t2 tunes into Papon and his new sound in the run-up to Bacardi Nh7 Weekender
Papon is no stranger to Calcutta. As a kid, Assam House on Russell Street was one of his favourite haunts.
- Published 25.10.15
Papon is no stranger to Calcutta. As a kid, Assam House on Russell Street was one of his favourite haunts. “I’ve good memories of the place. There was Tulika’s and Trincas nearby. Then I got to meet so many musicians because my dad was friends with Salil Chowdhury, Hemanta Mukherjee and so many others,” he had said in an earlier interview with t2.
He will be back and this time for Bacardi NH7 Weekender, in association with t2. In fact, it will be a gig the city has been waiting for long because it would be Papon and The East India Company, his electric folk-fusion outing. Papon apart, the band features Jeenti (guitars), Sanket Naik (world percussions), Deepu (bass), Tanmay (drums) and Munu (keys). “The band is now bigger and grander in terms of sounds. Sanket is on percussions — our brass section has become bigger. The boys have also come of age. They have all individually evolved as musicians. Kalyan, who has played with me on Coke Studio, has also co-produced some of my tracks,” the singer told t2 before leaving for a Durga Puja tour of the US (Dallas, San Francisco and New Jersey).
Here’s more from the man with one of the coolest voices on the Indian music scene.
At present, we hear folk music everywhere....
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. I am trying to get away from that tag of folk now. (Laughs) We started with folktronica but we are keener to try out some new sounds now.
You lead two lives — Bollywood and indie music scene. How do you balance the two?
I think I have been fortunate that I have got good tracks from Bollywood, and I would like to continue in that vein. I have been lucky to get filtered good work. I live in Mumbai, so whenever I get time to venture out of my own creations, Bollywood is right there. That was the reason behind my move to Mumbai as well, to be able to work on interesting film projects. The city has so many musicians, so many great musicians. Bollywood was a conscious move that has worked for me because now a larger audience knows me.
How did you arrive on your sound?
Music is in my genes. My dad (the late Khagen Mahanta) was an explorer, and I was extremely lucky to be born in that family. It gave me an opportunity to explore and go deeper into other genres. When I moved to Delhi — I was introduced to good, different styles, and could give a chance to my deep-rooted love for rock. Plus, it gave me an opportunity to understand production and composition. But my dad was my teacher. I learnt a lot from him — how to jam, how to record. I grew up hanging around stalwarts all my childhood and it definitely paid off because I was introduced to so many different styles and I learnt how to bring different genres together.
Having grown up among the mountains and trees in Guwahati, are you enjoying Mumbai?
Well, I also like human nature. I derive inspiration from people — and Mumbai has a lot of people. I travel a lot, so I’m never short on inspiration.
Who have been your major influences when you were starting your career and who are your influences these days?
I have many musical influences, from Pink Floyd to Frank Zappa to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan saab, Mehdi Hassan, to my parents. My influences also include genres of music from across the world — from folk, jazz, blues and rock to electronic in the past 10 years. These days though, I am surrounded by new music and musicians. Producers like Kygo, Hardwell... I am really enjoying all that they make.
Anything you are listening to at the moment?
Clinton Cerejo’s new band, Ananthaal, and his new sound. I am really enjoying that. There are a couple of new Assamese boys that I am grooming. Also, I really like Ed Sheeran and of course ghazals are my old love. I listen to a lot of Madhurani, who is a legendary ghazal singer that many people don’t know of. And, of course, Mehdi Hassan.
Shillong is witnessing its first Bacardi NH7 Weekender. Are you proud of it?
I am really looking to this edition of NH7 Weekender. I love feeling close to nature wherever I travel. Beautiful surroundings make you feel good, they foster creativity, open your mind. Shillong is definitely a good space to feel more connected with the music. The area is just stunning. People should think of it as a destination festival. Apart from its natural beauty, Shillong is definitely close to home. So it will be somewhat nostalgic too.
Musically, we have taken a break from Weekender, not having played last year. We have some new stuff and will be launching a couple of new tracks.
How would you make your Calcutta Bacardi NH7 Weekender gig different from the one in Shillong?
I am still thinking about that. Both cities have different audiences — Calcutta has that baul vibe, so I might adapt some tracks. I haven’t decided yet.
Why go by the name of Papon, when your real name is Angaraag Mahanta?!
It was my pet name, and it’s easier to remember and say!
The man speaketh
On languages: Besides my native tongue (Assamese), I picked up Hindi in my childhood, Marathi was not so difficult, Tamil was extremely tough, Punjabi was not difficult because I was in Delhi for long and Bengali… well, my parents had sung Bangla songs and they used to read a lot, like Anandabazar Patrika. Somewhere in my subconscious, Bangla was around.
On choosing music over architecture: As a child I used to paint and I was good at it. My perspective drawing was very good and I was encouraged by two of my cousins who were architects. They pushed me and I was almost ready to start... this is when I realised that music is my thing.
On moving from Delhi to Mumbai: It was a tough decision because we were moving from a place called Mayur Vihar (in Delhi) where we had a huge house with a backyard.... I even had a kitchen garden, which is something I really love… I love farming. Then we went to Gurgaon, which is very concrete-concrete. So, my wife Shweta said we might as well move to Mumbai. It worked.
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Catch Papon at Bacardi NH7 Weekender Calcutta (Aquatica; October 31 and November 1). Tickets available on Insider.in. Price: Rs 1,250 to Rs 2,250
Papon’s best song is....