just to talk about his new creations and of course the ongoing Bihu stage performances.
‘Performing in Bihu stages has always been special and it’s truly different from other shows of mine across the globe as I get the opportunity to sing for my own people and that too in a festive atmosphere.’ says Papon. He added, ‘The stage of Bihu is a big platform or medium to communicate with different classes of the society and that is why, I speak on several issues which should be heard, I realize.’
But, some people also has something against this Papon’s view as they think he speaks too much instead of singing some more numbers; which is what people wait for so long at Bihu functions. What’s your take on this, Papon? I asked.
‘Hmmmm…I think they should buy a CD and listen my songs at their homes only’, He laughs. ‘See, I am really not sure about what percentage of the audience doesn’t like me talking to them but I speak because of my social responsibility. It also may be the influence of legendary singers including my father, Late Khagen Mahanta, who used to talk on various subjects and communicate with the people out there.’
Ok, so you think the Bihu stages should also be used as a medium of delivering any message apart from the songs and all?
‘No, not at all. It is not necessary for every artist to act the way I like. I do it just because I feel good doing it, that’s it.’
I proceed with the next question that is related to our emerging electronic media. I really wanted to know, does the advent of these satellite channels and their live coverage of the Bihu functions has anything to do in an artist perspective.
As if, he was anticipating such a question. Papon stated, as these satellite channels come into picture the scenario of Bihu functions also get influenced and so do we, the artists.
‘When an artist or a band starts their journey in any season they start it with a particular set of songs and in the entire season, they perform the same songs naturally. But now here in Assam, after the channels started doing live coverage of Bihu shows, the people residing different places get the privilege to watch the show at a time. So though we perform in scattered venues, the songs might not remain fresh to the audience as they already have watched those numbers on television. ’ Says the popular artist. Well, this might also be the answer to them who complain of Papon being monotonous on stage.
Ok, it would not be cool at all if you talk to Papon and you don’t discuss about the rich folk culture Assam has. He is one of those very few artists of the state who try to find out the roots and express them in his own way to reach out to the global platform. There is no doubt about his efforts in reviving many forms of our folklore especially among young generation who usually go for rock and pop when it comes to music. So, what Papon thinks about this journey towards the roots and what are the future prospects of folk music?
‘Folk music is something that always remains in us, in our culture. But like the other parts of the world, we also felt the impact of growing popularity of western music especially of Rock & Pop genre, which had influenced our young generations so much that it leads to affect our own music to some extent. But I was quite confident about our folk music which has strong attitude and power as I saw my father how he had made people dance by performing these songs. So, I thought of working on folk music with the necessary modern inputs to reach the young generation of the region, who should know and feel about our rich folk culture.’, says Papon.
But there is another allegation against the artist that by infusing modern elements in folk songs and showcasing it in different way he has been affecting our folk culture adversely. I was keen to know about Papon’s take on that issue and here he goes. ‘I really don’t have any idea why such controversies take place regarding this, especially in Assam and India also. When you look into world music, we will find that one particular folk song can be rendered by various artist in various forms in their times. It’s called jazz standard and there may be several versions of one such jazz song by various artist and people can choose their own favourite out of those. So, every change doesn’t mean something bad, this change may occur in our society or in music.’
Papon got a point. But if we accept the wave of change in folk music by inviting the modern elements, would not it hamper the original work or after some years the future generations may take the fusions as original.
He pauses and says, ‘But who will decide what is original. What should be taken as original, the version of hundred years back or the one that was prevailed five hundred years ago? It has been an issue of long debate and discussion. But what I believe we need not to be worried about this thing as only the good will last long. Anything that has negative effect will vanish soon because the future generation and time will judge what we all are doing today.’
‘Another aspect is that though I has been infusing other music into our folklores for stage performances and some other, when it comes to proper documentation, like an album, I release the songs keeping that originality. For example, my albums like Gumseng, Phulseng etc have pure folksongs. But again, what is original for me may not be the same for some other because there might be difference in sources.’
The next question that was roaming around in mind: It’s quite pretty that Papon tries blending music of various genres from different parts of the globe, but shouldn’t we try more to establish and popularize our own songs and culture globally keeping it intact so that they can feel our identity! Papon replies, ‘Of course, but this identity should not be like imposing to them. It has to be gradual, not forced. People of the country or the world should know us through our work, not by any forced acts. More importantly, if we keep our-self rigid and deny to adopt other culture a bit, why they would accept us. Now-a-days, while I perform across the globe people start singing and dancing with my Bihu or folk songs even though they don’t have any connection to our land or language or our culture. I feel very blessed for being able to do that and make people keen to know about us and I think it is happening just because I am not doing it imposingly.’
So, apart from shows is any other plan to make more popular our language, our folk songs in mainstream music of the country?
‘Yes of course. I am doing it since long in fact. The songs get released recently like in MTV coke studio, Dewarish, Roadies are also having the sweet flavour of Assamese language and folk songs. Personally I feel privileged in doing these things and whenever I succeed in showcasing our culture in mainstream music it gives me immense pleasure.’
Coming back to local scenario, I asked, ‘You definitely have come to know about some so-called Bihu based songs releases shortly which are creating lots of controversies due to the obscene and vulgar lyrics. What they want actually, what do you think?
The answer comes like this, ‘We need to avoid them simply. It’s because, whoever doing such things in the name of culture are actually want us to talk about them. So what I think we should not act according to them as such things would not last long anyway.’
Finally I ask about her, I had to. Yeah, she is Rihanna, who performing along with Papon in this Bihu season and becomes new attraction of the audience across the state.
Papon smiles and states, ‘She is not basically a singer, but researcher. I met her about ten years ago in a tea shop in New Delhi. She had some knowledge of opera and a bit of Indian classical music then. Gradually we become friends and I took her to Assam. She was stunned and very happy to know about our diversity, our culture and she starts learning everything related to our culture and history. My parents as well as some other encourage her a lot. After staying here for some time, she went back to America again and she started working on her research on ‘Ethno Musicology’. For last 4-5 years, she has been working on it and visits Assam regularly. Eventually, this year we talked about performing together in Bihu season and this is how things went on.’
It was already been an hour long talk and we had to wind up. So wishing this talented artist good luck for all his future ventures I switch my Dictaphone off, oops, not at all. It was Papon’s phone in which we had recorded the entire interview as mine was not working.
Photograph Credit: Bikram Borpatra