Indian, American musicians collaborate for song on Assamese icon

New Delhi, Jan 15 (IANS) Digboi-born musician Joi Barua, who has worked in Bollywood films like “Margarita With a Straw” and “Udaan”, has teamed up with American saxophonist George Brooks for a song titled “Rabha” – a tribute to Bishnu Prasad Rabha, a revolutionary figure and an icon of Assam.

“We (Barua and Brooks) met in 2014 while I was in San Francisco as part of the INK Trailblazers tour. He liked my music and I was definitely a fan of his. We wanted to work on some music together and since I had not been part of a collaboration before, it took me a while to decide what was the best way to take this forward,” Barua, who also has a band named Joi, told IANS.

“Thankfully, I was working on the idea of this story and a song with Bishnu Rabha as one of its protagonists. To represent the magnitude of Bishnu Rabha as a personality, I thought the best person to take it forward would be George Brooks with his brilliant saxophone virtuosity.

“I shared the idea with him, and he was very excited as well. This was his first step into the brilliant heritage of the northeast, especially Assam. What followed next was magic,” added the composer, who moved to Mumbai over a decade ago.

But he says it is not easy to forge a collaboration.

“To bring together two musicians from very different backgrounds of geography, demography, culture and ethos, and have them come to blend in beautifully into one song, always remains a challenge. Hence, this one took a little time for me. It took about eight months,” he said.

Nevertheless, he enjoyed working with Brooks, whom he considers to be a great musician with a deep understanding of Indian culture and traditions.

“He has played with some of the biggest musicians of the west as well as India. His body of work stretches from a John McLaughlin to a Zakir Hussain. So, I guess it was a realm he had been exposed to before,” said Barua, also a singer, whose previous work has been mostly rock and contemporary music.

With the new song, which will be a part of an album called “PRIDE”, he has ventured into the fusion genre.

“I feel the saxophone as an instrument will always hint loudly of jazz. Hence, the unmistakable feel of jazz here too. But the challenge was to retain a contemporary flavour, so that the listener is able to retain the melody. That is what we worked towards. And for the first time, we have worked around a historical legend. Hence, the responsibility was greater.

“The Rabhas are Assamese ethnic people. To take a story of their greatest legend forward, to blend history with the contemporary, to have Ibson Lal Baruah pen moving lyrics keeping in mind Bishnu Rabha’s simplicity – these were all different challenges. And lastly, to work on a video, which brings all of these individual efforts to a visual perspective, these were challenges I had never experienced before,” said the composer.

It might be his first collaboration, but certainly not the last.

“I am working with one of the foremost producers of world music, Pops Mohamed from South Africa. He is a multi-level instrumentalist himself and has deep rooted understanding of the nuances of their folk and tribal music. I have tremendous regard for him.

“He has produced the music around my composition with instrumentation and voice,” shared Barua.

Leave a Reply