Thursday, May 30, 2024

Bridging Cultures Through Music: A Dialogue with Renowned Singer Kalpana Patowary (Exclusive Interview)

Interviewed by – Gundeep Kaur 

Written and Edited by – Robin Bhuyan (Editor in Chief) 

Dive into the world of music with Kalpana Patowary in her exclusive interview with Enigmatic Horizon, where she talks about her musical journey, starting from her roots in Assamese folk music to Bollywood and Bhojpuri music. She talks about her influences, challenges faced, and the changing scenario in the world of music, as well as shares her opinion regarding the impact of artificial intelligence in the music industry. 

How did your musical journey kick off? Did you have a mentor or guru who guided you or played an important role in your journey?

I was fortunate to grow up in a musical environment. My father, Bipin Patowary, used to be a folk music artist for All India Radio. In Assam, musical theatres are quite popular, and my family was actively involved in them, and this was another advantage. So, you could say that music has had its influence in me since I was in my mother’s womb. As I grew up, I received training in Indian classical music under several gurus. I learned the traditional Assamese Borgeet from Naren Das ji, after which Dwipen Roy ji became my mentor. Later, upon reaching Mumbai, I continued my training under Ustaad Ghulam Mustafa Khan. Additionally, I underwent a two-year training with Sikha Dutta, who was also a student of Ustaad.

Whom would you consider your biggest influence in the realm of music?

Bharat Ratna Dr. Bhupen Hazarika can be considered one of my biggest influences. One significant reason I admire him is because he became a voice for the poor and struggling sections of our society. Bhikhari Thakur, a renowned Bhojpuri folk artist, was another major influence. He was inspired by figures like Swami Vivekananda and Raja Ram Mohan Roy, and was actively working towards bringing social change.

Being from Assam, how did you enter the Bhojpuri music industry?

Becoming a part of the Bhojpuri industry was never anticipated because I only grew up listening to Assamese folk music. From an early age of around 13-14, I began singing on the radio and got involved in the Assamese film industry. Singer Mariah Carey and her singing had a significant influence on me during this time. Eventually, I reached Mumbai and took on various projects that came my way. Soon, I began singing in different languages and dialects, including Bhojpuri, marking a significant achievement as I have sung in a total of 32 dialects. However, I would say that my popularity mostly came from Bhojpuri music.

Tell us about some of the challenges you faced working in the Hindi film industry and the other regional industries.

I can’t say that I have faced many challenges, as I was never very ambitious. When you are influenced by someone like Dr. Bhupen Hazarika, your entire thinking pattern changes. I never sought name or fame; instead, I focused on using music as a tool to express what I observed in society. However, one challenge I faced was in the Bhojpuri music industry. After many of my songs became hits, I wondered why a revolutionary character like Bhikhari Thakur was not as renowned as he should be. Eventually, I learned that casteism was one of the reasons behind this. Even when I searched on the internet, I was not able to find any of his works. We did our best to popularize his music and bring him to the mainstream. However, we faced problems marketing his music as the companies had different demands. Despite this, my struggle will continue, and I will always be grateful to him for his contributions to music. I hope that whenever people remember the name of Bhikhari Thakur, they will remember me as well.

What is your opinion regarding rap music?

The African American community in the US faced a lot of oppression. Just like Bhikhari Thakur and Dr. Bhupen Hazarika used music as a tool for social change, you can say that rap or hip-hop was one of the ways through which the black community expressed their struggles and pain. However, in India, it may have taken a different form when we talk about rappers like Badshaah and Yo Yo Honey Singh. However, as an artist, I respect rap music or any genre of music; I feel that music is a way through which artists can express their creativity.

How important is it, according to you, to preserve our traditional music, in an age where most of the youth prefer to listen to modern or Westernized music?

If we talk about the younger generation, their actions are hugely impacted by their hormones. However, no matter how much you enjoy modern music, even the youth eventually return to folk or traditional music because it touches your soul. Today, many people are also creating music that is a fusion of both traditional and modern. I think Coke Studio is doing an excellent job in this. I also believe that it is very important to archive the music that we create. I already spoke about how Bhikhari Thakur’s work was very hard to find. So, we need to make sure that proper archival is done so that people can easily find out work even after 30-40 years.

Do you think the Indian music industry is too dependent on the film industry? What changes are needed, in your opinion?

Yes, this is true. In fact, I would say 90 percent of the music industry is dependent on the film industry. If we look at Hollywood movies, whenever a song plays in a movie, it fits in that particular situation. However, in Indian movies, songs sometimes seem to be forcefully thrown into a movie. However, I feel that digitalization is creating a change in this scenario, and we will hopefully see a positive change anytime soon.

Among all your projects, is there any particular one that is the closest to your heart?

One of the projects closest to my heart is The Sacred Scriptures of Monikut, in the Brajabuli language, based on the Vaishnavite movement of Assam started by Mahapurusha Srimanta Sankardev and Mahapurusha Madhavdev. It consists of seven spiritual hymns based on the bhakti movement. The Legacy of Bhikhari Thakur is another one of my milestone projects, where I have put efforts to compile most of Thakur ji’s works. I have made a second part of this project as well where we featured Ramagya Ramji, a 116-year-old singer who recently passed away.

Anthology of Birha is another one of my favorite projects, which is based on a folk form in Uttar Pradesh. Another significant project in my career is Ganga Snan also written by Bhikhari Thakur. Well-known jazz singer and musician Louis Banks has collaborated with us on this project, and you will listen to Bhikhari Thakur’s music in his voice. This project is yet to be released, and it should be out sometime this year. I have also tried to do traditional Assamese Bihu songs in different dialects.

You have worked alongside many well-known artists. With whom did you have the most memorable experiences? Can you share some memories with us?

I have been fortunate to work alongside several renowned singers such as Udit Narayan, Annu Malik, Kumar Sanu, etc. However, the best experience I had was working with the world-renowned percussionist Trilok Gurtu. His proficiency is on a completely different level. It was a great experience working with him on multiple projects.

What is your opinion regarding artificial intelligence and its impact on music?

I think Artificial intelligence will give more freedom to artists. There used to be a certain monopoly in the music industry, but due to A.I., I believe artists will get more liberty. A.I. has broken all barriers, and it has also given us the ability to manifest the art that we imagine. However, there is a negative aspect as well. Many singers are getting too dependent on autotune, which is understandable, but sometimes artists can be seen using autotune even in places where it is not necessary.

What are your future plans?

I am working on several projects, and one important project includes the works of Guru Goraksanath ji. I am attempting to revive his works and teachings in the form of music. I am personally a Shaivite, and this is one reason this project is very dear to me. I consider myself someone who does what they love and what is necessary; I don’t look at the market trends or how many views I will be getting. I want to create works which people will search for, even after 30 years.

What is your advice to the youth who are aspiring a career in music?

I don’t consider myself worthy to give advice, and I think today’s youths are quite smart and are able to make their own path. All I will say is that they need to identify their USP. Another important thing one needs to consider is creating a demand in a realm of music where the supply is low.

Thank you. It was a great pleasure!

Thank you!

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