Hazarika hummed songs of nature

Presumably last of the balladeers, Hazarika with his deep baritone voice with a velvet touch lingering on the edges, became a cultural ambassador initially stage for North East India and then for the deceptively simple musical world of rural and tribal culture. His career, spanning nearly eight decades, encompassed not only musical compositions but a venture into avant garde film making, journalism and radio shows.

Born in Sadiya in Assam in 1926, the singer’s sojourn began at the tender age of 10 when he belted out his first song composed entirely by himself. The vibrant musicality of the north-east regions honed him and Hazarika after graduation and post-graduation from Banaras Hindu University did his doctorate at Columbia University, USA.

Though his fame primarily rests on the musical legacy, Hazarika even as he started warbling very early in his life, his foray into film also started in childhood with a 1939 talkie Assamese film titled “Indramalati.” On his return from the US after submitting doctoral research work on “Use of educational projects through cinema,” Dr Hazarika became a sort of a bridge for the alienated North-East India and other parts of the Indian sub-continent. While his films played a pivotal role in placing Assamese cinema on the map of Indian mainstream movies, the musical compositions brought to fore the diversity and finely crafted subtlety of the rhythms from the deep interiors to urban India. Strangely, his creativity did not wane when he became an independent member of Assam’s legislative Assembly between1967-72. He kept on making films and musical albums.

With the passage of time, the country singer started expanding his repertoire, experimenting with a variety of styles and genres in music without leaving the evocative music of nature. The experimentation did not confine itself to tonal structures; it was also carried out in cinematic expressions bringing him the President’s National Award three times. Till 1990, he was the chairperson of Eastern Region on Central Board of Film Censors and on the Script Committee of the National Film Development Corporation, Eastern India.

In 1996 he composed music for the path-breaking film “Darmiyaan”, directed and written by his long-time companion Kalpana Lajmi and two years later he composed music for late artist M F Husain’s film “Gajag­amini.” Interestingly, though known as a country and traditional singer, the music maestro very early in his journey— between 1949 and 1955—in association with Paul Robinson came out with a fusion music album and was awarded a gold medallion for “Best Interpretation of India’s Folk Songs.” Hazarika received Padma Bhushan and Dadasaheb Phalke awards.

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