Assam on song

A group of Assamese dancers perform Jhumur, the dance form associated with tea gardens
A group of Assamese dancers perform Jhumur, the dance form associated with tea gardens

Asam, known for its picturesque river basins and tea gardens in and around the Brahmaputra Valley, is steeped in the arts with music occupying a special place. The sounds change with every region. There is Jhumur dance (associated with tea gardens), Bihu (the celebrated folk dance and music) and Kamrupi lokgeet (music from the Kamrup district) to name a few. Amid the melodies, there also lies a rich tradition of folk tales and folklore. “I used to listen to a lot of stories from my grandmother, both fictional as well as mythological,” recalls singer Joi Barua, who hails from Jorhat. The 39-year-old didn’t take the Bihu route to come under spotlight. He stuck to his Rock sound, but wrote songs based on those old stories.

Singer Joi Barua borrows from traditional folk tales of Assam and incorporates them in his music. Pic/Nimish Jain
Singer Joi Barua borrows from traditional folk tales of Assam and incorporates them in his music. Pic/Nimish Jain

Barua, who juggles between working in films (including regional projects) and making independent music, will present a set of stories in the form of music with his band, Joi, at the Living Traditions concert that celebrates the northeastern state.

“We are a Rock band in the World Music space. We try to retell folklore, talk about the history of traditions as well as contemporary history through our songs. I also like to weave music around traditions still in practice,” shares Barua, who composed two songs sketching the antiquity of bareback horse races in Jorhat. The event, more than 100 years old, doesn’t allow jockeys to have a saddle or a stirrup. One of the compositions is Riders Of The Mist. “It talks about the origins of the races and the horses (there are many horses who are brought to the race from across the Brahmaputra River). There is another song on the same subject, called Pitol Soku. In Assamese, Pitol means brass and soku means eyes. It means a jockey with copper eyes. The song has a stadium-like vibe to it,” he explains.

On the other hand, the song Tejimola is about a girl who was tortured and beaten to death by her stepmother. “This is a story written in the early part of the last century. She is buried in the garden and a flower blossoms out of her grave one day. The story celebrates the girl in different forms,” says Barua, who was inspired to make original and independent music after listening to the stalwarts, Khagen Mahanta and Dr Bhupen Hazarika in his early days.

“I have grown up within the tradition of listening to music about the land, the rivers and the culture. My band will be presenting the same kind of music in the contemporary fashion. These songs shaped our state as well as our musical selves,” he reasons.

Barua’s music pays tribute to his homeland and Mumbai — his current work sphere. He has sung tracks like Dusokute (Margarita With A Straw), Dil Dhadakne Do (Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara) and Kahani Aankhon Ke Pardon Pe (Udaan) and more.

On: Today and March 19, 6.30 pm
At: NCPA, Nariman Point.
Call: 66223754
Cost: Rs 200 onwards

Documentary screenings
Three films — Land Of The Brahmaputra, Purwottar Ki Parwaz, and Satras and Namghars of Assam — will be screened at the curtain raiser. The first film (black and white) focuses on the river and how it helps the state reap rich harvests. The second traces the conservation of birds and the heritage of the Kaziranga forest while the last narrative illustrates the lives of two indigenous tribes.

Folk music
A contingent comprising musicians and dancers will showcase the rich folk music history of the state, including Borgeet (invocation of Krishna practised by the Vaishnava sect), Jhumur, Bihu and Kamrupi lokgeet.

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