His Story So Far: In Conversation With Papon

His rendition of Pritam’s Jiyein Kyun in Dum Maaro Dum was arguably one of the best musical debuts in Bollywood last year. Those who have followed Papon before that would know this debut would come as but a small step for a man whose past collabs include such names as Indian Ocean and Midival Punditz. As with most such cases though, few know of that past and the man was destined to be known by this work, being Bollywood. After being known to the public eye thus, the man seemed to be all over the place in 2011, mainly courtesy Coke Studio @ MTV and Dewarists. And towards the fag end of the year Papon launched his debut Hindi album, The Story So Far, which received rave reviews all around. Do listen to it here if you haven’t yet, it is really a treat! And while listening to that, you can read this interview where Papon speaks of his eventful past and more. Enjoy!

Oh and before we start, a big thank you to Leilah of Little Big Noise for helping out with this interview.

So how did it begin? Given your parents, training must have happened at home itself?

Yes. Being born born into musical family, that was a given. Mother was training music even while she was carrying me, so one could say my training sort of began even before I was born! I learnt the classical side from mother, and folk from dad who is a legend in the genre.

Tell us about East India Company. Did that come about as a result of the folk albums you had released before 2007?

That was one of the reasons, yes. Dad, as part of his music tours, would pick up folk influences from everywhere he went – Rajasthan, Nepal etc. And this sort of had a great bearing on me too. I wanted to do something along these lines, something that would go beyond the traditional folk without losing the essence of folk, all the while doing something I could relate to. EIC came out a way to realise this.

The Story So Far. Going by the number of songs, the spread of genres et al, would it be right to call it your dream project? How much of a prep was involved?

Not sure if it can be called a dream project, it was my first work out of Assamese basically. It was not a project to start with, it is like its title, my journey so far. As written by me as a note in the cd, it is a compilation of the sounds I have come across so far. And therefore there was no prep as such for this. It sort of came one song at a time due to varying influences, when I was up on the mountains, in some gig, and so on. A couple of songs have even been performed in the past. And when I saw that there was a considerable number of tunes from such experiences, I decided to bring it out as an album.

How was the experience of working with Rabbi on Dewarists? How did you find the show?

Now that is what I would call a “dream project”. Go to a beautiful place, stay there and make my own music out in the open, is something I always wanted to do. I am a hardcore nature person, and I was thinking of doing this anyway.  But for someone else to organize this for you and put you in a lovely place for five days and ask you to create music was really a dream come true. Rabbi also comes from the pop-rock background, found the place spiritual, found the energy in the surroundings. And we pretty much agreed on the same concept, and the music just flowed. Really good project. Kudos to Dewarists!

You featured on Coke Studio as well. How was that like? How would you compare that with Dewarists?

Both are very different. Coke Studio was a fixed set of musicians, fixed place to come and collaborate, experiment on folk music et al. Dewarists on the other hand was totally open. There was no concept, nothing – everything was left to you. But while Coke studio was confined, you got to meet a lot of brilliant musicians you could jam with. So both were interesting in their own ways, both encouraging Indie music and most importantly pushing them to mainstream television, letting them know there is something beyond Bollywood as well.

All of a sudden a spurt of shows focusing on the Indie scene. How do you think this will affect the scene? Have you been seeing any changes?

Like I said, it is good to see shows promoting Indie scene on mainstream television. We just hope that this has a ripple effect and it spreads far and far soon.  As for seeing changes, I think we will need to give it some time, probably over a year to see something substantial.

Your debut album came in 2004. But your Bollywood debut happened in 2011. Did you give Bollywood a skip for eight years in favor of your Indie ventures? And finally when it happened in Dum Maaro Dum, how did it come about?

There was no such plan actually. I was of course sure not to opt for anything I couldn’t connect to. But mainly I was based in Delhi, and Bollywood was never in Delhi, so offers didn’t really come my way. I was a lot among the mountains, kept travelling a lot, rediscovering myself, trying to figure out where I stand. Being born in a musical family, it is always taken for granted that you will do music. So I had to take time to do something fresh and reinvent myself. I did experiment with Indian Ocean, Midival Punditz et al, whatever came my way. So there was nothing like giving Bollywood a skip. It was just about getting offers, the kind I could connect with.

As for Jiyein Kyun, once while I was doing a show with Midival Punditz, Rohan Sippy came to me and said he is doing this film, and that I must sing on it. I said why not. Composer Pritam also knew me having heard my Assamese music, he liked me, and was only too glad to try me out. I wasn’t sure however that the song was in my space. Pritam was a great encouragement, and somehow while recording it started growing on me and later I really liked it. A long shelf life song it seemed like. Of course I never thought it would become such a big hit.

Composing or singing? What would you prefer?

Both! 🙂 I don’t believe in OR, I believe in AND!

Who would you consider your inspiration in music? Your parents of course, but apart from them?

Dad and mom obviously, coz they gave me the taste early in life. Once you get that exposure early on, you can gain your direction more easily, find your way around and learn. Really thankful to them for that. The list outside of them would take up two A4 sheets! Influences have come from all across the globe, that is why I can do folk, ghazal, classical, rock, blues.. Good music and good sound always excited me and I kept digging into anything I found interesting. From Mehdi Hassan to Pink Floyd to NFAK to Zappa to U2 to Farida Khanum to Louis Armstrong… different styles, different things, they are all so good in it.. Lot of influences..

A bit about your ongoing/future projects?

I am not at liberty to talk about all, but there are some nice films I am working on right now. I consider myself lucky to have bagged projects with music directors of entirely different styles, and thereby songs of much variety. Another project in the immediate future is for the band I have formed with Scottish artist Rachel Sermanni and Bickram Ghosh – Troikala. We have had concerts We are working on an album, and I am producing it. They want me to be ready with the album before our April concert in London. But doubt it would be ready by then, as I am travelling a lot, and then there are locational constraints, having to get Rachel to send her recordings from Scotland and so on. Will start working on the album in March first week though, lets see when that happens.

Off the record though he did tell me what those film projects are, and trust me they are totally worth looking forward to! All the best to Papon on all his projects, he is one deserving chap.