Free-flowing tunes

Free-flowing tunes


Free-flowing tunes

His voice is beguiling, enigmatic. So is he. You meet Papon and you discover he is free-spirited, just like his music. And beyond the rock star look that he sports, there is a musician who is connected to his roots that lie in Assam where he was born.

Growing up in the shadow of his parents, Khagen and Archana Mahanta, brilliant musicians themselves, Angaraag (Papon is his nickname) was fed on various genres of music.

“I grew up listening to classical songs, ghazals by Mehdi Hassan, Jagjit Singh, Farida Khanum, classic rock bands like Pink Floyd and of course, popular Hindi film music; Mukesh, Asha Bhosle and Kishore Kumar were and still are my favourites,” he says.

Papon has been trained in Indian classical music and traditional Assamese folk. Staying in the midst of nature, Papon’s music was inspired by the world around him — the mountains, valleys and rivers.

He worked on Vaishnavite devotional songs, spiritual numbers and many other folk numbers. However, he does admit that he never wanted to be a singer. Reading Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, Papon dreamt of being like Howard Roark one day, designing skyscrapers, which is why he moved to Delhi to study architecture.

“Music was always a way of expressing myself. I would vent or express happiness by singing or composing songs. It was my parents who always coaxed me to pursue it as a career but I wasn’t interested. But while studying architecture in Delhi, I interacted with local musicians and jammed with local bands and realised the immense joy I experience while I am making music. That moment was a turnaround phase in my life,” he reminisces.

With an all-new goal in life to follow, Papon started experimenting with electronica, acoustic folk and electro ghazals tunes. “In Delhi, I realised that people didn’t question me or my background. I was an independent musician capable of creating tunes which I identified with and eventually, it was appreciated.” Soon enough, Papon started jamming with other bands and in 2007 he released his debut album, Jonaaki Raati in Assamese.

The Telegraph hailed the album as a ‘rare piece in contemporary Assamese modern song scenario.’ In the same year, he encountered like-minded musical souls — Brin, Krishna, Kirti and Dipu — and founded the East India Company to make traditional folk and electronic music. But the journey thereafter wasn’t easy.

“Being a part of an independent band in India is a struggle. Although we did garner appreciation and earned fans, commercial success or launching an album needs a lot of hard work when you know that masses predominantly savour popular Bollywood music,” rues Papon. Eventually, he did vocal jams with Midival Punditz and Indian Ocean in Delhi and set his eyes on Bollywood.

He moved to Mumbai to explore a career in playback singing. Shifting base was a huge decision and Papon agrees that it took him some time to settle in. “I was a regional artist setting foot on unknown shores. I didn’t know anyone in the city; I was daunted by the crowds, the lifestyle people lead here. My only fear was that I didn’t want to be another obscure face trying to make it big.

Mumbai is so different from Assam where you have time to absorb things, have time to introspect on life,” he remarks. Though the pressure and competition in the Hindi music industry did intimidate him initially, it never bogged him down. Papon believes that he always had this perspicuous sense of thought — that he will make it big one day.

And he has set course for it. Jiyein kyun from Dum Maaro Dum was his first break and Papon’s soulful and rustic voice earned him critical and commercial acclaim; Jiyein kyun was credited as one of the best songs in the album. This was followed by Zindagi aisi waisi from I Am Kalam. 

Papon has spent a couple of years in Mumbai and now he is loving it. He explains, “There is so much energy to soak in here. I am just a few songs old in the industry and that itself has helped me connect with established music directors, lyricists and other musicians. I was never treated as a pariah.”

Also, Coke Studio@MTV helped him create a strong toehold in the industry. He is now busy marketing his first Hindi independent album, Papon, set to release in October; excited about the two tracks — Banao and Naina laagey — he has sung for the upcoming film, Soundtrack, and is waiting to set out on a bike trip to the northeast, to be where he belongs.