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My musical journey began before I was born: Papon

Read on as we quiz Papon on his music, new plans, Bollywood and this new role.

Tell us a bit about what went into making who you are today. How was the journey and how did you start with music?
My musical journey began before I was born, my mother was pregnant when she was teaching and learning Indian classical music. So I started to listening to music even then! My father is a folk legend of Assam. He’s been performing folk music and popularizing it for years, and is a very well-respected figure in Assamese folk music. I was born into a musical family and that’s where the journey began. But I didn’t immediately take music as a profession till later in my life. It took me a while to realize I am good at it myself and not because my parents are musicians.

Did you ever want to do anything but music? Had you not been into music what would you be doing?

Farming. As a child I grew up in Assam, where everything is connected to agriculture and harvesting, even Bihu and the songs we sing. When I was young, we used to grow vegetables in our garden, and I actually tended to the soil with my own hands. It’s great to be able to see what’s growing in front of you. Farming is great – it’s very healthy, there’s lots of physical activity and you know what you’re growing is fresh and the produce is good for you. It’s a good lifestyle.

How do you see the Indian music scene changing with regard to folk music?

I think that contemporary folk acts have started looking at folk a lot more, knowing that it’s been around, and so popular for thousands of years. I think contemporary folk acts, and there are so many more now, are getting younger people interested in folk. Folk is coming back into our lives with a ‘now’ tag to it. It’s all the same old stories, but in a new way. And the same stories from thousands of years ago, still talk to us, and appeal to us, stories of emotions and relationships are still as relevant now. It’s an interesting place in the world with regard to new sounds. People are opening up, and are open to trying new things.

How has Bollywood music changed over the years?
Bollywood has really opened up to all kinds of different sounds and genres. It’s a really interesting time for Bollywood now. There are a lot of independent musicians who are a part of Bollywood and in turn Bollywood has opened up to many different sounds and genres – from drum and bass to folk.

Tell us about this movie that you have worked on and acted in. How did it happen?
The film I’ve acted in, Rodor Sithi, has been directed by Baharul Islam, who is very well known ad respected for this plays. Baharul Da (as I call him) asked me to be part of it. It’s a character whose philosophy is similar to my own, and it fits my persona and energy. The message that the film delivers is also quite true. I’m acting in the film because Baharul Da asked me to be part of it, and also because I connected with the film and my character.

Have you always wanted to act?
I’ve always thought of acting as something I’d like to explore. I thought it would be interesting to be someone else and acting allows you to do that. You need to learn how to be to be someone else and true to another character, and that’s interesting. I’d like to play interesting characters, and interesting roles, as opposed to the role of a ‘hero’.

What are the next projects lined up?
I’m currently in the studio working on my next traditional folk album, so that’s definitely a focus for me. We also have a lot of gigs coming up with Papon and the East India Company this season, and we’re playing in Delhi at the SAARC Band Festival on the 30th of November. I also have some new Bollywood projects coming up – my first duet with Shreya Ghoshal for the film
Bobby Jasoos
. The music is by Shantanu Moitra and the lyrics by Swanand Kirkire. I’ve also sung a track for Nagesh Kukunoor’s new film Lakshmi. I’m also looking forward to the release of Rodor Sithi!

What songs top your own playlist?

The Whitest Boy Alive, a lot of John Mayer and Mehdi Hasan and a little bit of Louis Armstrong.

What is Rodor Sithi about?
The film is about my character’s philosophy, which is about going back to nature, and slowing down, and about being able to find the truth, and the answers to life within nature. I’ve also sung two songs in the film and am very excited about it.
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