The North East is diverse, as is Papon’s musical imprint. The 40-year-old from Assam, who redefined Bihu folk music on MTV Coke Studio a few years ago, says a love for nature is inherent among inhabitants of his motherland. And while music is part of his DNA (his parents are the folk musicians Khagen and Archana Mahanta), the milieu he is part of, enhanced his poetic side.
Papon told us that the folk sound of Assam inspires one to pick up musical instruments. “The place is so melodic, rhythmic that one will feel like humming a tune when sitting by a river... The music I write has lots of similies and metaphors from the environment there,” he said.
And the music events that are held in Assam all through the year are like a “drug” for the populace. “There are so many festivals happening that one ends up being a part of (one or the other). People there can sing and listen to music for 12 months at a stretch,” said Papon, who recently appeared on MTV Unplugged, and revels in introducing his roots to a television audience.
Now, he has developed a niche audience for folk. “I didn’t expect to be this successful singing in my mother-tongue. But I knew I would be able to make it. Coke Studio was an open platform where one could experiment. It was my chance to enter the mainstream,” said Papon, whose band East India Company (formed in 2007) has been quite successful. “The band gave me an idea about the future. We were doing a lot of shows and the response was good. It gave me good vibes.”
But Papon, who shot to fame with Jiyein Kyon (Dum Maaro Dum, 2011), is equally satisfied churning out songs for B-town and MTV Unplugged celebrates Bollywood music, though served differently. “The arrangement is changed. It is a good experience for listeners,” said Papon.
He is also singing for Bengali films, although Bengal’s rich folk music culture, especially Baul, is yet to be heard in his voice. “I would like to do Baul someday, but I have to work on that,” he told us.
Like a nomad, Papon keeps moving between Assam, Kolkata and Delhi, although his base is Mumbai. However, he is yet to explore the Maximum City as his heart lies in the capital. “I haven’t explored Mumbai as much yet. In Delhi, I had a kitchen garden, it was so green and open. On top of that, my college years were spent in Delhi,” he shared. “I didn’t want to move initially.”