Kalpana Patowary is an Indian folk singer hailing from the Northeast Indian state of Assam. She has carved a special niche for herself in the Bhojpuri music world and has played an influential role in reviving and promoting Bhojpuri music industry all over the world and bringing back traditional forms of music to the international stage. She gave Bhojpuri music a rebirth and is globally acclaimed for her ability to sing in more than 30 different languages!
TNT-The Northeast Today got in touch with Kalpana Patowary, the ‘Bhojpuri Melody Queen’ from Guwahati and delved deeper into her life, career and future aspirations. Here are excerpts from our interview with her:
TNT: Please tell us more about yourself- your background, schooling, family, hobbies, etc.
KALPANA: I was born in a lower middle class family near Barpeta Road, 120 km west of Guwahati, Assam. We are four sisters. My father a folk singer, AIR Guwahati artiste Shri Bipin ch Nath (retired Government servant) and mother Joymoti Patowary, retired from BSNL, India. I did my schooling from TC Girls high school, Guwahati and graduation in English literature from Cotton College, Guwahati.
Initially trained in Kamrupiya and Goalporiya lokgeet from my artiste father, my first public performance was when I was just 4 years old and was further trained by Dipen Roy and Shikha Dutta for Sangeet Bisharad in Hindustani Classical Music under Bhatkahande Sangeet Vishwavidyalaya, Lucknow. A disciple of legendary Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan, I am also a certified AIR Guwahati artiste and attained great inspiration by the bard of Brahmaputra Padma Vibhushan Dr Bhupen Hazarika.
TNT: Since when did you develop an interest in singing?
KALPANA: I did not start my musical career taking lessons like ‘Sa Re Ga Ma Pa’, neither with Harmonium nor with Tanpura. It reminds me of my mentor father, my early childhood ‘riyaaz’ and performances. My learning of music and riyaaz started with Dotora singing Kamrupiya and Goalporiya lokgeet. Both are two separate districts from Assam. And Dotora is one of the oldest instruments in the world. Its significance is to such a degree that it should be added to the list of “Masterpieces of the immaterial heritage of Assam”. I feel Dotora has a distinctive sound of mass appeal.
TNT: Please tell us about your first break in your singing career- when did you first come into the limelight?
KALPANA: It’s more of a journey than a particular break. I started performing publicly when I was 4.Then I started recording in All India Radio,Guwahati. After some time my first audio cassette released in 1993. It was in Assamese language. Assamese music industry found a Bold Husky texture in me, so for some time I sang all western tonal songs in albums as on Assamese films also. In every stage I was reinventing myself.
TNT: You are known as a renowned Bhojpuri singer. Why did you choose Bhojpuri over Assamesse language?
KALPANA: The truth is I never chose Bhojpuri. It is the other way. Bhojpuri chose me. Geographically I am from Assam, the Northeast India. Being an Assamese woman, from different generation it feels good as Bhojpuri happened to me out of my comfort zone. I am not related to the soil of Uttar Pradesh or Bihar. Normally, whenever someone gets recognized in any given field the subject is somehow related to its object directly or indirectly. But my case is rare. Here I feel the chosen one to reflect outside the box and correctly comprehend other’s cultures, practices and ways of life. ‘Bhojpuri Queen’, the term came from my fans and the media friends. Once there was an interview session happening in one particular channel…and the backdrop was like, “BHOJPURI QUEEN KALPANA PATOWARy”! that day I was reintroduced to myself.
I sing in 30 different languages. I just love to explore the whole world with different beliefs and cultural practices. I think my outlook goes beyond mere tolerating. My country India’s greatness lies in Secularism and through Art, Kalpana Patowary is also trying to sustain it.
I am the first non-Bhojpuri speaking singer who could present for the first time in Bhojpuri Music history an age old tradition of “Khadi Birha” folk tradition to International platforms like Mtv@CokeStudio, Nh7 Weekender,Blue Frog with world renowned musicians.
I am also the first woman to record and sing the Chhaprahiya Purvi style. “The day I decided that I was going to sing this Purvi folk form, being a woman I was challenged by my inner being. No woman had ever dared to sing this particular Chhaprahiya style of Purvi folk music as it demands a high octave range.” Without compromising on the conventional and traditional value of Chhaprahiya Purvi, I continued to add interesting innovations. Until I set foot on the scene, Purvi was a male preserve. But today Purvi is known as if I was the one to engender it. Devra Tudi Killi from album Pyar Ke Rog Bhayil released from T-Series was an experimentation to record it in a Female voice as it needs High octave vocal range to render. Years later the song became history.
TNT: Do you consider singing Assamese songs in future and returning back to your native place?
KALPANA: I never left Assam. It remains deep inside from where you really belong. Doing lots of traditional folk projects of Assam, ‘The Sacred Scriptures of Monikut’, Spiritual Brajavali hymns by 15th century Bhakti Movement poets of Assam, Mahapurush Srimanta Shankardeva and Madhavdeva, JIMO-CHHAYA which explores 5 different community languages namely Deuri, Tiwa, Missing, Sonowal featuring Bihu folk songs from Assam, SALAAM featuring Assamese JIKIR and Islamic prayer praising the Prophet, and Goalporiya lokgeet.
TNT: Please tell us about your achievements.
KALPNA: I got my share of name and fame from an unfamiliar direction. A woman born and raised in a rich cultural state of Assam, yet chose to follow the unconventional path to give 15 years of life towards the promotion and greater outreach of Bhojpuri-the colloquial language of India’s heartland Uttar Pradesh and Bihar is something I feel proud of.
I was honoured to present ‘Gangasnan’- the 19th century Bhojpuri litterateur Bhikhari Thakur’s incantations on mighty river Ganges during Indian Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Benaras banquet, 2015.
E Ganesh ke papa-a devotional song on Shiva stormed the whole of north Indian region in 2002 making me popular overnight.
My documented albums ‘The Legacy of Bhikhari Thakur’,’ the Anthology of Birha’(extinct roots and grammar of Birha folk tradition of Yadava cult from Uttar Pradesh), ‘The Sacred Scriptures of Monikut ‘(Spiritual Brajavali hymns by 15th century Bhakti Movement poets of Assam, Mahapurush Srimanta Shankardeva and Madhavdeva)’ Jimochhaya’ (explores 5 different community languages namely Deuri, Tiwa, Missing, Sonowal featuring Bihu folk songs from Assam) or’ Salaam’ (Islamic prayer praising the Prophet), the musical work has been vast and secular in its truest form.
Plucking and acquiring different folk philosophies of the human race I am lucky to master on various folk subjects as purvi, birha, pachra, nirgun, kabir, nautanki, fagua, kanwar bhajan, chhath geet, kajri, sohar, vivaah geet, bihu, mahout bondhu geet, ghoxa etc.
I have also collaborated with some renowned artists across the globe – percussionist Trilok Gurtu Germany, Roland Cabezas Hamburg, Phil Drummy Australia, Carlo Cantini, Johan Berby France, Jan Garbarek Norway in album Massical, released from BirdJam label Germany and with Father of Naga Folk Blues and Tribal National award winner Guru Ruben Mashangva in The Sacred Scriptures of Monikut.
I have playbacked in biggest bollywood hit of 2013 Gandi Baat from R…Rajkumar. I have also lent my voice for national award winning Hindi film Antardwand, Billu (Sharukh Khan), Aakrosh (Ajay Devgan), Khatta Meetha, Welcome, No Problem, De Dana Dan(Akshay Kumar), Stumped (Ravina Tendon), Sandhya (Jackie Shroff), etc.Latest Bollywood songs are Ajay Devgans Parched and Mahesh and Mukesh Bhatts Begum Jaan – an upcoming historical film of eleven prostitutes , music Anu Malik where Vidya Balan plays the protagonist.
I also acted as dalit woman in Bhojpuri feature film Chalat Musafir Moh Lio Re for which I received positive reviews. In 2013, I made an appearance in a documentary film,Bidesia in Bambai, a look at Mumbai through the lens of migrant worker and his music.
It was really beautiful to participate in various musical reality shows in Mahua channel as Celebrity Judge ie., Sur Sangram season 1 and 2, Suron ka Mahasangram and Nehle pe Dehla.
I have also sung and acted in a ‘bhajan’ composed by Bickram Ghosh in Gangaghat Varanasi for Bengali film Har Har Byomkesh, a tribute to father of Indian cinema legendary Satyajit Ray.
I also participated in reality show Junoon – Kuchh Kar Dikhaane Ka (2008) on NDTV Imagine presenting folk forms of three states Bihar, Assam and Uttar Pradesh.
My work in colloquial Bhojpuri language draws these students from American private research university to Mumbai in 2013.
The legacy of Bhikhari Thakur was released from EMI Virgin records London by Vice Prime Minister Mauritius Anil Bachoo and Arts and Cultural Minister Mookhesswur Choonee in Mantralaya, Mauritius.
Shot in cleanest village of Asia, Mawlynnong Meghalaya, my album Maaeri – a Lyrical conversation with Mother Nature received Certificate of Participation in 6th CMS Vatavaran, Environment and Wildlife Film Festival Forum 2011 New-Delhi and included in world Environment Calendar Biodiversity Category with Ministry of Environment and Forest, Government of India, Norwegian Embassy as principal partners.
Performed in prestigious festivals in India organized by the Art & Culture Dept like 1st Dashrat Manjhi Mahotsav Bihar Moradabad Mahotsav UP, Ang Mahotsav Munger Bihar, 15th Bodoland Accord Day Celebration Kokrajhar, Gorakhpur Festival UP, Tatapani Festival Chhatisgarh, Maa Mundeshwari Mahotsav Kaimur Bihar, Nagaland International Spring Festival Dimapur, Mohabahu Utsav Assam, Sonpur Mela Bihar, Ekta Mahotsav Ghuisarnathdham UP, North East Festival New Delhi, Taj Mahotsav Agra UP, MahaKumbh Mela Allahabad UP, 126th Birth Anniversary of Bhikhari Thakur Celebration Bihar, Ugratara Sanskritik Mahotsav Saharsa, Balia Mahotsav UP.
TNT: In how many other languages do you sing? How did you develop this knack for singing in different languages?
KALPANA: Well, at first let me express my gratitude to the Lord for giving me the opportunity to explore this planet Earth as an artiste, celebrating diversity and celebrating originality. Language – phonetics is my forte and sang in 30 provincial vernaculars of over 8000 songs , such as Assamese, Brajawali, Bengali, Bodo, Deuri, Mising, Sanskrit, Hindi, English, Bhojpuri, Maithili, Maghi, Angika, Oriya, Garo, Koch Rajbongshi, Tiwa, Kanadda, Telegu, Dongri, Marathi, Rajasthani, Punjabi, Hariyanvi, Arbi, Avadhi, Gujrati, Nepali, Sonowal Kochari and Bangladeshi
I just love to chase the Phonetics of each and every language and Boli. Every language has its own vibrations. I feel blessed to have been born in a country that speaks so many different languages and dialects.
TNT: What can we expect from you in future?
KALPANA: I am very excited to perform this year for India’s music festival Nh7 Weekender Shillong on October 22 and Paddy Fields music festival on October 16 with my band Dhruv Voyage. These are two-day event that will feature the best of Indian Folk and Fusion music.
TNT: Any message for future aspiring youths?
KALPANA: We have to see that the young generation be Creators and not Copycats. We have to stand in the global field retaining our traditional values and Sanskars. I feel the young generation should be trained to mould them up both in National and International platforms.
SOME IMPORTANT MILESTONES OF KALPANA PATOWARY:
Marked a historic moment exploring intersections between Bhojpuri Khadi Birha and African jazz music, the first to represent this Language in MTV Coke Studio season 4,2015.
Formed folk-fusion band DhruvVoyage with renowned guitarist Dhruv Ghanekar, promoting folk fusion to International platforms of Nh7 Weekender, Mtv Coke Studio, Blue Frog etc.
First woman to record Chhaprahiya Purvi folk style in 2004 which demands commendable high pitch vocal. Until then Purvi was a male preserve.
Blessed to be among the pioneers, building and transforming a small regional industry to full- fledged Bhojpuri- Cinema Music Industry serving with vocal art.
Bhojpuri album leapfrogged from Rs 35 price tag to 195 with EMI-Virgin Records releasing Bhikari Thakur internationally, quite unaccustomed where not many ventured.
Coming from a remote part of Northeast India to an unfamiliar direction of Bhojpuri male- preserve society was not smooth for Kalpana Patowary. Back in 2002, rural India did not appreciate woman singing outside household- territory. But she rebelled singing loud in her typical guttral voice nailing Womens Right to explore musical art. Her decade long service, contribution and proactive approach helped women from remote villages of Uttar Pradesh- Bihar to chase musical dreams growing in scope and recognition.
Kalpana has also conducted musical workshops and lectures in Trinidad with International artists coming together in 2014 and with students of Azim Premji University Bangalore in 2016.
She was also a four consecutive time winner of Bhojpuri Best Female Playback Singer Award 2016 in Dubai, 2015 in Mauritius, 2014 in Mumbai and 2013 in Lucknow UP including one received by the Bhojpuri Film and TV Welfare Association Lucknow Uttar Pradesh in 2008.
She also received nomination for the Best Playback Singer (Female) for Assamese film Ranangan in Prag Cine Award 2014 held in Bangalore, nomination for the Best Female Playback Singer in 12th Tele Cine Awards 2012, Kolkata West Bengal, nomination for the Best Song in Folk Category in Big Star IMA Awards 2011, Mumbai, nomination for Maharashtracha Favourite Kaun Peoples Choice Award 2010.
– Interviewed by Shweta Raj Kanwar for TNT- The Northeast Today