Singer, composer and song-writer Angaraag Mahanta, popularly known as Papon, faced a challenge while growing up in his hometown, Guwahati: emerging from the shadow of his parents, Khagen and Archana Mahanta, a duo renowned in the northeast for their contribution to Assamese folk music. The pressure seems to have delayed his rise. He was 28 when he took the northeast by storm, in 2004, with his Assamese album Junaki Raati (Moonlit Night). He was 30 by the time he gained wider popularity in India’s independent music scene, when he began playing with his band, The East India Company. Meanwhile, between 2004 and 2011, he released five Assamese albums, all of which received glowing reviews and commercial success.
In January, he released his debut Hindi album, The Story So Far. Today, Papon plays all over India and abroad, but his core base still lies in the northeast, where he attracts 80,000-strong crowds. But as an English honours student at Delhi’s Motilal Nehru College, Papon was just another long-haired boy from the northeast. “I’d be floating around with my guitar and riding my Yamaha RX-100,” he says, admitting he picked up the guitar only at 18 to impress girls. Later, he would often be seen strumming his guitar at house parties across Delhi. At one party, he ran into Susmit Sen, co-founder and guitarist of folk-fusion giants Indian Ocean. “Rana (Sen) told me I should consider pursuing music as a career,” says Papon, who was already getting encouraging feedback about his singing style from people who had no idea his parents were folk music legends. “That was when I started taking my music a little more seriously,” he says.
By the time he was 22, he’d dropped out of college in his final semester (“I still haven’t officially told my parents this, but they know,” he says with a laugh), and started learning how to program and produce his own music. He spent the next 13 years in Delhi, making music, touring and going on frequent trips to the Himalayas, before shifting to Mumbai last year.
Papon has now forged his own sound which is a blend of northeast folk music, blues, rock and electronic, in which Assamese instruments such as the khol and the dutora make regular appearances. Although fiercely proud of his Assamese identity, Papon refrains from writing politically-charged lyrics. “I’m still in the love song and writing-about-life phase,” he says, with a chuckle. “Perhaps that will change soon.”