Hot music on a cold Delhi night

On the 5th of January, 2012, The British Council, in association with Folktronic, organized a musical concert at its auditorium at Kasturba Gandhi Marg, Delhi. Renowned percussionist Bickram Ghosh, Assamese folk singer Angaraag Mahanta aka Papon and Scottish singer-songwriter Rachel Sermanni came together for ‘Troikala’, or art within a trio. The search for musical synergy in folk music transcended all borders and barriers.

It was a chilly evening in Delhi, when people prefer to sit indoors in the comfort of their rooms, but folks still came in large numbers to enjoy the evening. That is what this city is loved for. Bickram Ghosh is a world famous percussion star and is ranked among the great tabla players of India. Son of the great tabla maestro Pandit Shankar Ghosh, Bickram has also learnt the nuances of Carnatic percussion from Pandit S Sekhar. He has performed for over a decade with the legendary Pandit Ravi Shankar, and honed his skills in the art of accompaniment. He is not only brilliant with traditional music, but has also carved a niche as a new age artiste and composer. He has performed in almost every top venue in the world, including the Chicago Symphony Hall and the Royal Albert Hall, London and Carnegie Hall, New York. He played on the Grammy award winning album ‘Full Circle’ along with Pandit Ravi Shanker.His performances have always brought him accolades.

Papon is a singer, composer, programmer and producer born in Assam. He was born to great musicians, Archana and Khagen Mahanta. Having lived in the environment of music and musical performances, he was initiated into music at a very early age. He has not only been exposed to traditional vaishnavite music and Assamese folk music, but also new age electronica. His initial training has been in Indian classical and traditional music from Assam. From here, he evolved and experimented with ambient electronica, acoustic folk, electro-ghazals and new age Indi-classical sounds. He released his first album, ‘Jonaki Raati’, in Assamese. Papon has been invited to New Zealand for the Crossings Festival. Recently he sang a song, ‘Khulle Da Rab’ with Rabbi Shergill on the programme ‘Dewarists’, on Star World. The song made an immense impression with its lyrics and music.

Rachel Sermanni is a traditional Scottish musician. She is a young pretty girl, all of 20 years old. She is a songwriter and composer. Gen Austen accompanied the three on the piano and violin and Pampi on electronic guitar. The five some had great chemistry going on and ‘no physics’, in the words of Papon. The background of the stage had a beautiful design and colour.

The first song by Rachel was ‘Breathe Easy’. It was a song about swimming in the ocean, ‘Let me swim to the coast’. The second song, ‘What Is Waiting’, was written by Rachel in apprehension of what to expect while coming to India. She set her fears to rest, taking one step at a time. Papon infused it with Hindi lyrics, ‘Tan man mohan, shyam rasiya’. Bickram was playing on the tabla, octopad and a djembe-like drum, with ghungroo on his feet.
The third song was ‘Cry Of War’, again a composition by Rachel, to which Papon added an Assamese folk song on war. A girl’s brother is leaving for war, and she is sad and lonely. War has never been of any good to mankind and its senselessness was portrayed through the song. It ended on a cry of war. The next number called ‘Mann Bawara’, which Rachel pronounced quite accurately, despite Papon’s bantering, was a beautiful song where the singer is flying in the sky, through the clouds, through the windows of the houses. Papon contributed with the Hindi lyrics ‘Dekh raha, behek raha, neela gagan, badal ki or se’. The two portions of the song were beautifully blended. The next song was an Assamese folk song. It was a Sufi song called ‘Dine Dine’. The song said that man has been given a beautiful body which is degenerating every day, bit by bit. So do not spend your youth laughing and playing, and give meaning to your life. The next piece was ‘Peace’ (pun intended) by Gen on piano. The composition had such a melody that it evoked peace within oneself and outside with the environment. The beats of the composition were explained in a very interesting manner by Bickram. A train moves at 5 beats and when it nears a bridge, it moves at 4 beats, he said.
Papon sung the ‘Bihu’ next. ‘Bihu’ is a folk song from Assam and it is sung during spring when young girls and boys try to woo each other during the dance. With the blooming flowers and the mating birds, it is time for courtship. The song says ‘your house is this side and mine is on that side of the river, if I were a bird I would fly to you’. The concert ended with some informal jamming and singing by the group.

Rachel’s composition of songs was very touching and her voice very melodious. Gen and Pampi were great on their instruments. Papon’s voice is very powerful and very well-trained. The flavour of the folk music of Assam and his connection with the audience set the mood for the concert. Bickram was playing amazingly on the tabla and the drums. He was jamming the beats with his mouth and at one point, he created beats by hitting his cheeks. He is a true master of percussion. At the end of the concert, the audience were left asking for more.