If there’s a name in the music industry that has managed to find that balance between Bollywood playback and his personal projects it has to be Anagram Mahanta, popularly known as Papon. Over the last half a decade or so, Papon has left his lasting impressions across most projects that he has touched; be it singing songs for movies, composing for Coke Studio, appearing on television collaborations or even performing live. We catch up with him to know a bit more about his journey.
1.First up, before addressing macro questions, I’d like to ask you what your year has looked like, and what lies ahead? Almost always being in a mix of personal projects, performing with the EIC, Bollywood playback, collaborating with friends such as the Punditz or Shantanu Moitra, Papon’s boat never anchors. What’s your 2017 like?
My year started on a busy note with lots of shows. I had released my EP 'The Story Now' in November 2016 so I was busy with that, and then I got busy with making the anthem for Namami Brahmaputra. Currently, I am working on my latest Assamese album -which should be out next month, in June. I was also lucky enough to take a break and spend some time in the mountains to get inspired. July should see me release a folk album on Tokari-I had also made a song for Coke Studio called ‘Tokari,’ on that style of music,tokari geet. This will be an album of traditional tunes. Post that I want to release my ghazal album. And amidst all that will see the second part of my EP The Story Now, being released.
2.Last year, you closed out your season with a song with Nucleya -what was that entire experience like? There’s also been plenty labelling and talk of you being an interesting example of someone who has cracked the balance between retaining an identity, while also dabbling in film related projects actively. It’s easy to fall prey to that, but what’s the trick?
That was an incredible experience, one that I will remember forever. That was my first ever foray into EDM, that space. It was a great idea, we shot at a great location and it was a good collaboration.
I like dance music but I hadn't done anything with EDM. When this project came up, I was very excited because I like Nucleya and I like his sound as an artist, it’s unique, its him.
We had been talking about it a while and thanks to The Dewarists, it happened. Luckily we were thrown a deadline, and the process was quite spontaneous. I had sent him a melody, which was quite folksy, similar in nature to how Bihu melodies are structured. I shared a few more ideas but he kept coming back to this particular tune, and we also didn't have too much time. We went to Hampi, and I wrote about how the past is calling out to me amidst the ruins. The lyrics are based around the energy I felt in Hampi. Udyan also had an interesting take on the melody. People have responded very well to the track, and we are hoping that it becomes bigger. It will be forever special.
Maybe it's my voice, it's a bit different. And it has been a blessing in disguise. I have worked on a few, but special projects. It has been a blessing to have a voice that's distinctive, unique. At the same time, I have always loved working on music that's from the North East and will continue to do so. So that balance comes naturally.
3.Coming to your Coke Studio episode, I want to speak to you about the song Benaam Khwaayishein. Rarity, first up, to not have your vocals on a tune composed by you. Any particular reason?
When I am doing my album,that's my project, my compositions. I have never composed for a project, apart from my albums. When Coke Studio came through, I wanted to let the composer in me come out and I wanted to get a voice that i thought was best for the song. I was looking for aspecial voice. In fact, I want to do more of that. The same episode hadTauba, Tauba which was sung by Benny Dayal and composed by me.
4.That said, while not traditionally a ghazal, it leans towards a more melody-oriented composition. Do you think creating tunes, for the purpose of performing them on a platform such as a Coke Studio gave you that headroom, because they’re consumed in a live format?
I would have made such compositions anyway but Coke Studio did give me an opportunity of making music that would reach a larger audience. That's why I took the opportunity of making this song. I love ghazals, melodic, downtempo compositions. I haven't had too many opportunities but whenever I have got the chance, I have. Like O Megh with Shantanu Moitra in The Dewarists, as well as Khula de Rabb with Rabbi Shergill.
5.Last one, since we’re keeping these interviews short. How does it work, for you as a live performer, while making a setlist, and picking slower, more ballads into your performance? What is the thought process of something like that?
I arrange the setlist according to how I would like to spend 90 minutes at a concert. I like ebbs and flows in music, the curve going up and down. It does vary from concert to concert. Usually, I start with songs that are easy, loosen people up and throw in a peppy number for that swell. After that I would bring it down a notch on the curve, slower tempo. Once you start playing uptempo numbers then the party begins, there's no coming down. I do that sometimes as well. Throw in a slow, emotional curveball. But I usually like ending on a high.