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Music is the Language of the Heart and Humanity

In an exclusive interview to MELANGE , Joi Barua, who is among the leading musicians of the country, talks about his music and what music can do to the world

Music is the Language of the Heart and Humanity

Sentinel Digital Desk

Great artists and musicians have the power to influence and transform thought processes of the common man. Sometimes the philosophy embedded in a piece of music becomes the veritable elixir and succour for a man or woman. Hence music and all works of art need to be created very responsibly. This is especially true for a country like ours that is ridden with so many conflicts and conflicting ideologies and need problem solving.

Please share your journey as a musician. How did you start as a child? What drew you to music?

I remember starting my journey as a musician quite early in life. My father had gifted me a toy violin when I was barely three years of age. I was mesmerized by it as it played like a real violin. My father taught me the first rudiments of scale and that's how I got going. After that I figured out that I could fiddle with the musical instrument and create small tunes on my own. However, I did realise that it was not an easy instrument, especially when compared to the harmonium that we had in our home. I grew up in Digboi as my father was posted in IOC. My first strong association with music actually happened when as a very young child I heard my father playing the violin. He used to play the violin in the evenings and nights in our house. The notes blended inexplicably (yet seamlessly) with the gushing winds from the forests (in the vicinity) and were mesmerizingly interspersed with the faraway howls and cacophony of jackals and wild birds. I distinctly remember that I felt transported to another world while hearing this- a world that went beyond my little world comprising of my home, school and Digboi town. I also distinctly remember that my father's music stirred that sensation in my heart which we all call emotion. In other words I experienced my first strong stirrings of emotion with music.

Actually I accidentally discovered my talent for singing when my sister pushed me into a singing competition when I was in Class 2. I sang 'Bachelor Boy' and it was a hit. My second inspiration for music came from the Principal of my school- Carmel School Digboi. When she discovered that I had a gift for singing she nurtured me. Since I was in a missionary school I remember singing Christian hymns. From the expressions of the people who heard me sing I realised that music has tremendous power to alleviate the mind and soul and evoke a range of emotions. Even as a child I started understanding that music strikes indelible and profound chords of emotions in all human beings and that many actually shy away from admitting this fact. The sense of unparalleled wonder that got ingrained in me for music has never left me.

As I got to college I was part of bands and sang mostly rock, blues and heavy metal. I actually have three distinctive genres –Assamese classic contemporary music, western classical and heavy rock. From Bhupen Hazarika to the Beatles I derived inspiration from several legends in terms of shaping my own brand and philosophy of music.

You are one person who truly believes that people should internalize their work. For you music is beyond passion and actually it would not be wrong to say that your music is you. Please share your thoughts on this.

Well it is indeed true that I internalize my work. I am very serious about my work which is my music. However, I am actually not very serious about life. For me music is the one thing that comes closest to God. It is that 'one thing' that comes closest to my interpretation of religion or spirituality and the awe-inspiring and inscrutable supernatural. According to me if any human being wants to do something good for another human or living being, music is the 'go to medium' for it has unparalleled power to do good. I believe that the artist becomes the art and the art becomes the artist.

Great artists and musicians have the power to influence and transform thought processes of the common man. Sometimes the philosophy embedded in a piece of music becomes the veritable elixir and succour for a man or woman.

Hence music and all works of art need to be created very responsibly. This is especially true for a country like ours that is ridden with so many conflicts and conflicting ideologies and need problem solving. The United States has produced some of its best music in the 60s and 70s that were essentially troubled times for them as a nation. The war was raging; there were unprecedented conversations around freedom of thought and identity and many other things. That was ironically the time when some of the best and most meaningful music was produced by the United States.

I believe that my music translates to a sense of identity and confidence for a person who is essentially a non-conformist. I consciously strive to create music that will give solace to people who have been /or are being shunned by the larger social order merely for being different.

Your music has recently made inroads into the very prestigious London Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra? Please share your feelings?

Well I have been working closely with my friend Dr Susan Lim for a few years, developing the ideas. Susan is Asia's first robotic surgeon. She is a genius, a visionary and someone who has tremendous empathy for the suffering and the lonely. We met in Singapore through music and she had a story that she wanted to narrate through music. That is how our journey started.

While we are working on the story heading to Broadway, sections of the music have been recorded for classical orchestra- Act 1 heading into London Symphony Orchestra and Act 2 heading into Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Talking about feelings I do feel deeply humbled to be doing any music especially music that carries a story forward. To see abstract ideas, scientific lexicons and synthetic DNA formulas being turned into musical notes and lyrics is an incredible feeling. The whole impact of this is yet to sink in. However, there is a quirky feeling that I am actually conscious of. I smile to myself when I think and realise that a classical art form that has undergone centuries of evolution is telling the story of tomorrow. I mean it is a sheer and true marvel that the musical methods and procedures that were developed maybe about 600 years ago are telling the stories of tomorrow.

Well the un-initiated readers are bound to wonder what this story is that formed the bedrock of my collaboration with Dr Susan Lim. I must reiterate here that music is an art form that connects across disciplines. The story here is all about companionship and how lonely people will/might have access to friends and companions and probably will cease to be lonely. The world at large and especially Asia is facing issues of loneliness. And Susan had very deep and profound ideas on why we (she and me) should be now working relentlessly to address and attack the core issues behind sadness, loneliness and depression. This was our common ground and broadly stated I lent my music to interpret her message. She is one person who wanted her writing, her education and background to benefit mankind on the plane of empathy and understanding. This truly goes beyond the physical situation of doctor. In my capacity as a musician, I feel privileged to be an instrumental component of her endeavour.

Please elaborate on your experiences while performing at Ladakh recently?

The whole Ladakh initiative has been a unique one. It is a beautiful example of what passions and conversations can lead to. I was with my friend Sushil and we were having a cup of tea at the International Tribal Film Festival at Arunachal. I had a concert the night before and Sushil whom I had not met in a while had greatly enjoyed and appreciated my performance.

Suddenly the whole conversation steered to Ladakh. Sushil has an ongoing association with Ladakh. I simply but sincerely asked him to take me there. He readily agreed and added that Rezang La is one place in Ladakh that I cannot afford to miss. Within three weeks time we were there and proposed a plan to the Military about a music festival at Leh to celebrate the spirit of Ladakh and the spirit of the entire Army Base. We also thought that we should dedicate something special at Rezang La in the memory of the war martyrs.

So the Ladakh experience has been essentially two things- the three day music festival at Leh that was a vibrant affair and had many scintillating performances from numerous bands across the country and the performance at Rezang La pass which is situated at 16,000 feet.

Performing in front of an entire contingent of the Indian Army at this steep altitude in the backdrop of the snow clad peaks where the battle had happened (in which 114 Indian soldiers had died while battling with Chinese troops) has been an unparalleled experience for me and my fellow musicians. The performance was staged at 11 am in the morning as we wanted many people to gather and feel and celebrate the cause. As we let of the national anthem and sang our songs, I did experience goosebumps. It was actually an experience that defies words. Casting my glance at the lofty peaks surrounding us, I was trying to aptly relay the essence of that heroic phase of military history through my performance. I did have a very uncanny yet assuring sense that the souls of the slain brave hearts were singing through me. This entire experience also made me very proud of my country's military legacy.

Do you think that music is the language of the heart and soul? Your thoughts please on the transcendental power of music

Music is really the language of the heart. It can be the language of humanity too. And I frankly think that this understanding has not dawned sufficiently upon the human race. Yes we have language and scripts for conversing and communicating. But many a time the communications (facilitated through these) fall flat. This is because there is no proper comprehension of what the other person/side wants. In short the transference of empathy is often missing in the most sophisticated and erudite forms of written and oral communication.

I really feel that if a society places enough emphasis on music many of its conflicts will resolve and people will be happier at an individual level. After all music is therapeutic and transcendental and lends immeasurable relief to troubled minds. It helps to resolve things within ourselves. Music is mediation and awareness in equal measures. And definitely by dint of this inherent attribute it has the power to calm individuals and make them better human beings.

Undoubtedly the other disciplines within humanities and the sciences have taken precedence over music today. However, music is still (and forever shall be) the first and most preferred 'sanctuary' in times of physical and psychological ailments and in periods of distress and stress.

I personally feel that music is a spiritual exercise and awakens the soul and the subconscious. It is sheer transcendence and therefore it is really high time now that society and the government start having many more serious conversations about what music can do. After all it has the power to better the lot of humanity. Music is intrinsic to the spiritual and psychological evolution of the human race.

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