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North East India company
India's first folktronica band sways to melodious sounds of Assam.
Long curly hair, a voice that sounds like velvet dipped in chocolate and a sense of humour that can get even the sternest face to crack a smile. That's how most people think of Papon, indie music's poster child.
Born into a family where music was a way of life - his parents Archana and Khagen Mahanta are respected classical singers in Assam - Angaraag Mahanta spent his childhood learning his way around ragas and sur. But it wasn't until his move to the Capital that music presented itself as a career option.
"I knew I could sing, " says Papon. "I had spent years learning traditional and folk music but hadn't never really thought of myself as a musician. " Delhi put Papon - he prefers Papon to Angaraag - in touch with other musicians and he soon began to nurture that side of his personality. But what came out was unlike anything anyone had heard in Delhi. Apart from ghazals and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's qawalis, it was with Assamese folk melodies that Papon charmed listeners. He sang with electronica outfit Midival Punditz, travelled to music festivals around the world and gave India its first folktronica band, East India Company.
Earlier this year, he released his first Hindi album The Story So Far that brought him a new legion of fans. With his rendition of Naina Laagey in Soundtrack (2011) and his appearance on Coke Studio, and Papon was firmly entrenched in Bollywood.
Swerving through genres, Papon's music refuses to be tied down. It's a curious mixture of the traditional and new-age electro, ragas and synths, classical and modern. His 2004 album Jonaki Raati has acquired something of a cult status.
"It comes naturally to me, " he says casually. "I don't think I do anything that doesn't come naturally to me. It's just an extension of where I come from, my musical sensibilities. I didn't always know it but once I realised it I consciously focused on that. I maybe figured out that where I come from is really unique and people are really connected to it. "
That background though made for a lonely time in Delhi initially. Like most people who leave the warm embrace of the known, Delhi was "difficult" initially. "Of course I felt homesick, missed the food. It was a bit of a culture shock but that would've been the case if I'd gone to Mumbai. The pace of life in the North-East is much easier. No quotas, no struggle as such. Of course, now it's all different. "
Papon refers to the North-East as the "zone". "It's an interesting mix of people and cultures. It's a world within a world. It has different tribes, cultures, several different music styles. I hope that in time people would learn to appreciate and respect these differences. " The rest of the country knows very little about this zone. Papon doesn't question why. He accepts things for the way they are. "The mainland doesn't know about this corner and why would they? We're in one corner of the country, between mountains. It's the same thing as America knowing about India, but how much does it know about Udaipur?"
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