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In Conversation with Folk Activist and Singer Arupjyoti Baruah

In Conversation with Folk Activist and Singer Arupjyoti Baruah

Sentinel Digital Desk

Music for Change

Art, Culture and society are all basic human functions which are integral to human society. Mankind and art cannot function without each other, and instead, they supplement each other. Music, which is one of the most important expressions of art and culture, reflects and creates social conditions – including the factors that either facilitate or impede social change. It is a agreed fact that songs have always held a mirror to the world, reflecting the things going on around us. As such, it can be safely argued that music changes society like no other art form.

It is this very power of music that the young and dynamic folklorist and activist Arupjyoti Baruah wants to exploit. Born and brought up in a Satra in Pathshala of Barpeta district, Arupjyoti Baruah has been spearheading a movement in which he has been using music as a tool for social change. An artist who has been exposed to a variety of folk cultures from a very early age – from being raised amidst a strong Vaishnavite tradition at home to exploring Goalpariya traditions of his village and the neighbouring Baul traditions of Bangladesh and West Bengal, Arup is a strong believer in the healing and harnessing powers of music and culture, which, he believes, has the power to influence people – both positively and negatively. And as a person who believes in the importance of a healthy society, he has taken it up to himself to spearhead a movement aimed at creating a change in modern day society for the better.

Arupjyoti Barua is the frontman of the unique folk fusion ensemble, Cultivators – a unique band which is based on the ideologies of stalwarts like Mahapurush Shrimanta Shankardeva, Kalaguru Bishnu Rabha, Jyoti Prasad Aggarwala, Bharat Ratna Bhupen Hazarika. Talking about issues which are crucial for agrarian societies, the band also tries to attract the modern generation towards their traditional culture by adopting a unique blend between tradition and modernity in their songs. Their songs are heavily influenced by Goalpariya, Baul traditions as well as contemporary music. The band has successfully worked on various projects, including…………………….

Based on their success with using music as a tool for social change, the group has now embarked on an ambitious project called Gurumarg. The group has been travelling various regions across the State for this project..

The mélange team recently entered into a conversation with Arupjyoti Baruah to know more about his life and works. Following are excerpts.

  1. Please tell us about your childhood and growing up days.

Ans: I was born in a village named Bamakhata, Pathsala in Barpeta district of Assam. I was born to Jiten Baruah, my father, and Swarnalata Baruah, my mother. I did my initial schooling in a primary school in Bamkhata. And my high schooling was in Choukhaty High School. I completed my H.S in Patacharkuchi Vidyapeeth. After that I went to study Civil Engineering in Silchar's Mehrpur.

Since I was 3/4 years old, I realized the interest I had for music. It happened so that as I kept growing up the interest developed into hobby and transformed into passion. Being surrounded with music since childhood was as blissful. It was also very important as it helped in shaping me up as the person I am today. Since my childhood days we were brought up in a musically sound and enlightening environment. And I am eternally grateful for that initial exposure to music and culture which has shaped my entire life.

  1. How did you get interested in music?

Ans: My home, family and my greater home i.e. my village – its people and culture – all joined hands together to play a very important role in shaping up my life today. My village is very strong culturally and is the epicenter of a host of music forms. Our village is reputed for having prodigies of Naam, Biri Naam and local folk cultures. As such, music was a part and parcel of my home and family.

My first ever guru/teacher and inspiration was my father. He is a borgeet singer and he had a huge influence on all of us. He is a master player and had even accompanied Kalaguru Bishnu Prasad Rava during a school performance once. Maybe that is the reason why I am so inclined towards Borgeets. My great grandfather Jaduran Baruah was a 'Bayon' who was brought to form a Xatra in our village. So, I guess judging from my family background you will be able to understand my growing interest in music.

  1. What was your first major performance or break?

Ans: I am made out of everything that I have learned in my village and in my family. I may be repeating it, but it is what it is! As an outcome of growing interest in music, and regular involvement, in 2011, I released an album, Kanchanjangha. I believe that this album was a turning point in my life. This album was an outcome of my experiments based on Loka Sangeet.

  1. You are known to be a musician who sings for a cause. Almost all of your songs have some message for the welfare of the society. Please tell us more about your music and songs.

Ans: We live in a society of which we are a part. We are the reflection of this society and, at the same time, this society is also a reflection of us. So whatever we do or don't has an equal impact on this society.

Every human being is responsible for moulding it's own surrounding. Everyone of us should hold a sense of responsibility towards this greater home that we live in – the society. Like our behavior can influence our children, we also influence the society somewhere or the other. We owe it to our society. And if I am to solely speak as an artist, we should stay more responsible and sensitive towards giving back to our society. Because through our work, we reach out to the masses, which has the potential to influence people, both positively and/or negatively.

That is a 'power' and with power comes great responsibility. So being socially cautious and conscious is the root matter.

  1. You have a strong inclination towards Goalpariya folk and Baul music. How did your interest develop and how does it reflect in your songs.

Ans: It is not only these two folk traditions. In fact, any folk culture connects me to my soul because honestly, it is a reflection of the daily lives of a community. And it is the reality of the people. Folk music is the only kind of music which occurs without planning. Any folk music is deep seated to the culture of the community. And it is the reality of our lives. And anything that relates to life is what I relate to.

Baul has a different legend. It is independent of the illusionary manifestations of human beings and is the raw and realness of life. 'Nirmaya' is what I can say!

These songs are about the rawness of human emotions. A Baul's life is the inspiration of Baul music. And that is where I find the true meaning of life, and where I draw my true inspiration from to make my music. The soul of Baul Geet is completely transcendental. Baul philosophy of life is a pure take away of the soul.

  1. Please tell us about your band, Cultivators. How did you form the band and what is the motto of the band and its members? Please tell us about some of the songs.

Ans: The ideal culture and creativity of Mahapurush Shrimanta Shankardeva, Kalaguru Bishnu Rabha, Jyoti Prasad Aggarwala, Bharat Ratna Bhupen Hazarika and artists alike have strengthened the foundation of our community. Without those ideologies and principles, the journey of our music would be incomplete. Gradually, we began to realize the value of it, and I adopted these as I began my newfound research and journey of music in this city. I was upset with the chaos around us, which went on and on; hundreds of questions erupted in my mind and it compelled me to scream, to protest, to write - which was reflected in my music. The goal was simple - to build a healthy society where there was unity among citizens, there was sympathy, progress and understanding. I dreamt of a society where there would not be any hatred, racial discord, violence, murder or injustice!

At times, I lost my spirit. How long can an individual go on all by himself, who will listen to my music? I constantly hoped if the same could be realized by a few of us. The feeling of loneliness in this big city haunted me. I was depressed with so much of burden. As I was brought up in a rural environment, I was accustomed to work together along with my village folk in practicing the art and culture. I faced difficulty in adjusting to the city environment. I had gone haywire; I was not sure what I was doing! But thank god, I met a few friends who shared the same frequency of thoughts. The confidence gradually took a high, and thus, in 2016 "Cultivators" was born. We started thinking together, to express together; we learnt to shout and create a revolution through our music. Sometimes on the stage, sometimes on the street or inside a closed room.

Our goal is crystal clear. We want to get rid of darkness and bring in the era of light. We want to unmask the fake people. We want to expose the hollowness of our civilisation. We want to spread imbibe humanity among people. We want to open the doors to freedom. We want to take the labor class forward. We want to give them back their lost crown. We want to bring back the lost vision of independence. We do not want the wrong earth. We want people to get the value of their worth. We are always inspired by what Jyoti Prasad Aggarwala wrote: "We are the youngsters of the Brahmaputra, we are not afraid to die!"

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