“If music be the food of love, play on” — William Shakespeare
We all love music, don’t we? I inherited my ability to embrace all genres from maa (mother).
My fondest childhood memories involve the Sunday mornings when maa would turn on the stereo, as she did the household chores. The large drawer of the teak wood showcase in our drawing room has a delightful array of Assamese and Bengali audio cassettes ranging from legends such as Jyoti Prasad Agarwala to Dr Bhupen Hazarika, Pratima Barua Pandey to Rabindranath Tagore, and few new-age artists.
The music sure made the chores less tedious to maa, and I took the time to study the offerings maa put out — to listen, learn and discover — what appeared to be an immeasurable amount of musical styles. With time, I realised my love for Indian classical music. Maa insisted I should take up music lessons. I took admission at a music school in Nagaon, dedicated four years of my life in learning classical music, and finally earned my Visharad degree. Gradually, I developed my interest in bhajan and loko geet, and performed locally at various shows. One of my favourite bhajans till date is “Rasabhari bin bajayi”.
I continued learning music until I moved to Guwahati for +2 studies. I was a ranked table tennis player in Assam, and had played at national level consecutively from year 2000 – 2010. Because of studies and tournaments, every now and then — from district level to state, and national, it was difficult to find time for the other extra-curricular activities I was engaged in. Thus, my music career came to an end. But whenever I listen to any music, I cannot control myself from humming along the tunes. Such is my fondness for this art!
Northeast India is known for its vibrant culture. And we’ve seen how over the years the talents – be it musicians, dancers, actors, writers, sportsman, etc. — from the region are receiving appreciation and recognition not just nationally, but internationally as well. Of all, there are some whose works I religiously follow, and one among them is Joi Barua from Assam. He is not just a brilliant artist but an amazing person with a very down-to-earth approach.
A singer, musician, and lead vocalist of the band Joi, Barua has lent his voice to several Indian movies including 2010’s Filmfare Award winner (Soundtrack) Udaan, National Film Award winner Dev D, and worked on other superhits such as Jannat 2, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, No One Killed Jessica, Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani, Gangster, Jab We Met, Bhool Bhulaiyaa, Bhagam Bhaag, Munna Bhai series, and more.
However, he has recently been making waves and winning hearts as a composer for the title track “Dusokute” from the award winning film Margarita With A Straw.
From winning the first school singing competition at the age of seven by performing the popular Cliff Richard’s song “Bachelor Boy” to now making a mark in Bollywood, Barua has indeed come a long way. In a tête-à-tête with the celebrity, I got to know about his inspirations, his upcoming projects, and his opinion on folk and Bollywood music. Read on.
- When did you decide to take music as your career? If not a singer, who would Joi have been now?
Probably a little after college. I was a bit apprehensive. Even though music was the one and only passion, I was used to singing in English and Assamese. Bollywood was a far cry. So there was a hell lot of confusion. If not a singer … I don’t know. But there was a lot of interest in mathematics and psychology. So, I really don’t know!
- ‘Tejimola’ from your debut album— ‘JOI … Looking Out Of The Window’, is one of my favourite songs. How did you conceive this project?
It was a small melody I was playing one day with my guitarist friend Pawan Rasaily, when he suddenly turned around and said that it sounded nice and he recorded it on phone. After a few minutes, he said that somehow the melody reminded him of the story of Tejimola [an Assamese folktale], and why couldn’t we think along those lines. It sounded very interesting to me. I lived with it for a few days. Then in came into the picture, Ibson Lal Baruah [bandmate; musician-lyricist] and he turned the concept around onto a child of war.
- From being a playback singer to vocal arranger and background singer, that’s quite a diverse work.
Yes, it is. I have had no such formal training in music. I had been singing for myself or been a part of rock bands. But in Mumbai, I started doing various things. This has been the only education I’ve had. As a result of this, I learnt lot of things that go into composing and producing a song.
- “Dusokute” has been lauded by critics globally. How did Margarita, With A Straw happen? Would you like to share us about your inspiration and the original Assamese track?
The director of Margarita With A Straw, Shonali Bose, had heard my music and approached me to include this song of mine in the movie. In the original context for the Assamese song, I had actually thought about life in Gauhati Commerce College when I was a Bachelors student, and would always get up early in the morning at around 4.30 to have tea by the flyover. I would be sitting alone, look at the lovely morning sky over the flyover, and this would give me great energy and inertia. This is the nervous energy in the song that u feel.
- Do you think Assamese folk music has the potential to draw the attention of the listeners in other parts of India?
Of course it has. Our folk music has a universal appeal, and not just in India.
- What defines your music style? Languages you are fluent in?
My music is pretty open ended, but probably woven around an attitude of rock and power. I like that. Strong stories and moods influence me. I like to pass on this energy to the listeners. Give them a moment. Take them away from everything.
- Composing for a film is different from band albums. How do you approach each kind of music?
The stories will of course be different. The album has my perspectives. The movie will have the directors. If I have understood perspectives well, the jumping is smooth.
- What’s your opinion on the current music scene in the Hindi film industry?
I am a part of it. It’s a great place. And a great time to be. There’s a lot of energy and a lot of variance. A huge melting point, I would say: the party’s only getting started.
- You are now working on an Assamese film, Marksheet. Would you like to share anything about the project?
I composed and produced the promotional track of Marksheet. It’s a song about growing up, the entrapment of youth, the endless loop of ambition. It captures restlessness as well as angst.
- Any other projects you are working on? Any particular actor you are fond of and would want to sing for?
Working on my original music and also music for the movies. Let’s see. The future seems exciting.
No particular actor really. Never could think that way.
- Being a popular personality, how do you manage your personal and professional life?
My professional life is out there, my personal life is private. It is very easy to manage both.
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Pictures source: Joi Barua Facebook page