In Conversation with Eminent Music Director and Accordion player Anupam Choudhury
The galaxy of Assamese musicians and performers is filled with numerous stars who have mesmerized generations together through their evergreen songs and compositions. One such eminent virtuoso in our midst is none other than music director Anupam Choudhury, a person who has proved his versatility as a musician and a music director. a master Accordion player of the Assamese music industry, his life is nothing less than a romantic saga of a man with his musical instrument. He had to undergo a lot of struggles to master the instrument with which he shares, as he says, “an eternal love story”.
A recipient of the prestigious Silpi Bota Award of the Assam Government, Anupam Choudhury is a prominent name in the Assamese music industry, having worked closely with Assamese films as a music composer and director. He has directed the music for Assamese films like ‘Kazirangar Kahini’, directed by Samarendra Narayan Dev, ‘Surya Grahan’, directed by Jones Mahalia (not released), ‘Kanaklata’, directed by Shri Dilip Deka and Smt Kuntala Deka, and ‘Ai Mor Janame’, directed by Shri Nip Barua. It may be mentioned here that Smt Sangita Kakaty, who lent her voice for the film, ‘Aei mor Janame Janame’ was adjudged the best female playback singer for the year 1988 by EIMPA.
He has scored and arranged music for more than 200 commercial discs, audio cassettes and audio CDs, including recordings of Bia Naam, Lok Geet, modern songs, etc. He has scored and provided music arrangements for the super hit Assamese audio cassette, Sowarani, volume 1 and volume 2. He has also composed songs for famous Indian artists like Vani Jairam, Arati Mukherjee, Indrani Sen, Mandira Lahiri, Khagen Mahanta, Dipen Barua, Pulak Banerjee, etc. Even in television serials, he has scored and composed music for telefilms and serials like ‘Trikal’, ‘The Gateway’, ‘Lily O Lily’, ‘Nirmali Das’, etc.
Choudhury has also been associated with various music programs of All India Radio since 1968. Associated with AIR as music composer since 1988, he has been producing a good number of special programmes of Assamese modern songs, most of which have been sung by noted artists, for AIR.
In a recent discussion with melange, the eminent music director talks about his journey in the world of music. Following are excerpts.
- Please tell us about your childhood and how you got interested in the field of music.
Ans: I was born in Jorhat in 1947 as my father was posted there. We used to stay in Borbheta area of Jorhat. I was the eldest of four children although all of them have passed away now. My father Hemanta Das worked in the government while my mother, Putoli Das, was a housewife.
My mother had a strong inclination towards music and also received formal training in music as a child. She used to sing Borgeet really very well. So I guess I got interested in music right from the time I was in her womb. When she used to hum popular songs and feed me, this interest in music got even stronger. So I always regard my mother as my first musical guru. The mission compound was located next to our house and many missionaries and Britishers used to stay near us. In the evenings, I used to hear a beautiful melody and sometimes I used to see our neighbors play a black instrument after hanging it on their necks. My father told me that the instrument was called the accordion. It was love at first sight.
I then went to Dibrugarh where my father admitted me to Little Flower School. The sisters used to play the piano while looking at music charts. That was the first time I learned about staff notation and unknowingly my interest in music became deeper. Around that time, my father was posted to Umtu and we had to come back to Guwahati where I took admission in Sonaram High School.
Paschim Guwahati Bihu Xanmilan in Sonaram field. A lot of personalities used to come, even Pt Jawaharlal Nehru came once to see the festival. Once Rajeswar Bordoloi came to perform at the Bihu and news of his performance spread many days ago. He used to work in Assam House, Kolkata and I was really very eager to watch him perform. Around 9 pm on the night of his performance, he took the stage with his band members and I was left astounded after watching his performance. I fell in love with the accordion and that love story had continued till this day of my life. I came back home and began pressuring my parents to buy me an accordion. After a lot of pressurization, when I was in Class 8, my father bought me a small second-hand accordion from a father of Don Bosco School. I was overjoyed and would play the instrument the whole day long.
- When did you decide to go to Kolkata to take further training?
Ans: Once a well-known musician Johnny Joseph watched me perform and said that I should go to Kolkata for further training. After my matriculation, I pressurized my parents a lot to send me to Kolkata. So along with a young teacher of our school, I finally went to Kolkata where I was supposed to take admission first in a college and then scout for a music teacher. But the situation was very difficult in Kolkata as all the colleges refused to give me admission. The days passed quickly and my teacher had to go back to Guwahati as the holidays were over. But since I had come to Kolkata to struggle, I had to brace up for further struggles. It was the first time I came out from Guwahati and I soon fell sick out of despair and homesickness. Once, out of sheer hopelessness, I played the accordion in my hotel room all alone. Hearing me play, four youths came up to my room and enquired who I was and what I was doing. That was a turning point for me. They offered to get me admission in the college stream of a premier college of Kolkata and also got me admitted to the college hostel. In the hostel, everyone became friends with me because I used to play the accordion in front of them!
By that time, one of our relatives who stayed in Kolkata came to meet me in our hostel. I told him that I wanted to learn under Mukul Das, a famous accordion player who learnt at the London School of Accordion, and asked him for his help. My relative said he did not know Mukul Das and took me to Bulu da (Rajeswar Bordoloi) instead. Bulu da was astonished to know that I came all the way to Kolkata just to learn the accordion. He took me under his tutelage and I used to go to learn under him. At the same time, as luck would have had it, I somehow got a link to Mukul Das and also got admitted under him. Under his tutelage, I met students of the accordion from all over the country. So I continued to learn from both teachers simultaneously. However, I could not do much in the academic front and came back to Guwahati where I graduated from Commerce College.
- What was the difference learning from both?
Ans: By learning from Rajeswar Bordoloi, I got the chance to perform with him at churches and venues like the Swimming Club of Calcutta. He used to play the piano and I used to play the accordion. I learned vital lesions like how to choral, tenor, bass, etc during those sessions. On the other hand, Mukul Das’s course was very rigid and I really saw the light of the day during those classes with him. To give you an example, he would make us immerse our hands in very cold water for five minutes after which he would let us play. When our hands would become numb, he would make us play our notes. His belief was that if we could play well in bad conditions, we would be able to perform far better in suitable conditions!!
- How did you form Sangitika and score music for films?
Ans: Once I came to Guwahati, a few learners came to learn whatever I had learned in Kolkata. So we formed a small ground, Sangitika and performed in different venues. After a while, I became more interested in music production and arranging. By that time, HMV had set up a temporary studio in Guwahati. We used to go to the studio and play for recording sessions there. After watching me, my father gave me the offer to compose the music for a film. My father, although he was an engineer, used to study films a lot and had also written the script for a movie. He had written a script on the poaching nexus in Kaziranga and so we set out to do the film and I was asked to don the role of a music director. That was my first stint as a music director in a film.
- When did you get into radio and please tell us about some of your major productions there?
Ans: I was working as a casual staff of All India Radio after I came back from Kolkata but finally got appointed as a music composer in the year 1988. During my career in AIR, I produced a number of songs of modern Assamese songs, all of which were sung by popular singers of the State. I was a member of the science serial, Bigyanar Padhati, produced by AIR and sponsored by NCSTC. I set to tune and produced seven poems of Jyoti Prasad Agarwalla and also produced 10 Assamese adaptations of Nazrul Geeti. A very remarkable work that I did in All India Radio was the composing and production of a special thematic orchestral composition, entitled Swarnahvan (The Golden Call) on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of India’s independence from AIR, Guwahati. This orchestral composition was an entry for the Deutsche Welle World Music Award competition.
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