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Arko Mukhaerjee and the art of staying alternative

Arko Mukhaerjee’s newest album, 110 Gandhi Road, recounts his relationship with Darjeeling

Pooja Mitra | Published 21.10.21, 03:33 PM

Urban folk vocalist Arko Mukhaerjee’s year-ender itinerary is aspirational, to say the least. The musician just performed an ‘ethno electronic’ jam of Abbasuddin’s river song Amay Dubaili Re at a Berlin home studio. At Munich, he designed an immersive installation and workshop series for Spielart. His Instagram documents early autumn in Salzburg and just last month he opened up on his new album about Darjeeling, from his muraled Kolkata home while strumming on his Kazakh Dombra.

Arko Mukhaerjee with his Kazakh Dombra

Arko Mukhaerjee with his Kazakh Dombra

@arkomukhaerjeeoriginal/Instagram

“Darjeeling has become my home,” said the multi-instrumentalist who has in the past snuck out from his home ‘with just enough money’ to land in Darjeeling where he could always find a shelter. On Facebook, the artiste recently reminisced how as a teen, he fancied a Tibetan wool jacket from Darjeeling Chowrasta’s Habeeb Mullick & Son but had less than Rs 150 for a three-day stay. 

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Mukhaerjee’s upcoming album is titled 110 Gandhi Road, a Darjeeling address where the whole project shaped up. “The project is written, sung, and produced entirely in Darjeeling,” the artiste shared. Mukhaerjee who can sing in at least 15 languages has incorporated authentic Nepali, Bengali and Urdu compositions in the album.

The singer at a sustainable project and homestay called Revolver in Darjeeling

The singer at a sustainable project and homestay called Revolver in Darjeeling

@arkomukhaerjeeoriginal/Instagram

Mukhaerjee is definitely keen on moving beyond anecdotes and creative homages and actually wants to give back to the communities in Darjeeling. Mukhaerjee is currently associated with a sustainable project called Revolver (yes, inspired by the popular Beatles album), a homestay that also explores hands-on coffee production and organic farming in Darjeeling. The artiste also runs a bunch of initiatives to provide medical facilities to the tea garden labourers of Darjeeling and also finds time to teach music to the local children.

Home and the world

Since his debut solo album Ghater Kotha was released in 2013, Mukhaerjee’s quirky experimental productions and collaborations have garnered attention. The singer who also co-founded the Kolkata-based band Fiddler’s Green has been a part of some prolific international collaborations (his dexterity with niche instruments has only helped). He has worked with Irish harp player Anna Tanveer, American fiddle player and Grammy nominee Casey Driessen, banjo player Ben Krakeur, bluegrass artiste Diptangshu Roy, and Daniel Givone, maestro of Gypsy jazz guitar. 

A young Arko. ‘No one can take away the years I have spent listening to music,’ he said

A young Arko. ‘No one can take away the years I have spent listening to music,’ he said

@arkomukhaerjeeoriginal/Instagram

“No one can take away the years I have spent listening to music. In the 15 minutes I could get with Kochu Da (Monojit Datta), I would ask him what he was playing, how he was playing it and would bombard him with questions about various musical instruments,” Mukhaerjee recalled.

Stream of luck

In the virtual circuit, as independent artistes and bands scrambled to figure out the most viable production route (vis-a-vis revenue, streaming and exposure), Mukhaerjee has found a steady listener base on YouTube. The performer whose YouTube page just crossed the 200K mark revealed that his YouTube earnings pay his driver’s salary. Interestingly, his channel seems to have found the right balance between homegrown and global sounds as it lines up Shyamal Mitra covers, Irish and Bengali folk, Nepali and Bangla adhunik tracks. 

A notable number on his page is his newest video featuring Santhali coal miner’s song Sange Libe. The song, which was uploaded on September 26 has more than 2,000 views. Mukhaerjee’s diverse experiments with tribal sounds can perhaps be explained by his foundational training that was steeped in classical elements and East Bengali folk.

The singer, 19 years ago

The singer, 19 years ago

@arkomukhaerjeeoriginal/Instagram

“I learnt the Bhairavi raga on my father’s bicycle, I would hear him during his riyaz. Till the age of 10, I received Hindustani classical training from my parents. My mother was a student of Shri Dhirendra Chandra Mitra and my father received guidance from Pandit Jagdish Prasad. My Phool Dadu Shri Madhumangal Mukherjee played the role of Sadhak Kamalakanta for at least 50 years in Bardhaman. My great grandfather was Shri Khitish Chandra Goswami (Moulik), the author of Purba Banga Geetika,” Mukhaerjee revealed.

Despite his classical leanings, the artiste credits alternative pioneer Kabir Suman for reviving his interest in modern Bengali music. “For four years I only listened to Suman Da’s songs, and I love his music. Suman Da brought me back to bangla adhunik gaan,” he said. Matal Rajjak Dewan’s Masjid Ghore Allah Thake Na, Jeno Kichu Mone Koro Na Keu Jodi Kichu Bole by Akhilbandhu Ghosh, and Jaganmoy Mitra’s Sawano Raatey Jodi are some other tracks that have influenced him.

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‘Darjeeling has become my home,’ said the multi-instrumentalist

‘Darjeeling has become my home,’ said the multi-instrumentalist

@arkomukhaerjeeoriginal/Instagram

At the moment Mukhaerjee is gearing up to be a part of the SpielArt festival in Munich with choreographer Sandra Chatterjee and music producer Kanishka Sarkar (their collaborative installation is titled Smells of Coexistence). Next up is a collaboration between him, Basab Mallick, Joyraj Bhattacharjee for Langarkhana Launchpad, a live music YouTube channel showcasing original music (“Not from the aesthetic of a corporate studio setup but directly from a labour intensive suburban working-class environment in suburban Bengal”, Mukhaerjee points out). 

There’s also an adaptation of Rabindranath Tagore’s Bisarjan in the works directed by Joyraj Bhattacharjee for which Mukhaerjee has scored the music, and his album 110 Gandhi Road is scheduled for an October release.

‘Music is a part of life, but it’s not more important than life,’ Arko said

‘Music is a part of life, but it’s not more important than life,’ Arko said

@arkomukhaerjeeoriginal/Instagram

As a parting note, the artiste throws in a reminder that art and music thrive when they are truly democratised. “I will never have an issue if anyone from any part of the world sings my songs or adds five more verses to any of them. I would rather be happy. Music is a part of life, but it’s not more important than life. The journey of a musician is also not more important than the journey of life.” Mukhaerjee re-affirmed.

Last updated on 21.10.21, 03:35 PM
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