An Assamese folk story speaks of a young girl who was raised by her stepmother. The girl, who grows up within the four walls of her house, describes herself as a tree, rooted in one place, yet casting a formidable shadow. The parallel drawn is poignant — if a tree can be of significance despite its immobility, we too hope to make a difference in the world.
“Such is the rich tradition that comes from Assam — stories of perseverance and strength. Though the state comprises 33 distinct tribes, these folk stories bind us together,” says Joi Barua, an Assamese singer. Barua and his bandmates — guitarists Rhythm Shaw and Manasquam Mahanta, and flautist Ashwin Srinivasan — mix traditional Assamese music with rock, soul music and jazz. They are set to perform in the city, this weekend. The band will present original compositions based on the works of contemporary Assamese writers such as Bhupen Hazarika and Lakshminath Bezbaroa. Their works revolve around the struggles of the Assamese people, and the social and political isolation of the North East.
Barua’s approach to the issues stands out, thanks to the contemporary music he uses to create a dialogue. “That’s why fusion works for us. Rock, jazz and other influences help make traditional stories relevant to younger audiences,” he says.
Additionally, the universal appeal of contemporary music makes it interesting for non-Assamese audiences. Besides, music has always been an important representation of the state, with musicians Zubin Garg, and Papon (real name Angaraag Mahanta) having made a mark in mainstream Bollywood. Barua himself has been a playback singer — for films such as Dev D (2009), Udaan (2010) and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011).
But he is hesitant to perform a Bollywood number at the gig. “The festival is about authentic traditional culture, so Bollywood doesn’t fit the narrative,” says Barua.
Be there: Living Traditions: Festival of Assam will take place on March 18, at 5.30pm and March 19 at 6.30pm
Tickets: Rs 200 onward on bookmyshow.com/events