Papon on MTV

SRIMOYEE T PHUKAN writes about singer Angaraag Mahanta's tryst with MTV Coke Studio

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Reminiscing about his early tryst with music, he said that he was once presented with Tagore’s Geetanjali by his Hindi teacher way back in school on being visibly moved by his rendition of Jagjit Singh’s soulful ghazal, Honthon se chulo tum. Mehdi Hasan’s ghazals would fill him with quietude as a kid – an anecdote his legendary singers for parents from Assam, Archana and Khagen Mahanta once shared over an interview. When he became more discerning of music, he could tell, it’s the natural world – the mountains, the hills, the sea and the forests – that would inspire his brand of music that came to be known as the East India Company (EIC).

A leading national newspaper labeled EIC as a ‘folktronic’ band from the region that commanded hearing. A bohemian at heart and a nature lover, this artist’s songs carry a distinct sound borrowed from nature. Junaki Rati, his first Assamese album was released in 2005, with a handful of new and old compositions and captivating lyrics, the album captured the imagination of the Assamese independent music scene. But like any new voice that needs hearing, the album mostly found acceptance through word of mouth till it became a huge success in its second year and the following years.

His distinct and assured voice only needed to settle one thing – his name – the poetic ‘Angaraag’ or his nickname, ‘Papon’ – he consulted no one else but Gulzaar  on this, and the celebrated poet had this to say: Tu kuch bhi kar le, hain to tu Papon hi. And that was the beginning of Papon becoming a household name with a body of impressive compositions, stage shows, playback and production.

When the Indian version of MTV Coke Studio premiered in June 2011 on MTV India, it created a scaffold for live recording of popular and old musicians and singers to perform collectively in a customized style. It turned out to be a confluence of diverse music genres – both vocal & instrumental – from traditional-eastern to modern-western and from regional to folk. It opened the gates for well-known singers from Assam such as Mousam Gogoi and the much loved Bihu singer, Khagen Gogoi, besides artists from other regions. While Mausam created a riveting experience in a ‘jugalbandi’ with Sunidhi Chauhan in the classic Bichua song,  Khagen Gogoi got rave reviews for his Bihu number (Tip Top) with the Marathi ‘tadka’ by Shankar Mahadevan. And Papon ruled the roost with Pak Pak – the Bihu number – which got the highest number of hits for the entire season of Coke studio – which brokered a special place for him in the new seasons to come.

The second season officially aired in July 2012 on MTV India & Doordarshan. Every episode featured a music composer with self composed tracks. With this season, Papon turned producer for his song, ‘Tokari,’ sung along with Sugandha Garg which found appreciation by leaps and bounds. But he was not just happy celebrating the ‘obvious’ and the ‘expected.’ In an interview he expressed his desire to move beyond what has already been done. In his characteristic disjointed sentences, he shared, “Bihu tu hoi gol” – “Bihu has been done”, “now we need to show the world what else we have got and how!” Keeping with the promise of showing another facet of Assamese folk song and culture, he introduced Tokari/Tukari song (the song sung with a single stringed musical instrument played with the fingers, hence the name). The song became an overnight hit and the virtual world buzzed with unprecedented hits and likes for this song.

MTV Coke Studio’s third season started in August this year and it is well into its fifth episode. There will be a total of ten episodes with one composer in each which includes: A R Rahman, Amit Trivedi, Clinton Cerejo, Ram Sampath, Hitesh Sonik, Salim-Sulaiman and Papon. For the music aficionados and Papon fanatics, September 14, 7 pm (IST), is the day when MTV will unleash an entire episode dedicated to celebrating regional and folk music of Assam blended with flavors from other parts of India.

Srimoyee Tamuli Phukan is a freelance writer and editor with Qatar based Magazines, ‘Just Here’, ‘Qatar Today’, ‘UK Glam’ and ‘Campus.’ She has worked as an Editor with Cambridge University Press, New Delhi and holds a Masters in English from University of Delhi and an M. Phil degree in English Literature from English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad. Besides doing everything in her power to avoid taking a 9-5 job, she enjoys sharing her views on Hindi cinema, popular culture, travels and the usual quirks of life over her blog: In her free time she day-dreams about writing a script for a film one day that will change the course of her life. You can connect with her on Twittter @SrimoyeeTPhukan.