NEW DELHI Though deeply rooted in the classical and folk traditions of Assam, Angaraag Mahanta is a rock star in his own right.
The singer, known popularly as Papon, aspired to be an architect before realising music was his true calling.
Papon has a musical heritage by birth -- his parents are doyens of Assamese music -- but he always wanted to be a self-made artist.
With his first Hindi album "The Story So Far" out in January, Papon's music is finding new fans outside his home state.
The singer does have secrets -- he politely declined to reveal his age -- but spoke to Reuters about his musical journey and how his brand of music is making a difference.
Q: You have a music background. Did you always want to be a singer?
A: "I didn't always want to be a singer. I knew that I could sing better than many around me … there was always comparison with my parents, which was not really exciting then. I knew I could sing because I am from a singing family. That's about it, I was not really focussed on this is what I want to do. I did my training in folk and traditional because that was part of the home institution which was trying to show me what they (parents) knew and they felt responsible to share the information. But there was no plan as such, until very late when I discovered on my own that … I was also born a musician … That's when I actually took it up."
Q: One incident which made you think singing is your destiny and this is what you want to do?
A: "It is very difficult to say one incident … but I can tell you a phase. When I was in Delhi -- I went to Delhi to become an architect -- a brother of mine, who was an architect, convinced me that if you do architecture it will take you a long while to establish yourself and you cannot do two things at the same time, why don't you do something extra where you get more time to devote to music because I believe you are a good musician. So, I kind of got convinced.
"Delhi being Delhi you get exposed to different musicians. While I was jamming here and there I would meet people and slowly people would recommend (and say) ‘hey, let's call Papon over for a jam'. Bands which were names already like Indian Ocean would enjoy my company during a party or in a general jam. So that slowly gave me the confidence and I figured out that I am able to move emotions in people by singing the way I do … there was something fresh about my voice or the way I sang folk or whatever I sang. Slowly, slowly I got some jingle work and I figured out this is what I can do … if I keep working I can actually make my own songs the way I want them to and I figured out that I can actually compose, I can produce. In that whole phase, I think, I got the confidence of people without knowing my background or how big my parents are. I felt like they were praising me. That was the time in Delhi, that phase in college when I figured out … this (singing) is what I can do."
Q: Tell us something about your journey from being Angaraag to Papon.
A: "Both happened quite late actually; it came, I think, hand in hand. When I first released my album ‘Jonaaki Raati' in Assamese in 2004, which was after a long while … after 6 years working on commercial stuff like jingles … to figure out and also to get some pocket money and then happened these songs and somehow I figured out that I have these many songs so I released the Assamese album. Couple of years from then, in 2006 or so I started doing live shows following up the ‘Jonaaki Raati' album. The album was really getting popular in Assam and people wanted to see the artist live. Slowly, I became Angaraag Mahanta and it became bigger and bigger. At the same time, I began singing with MIDIval Punditz in Delhi, that was Papon. I was Papon everywhere but Assam -- people wanted to call me by my formal name and the pet name was getting popular otherwise … And Papon was how my friends called me, that was my Delhi life; Angaraag Mohanta was my school life. It was like two different artists: Papon was doing Hindi, electronic stuff, Angaraag Mahanta was doing new stuff in Assam. But this was then, now both Angaraag and Papon are merging into one."
Q: Did your parents push you into being a musician?
A: "They never asked me to sing in a concert or took me along with them. They left the choice to me. They wanted me to do well in academics but at the same time they gave me all the ‘taleem' of music; they kept the interest going."
Q: Tell us something about your album "The Story So Far"?
A: "There was no album plan. I have never planned an album. I make songs on the move. Whenever the songs kept collecting, I thought of releasing them as an album. The album is actually the story so far and I have moved on now. It's got all these eight-ten years of my evolution, my different moods, my different styles."
Q: How has the response been to your new Hindi album?
A: "It's been very good. It has sold out most of the times … I have played at NH7 fest in Pune, Oktoberfest in Bangalore, SulaFest in Nashik and here people tell me, ‘we've not bought music for a long while but we bought your album'. I felt so good when I heard that. People just download music, don't they?"
Q: Which was your first Bollywood number?
A: "‘Sajna Baware' from the movie ‘Let's Enjoy'. I had sung, written and produced it. It was later co-produced by MIDIval Punditz. ‘Jiyein Kyon' is my first big Bollywood song, I would say."
Q: Are you getting more Bollywood projects?
A: "I am. I have been getting good calls. Whoever calls me has identified the voice, they know what the voice is capable of and what it can do. I am glad I am getting such calls where I can do justice to the song rather than singing anything and everything. Proper casting is happening to my voice. I'm doing 4 -5 projects now; every song and style is different."
Q: One music director you would die to work for?
A: "A.R. Rahman … not because he got the Oscar."
Q: Do you think the rising popularity of your Hindi songs is encouraging people to listen to your Assamese music?
A: "It's been so. I've been getting messages on Facebook or when I meet them here and there. They are like, ‘we just asked someone in Assam to pick up your old Assamese album'. Also, in my live shows, 30 percent of my songs are Assamese. Even in Assam, I'm making folk popular and stylish. There are a lot of young people who are getting back to folk because I've designed it in a new way. Folk itself is obviously very interesting just that times are changing, so you have to connect that sound with this new sound, which I'm trying to do across all my shows. I explain what the song is about and I sing in Assamese. Music is music and we are all talking about human stories in different languages."
Q: What can your fans expect in the future?
A: "I am doing a lot of collaborations. Recently, I have collaborated with a Scottish artist called Rachel Sermanni. She, I and tabla artist Bikram Ghosh from Kolkata have come together for this project called ‘Troikala'. A label wants to release it as an album so that we can follow it up with a summer tour in the UK."