Born as Angaraag Mahanta, Papon had established himself as an independent musician much before Bollywood happened to him. Recently, a documentary series, Hometown Heroes, which chronicles the 40-year-old singer-composer’s life in his hometown, Guwahati (Assam) was released. We met Papon in a gloomy basement bar in Bandra (W) on a rainy day to discuss his music, his religious beliefs, and his Bollywood film debut.
You’ve done Sufi songs, folk-fusion, electronica and Bollywood music. What are the genres you want to explore?
I want to experiment with local tunes. Then, I want to move on to eastern European music and Celtic music. There are a lot of forms I want to work upon, like ghazals. I just started working on something that is in the space of world music. In my next album, there will be two-three different EPs — organic, world sound and Indian music.
You wear your roots as a badge honour. How did it help you with your music?
I had a beautiful childhood. What I am doing today is exactly what I was doing when I was really young. Assam is a vibrant place, because there are so many tribes and ethnic groups there. I am an indigenous person only because I come from a land like that. Everyone comes from a religious background; we are supposedly born into one. I was born into one called Neo-Vaishavism under the tutelage of Sankardev, a large part of which is music. Similarly, every religion has a form of music associated with it — qawwalis, sufiana songs, hymns, gospels, kirtans and bhajan. In my religion, we had interesting ragas and taals, which is different from Carnatic or Hindustani music. The upbringing in such a family made my musical side stronger.
Watch: Papon sing ‘Khumaar’
Do you think Assam has a lot more talent to offer and is still undiscovered?
Sometimes I think it’s a good thing that talent from Assam is yet to come to the forefront because it’s not random. It’s not usual and helps it remain exotic and fresh. But, it definitely deserves more attention in terms of the music and culture that exists there. It’s a corner of the world geographically. It’s almost the dead-end of the world, so it takes time to come to the mainstream. That’s what I am trying to do with my work — bring it in front of the world.
You’ve been quite vocal about the floods in Assam …
It’s a beautiful place and a lot of human, animal, plant life is at stake because of the floods. Perhaps there are too many differences between the central and state government, but we should think of a long-term solution to not go through this every year.
There were reports of you being upset about your voice not being retained for a song in Rustom. Does it bother you?
That keeps happening all the time in Bollywood. We often don’t know whether the we’ve sung will come out or not. Sometimes, you feel you’ve given so much life to a song, because when you sing, you give your heart out. You literally give a bit of you to the song. When that doesn’t see the light of the day, you feel bad. But you have no choice, so you get used to it.
You have signed film-maker Nagesh Kukunoor’s new film. A lot of musicians have tried their hand at acting and have not done well. Does that bother you?
I have always ventured into what I have known will be my space. I know what I do in the movie is in my zone. I am not looking for another film after this. Everything need not have a result. Nagesh’s film, in fact, will take some time because we are not able to match dates. Maybe we may not end up doing the film, who knows?