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Amarnath Hazarika is a jazz musician from Shillong who is also the music director of national award winning film from Assam, Kothanodi. He has played and collaborated with several bands and musicians in Malaysia, the US and India across various genres – a lot of jazz, swing, funk and fusion, soul and reggae.
Currently playing with his trio called "Instinct"
He also plays the duitara (traditional Khasi instrument) and guitar in an experimental folk fusion project called "Rida and the The Musical Folk" He has also worked with some film makers in the NE region on short films and documentaries. The Berklee College of Music (Boston) alum speaks to Jessica from TNT-The Northeast Today about the journey and difficulties of making a name for himself in the music world.
TNT. How did you get into music directing and what can you tell us about the film?
AH. I've always been more into performing and improvisation. With my background in Composition, it was quite a natural progression to move on to scoring for films and visuals.
Apart from some commercial work, the first film I directed music for was a Khasi/English short film called "Ka Lad" by Purple House Productions in Shillong and it just took off from there.
TNT. What inspired you while making the music for the movie, was it hard to find the right direction in terms of what type of music, instruments and so on?
AH. Since the movie is based on "Burhi A'ir Xadhu", which is a compendium of traditional Assamese folk tales, it was clear that we needed music that was deeply rooted in Assamese culture. However, we did not limit ourselves to just the music of "Assam" as defined by present political borders, but we kept ourselves open to sounds and inspiration from the whole Northeastern region, including Myanmar, Tibet – The whole region in general. So it took a couple of months of research and archiving, which was a huge learning experience for me because I discovered a whole lot of music I wasn't exposed to before.
Once we established a clear direction however, the work went ahead fairly efficiently and quickly. A good working relationship with the director is also crucial to get good results and meet deadlines.
TNT. Where do you see yourself going from here? Do you have any interest in maybe venturing into making Bollywood music?
AH. I am currently performing and working with my trio "Instinct" as well as with "Rida and The Musical Folk", apart from teaching. I have always been versatile in my approach to music, and I enjoy new challenges, so if an interesting opportunity comes along to work on something – whether its Bollywood or anything else – I'd like to keep myself open to different possibilities.
TNT. Who has been your biggest musical inspiration?
AH. It would be difficult to name any one entity as my single "biggest" influence. We open up to so many different things as we evolve through our lives and careers. But some of the musicians who have definitely influenced my sound as a guitar player would be swing and jazz artists from the 20's through to the 70's like Django Reinhardt, Stephane Grappeli, Lennie Tristano, Miles Davis among many many others.
I have also been fortunate enough to have had some amazing teachers and mentors during my student years in Malaysia and in Boston for whom I am eternally grateful.
TNT. With your Jazz background, was it hard to embed your genre into this particular film which centers around Assam which has a lot of folk music?
AH. A film like Kothanodi, has such a distinctive flavour of its own, that it demands a certain kind of treatment. For me it was more a process of identifying exactly what the scenes needed, and figuring out how best to create the moods that were called for. I was looking to get out of my own comfort zone, to discover some new sounds and moods from folk traditions and innovate with them.
TNT. What would you say about the music scene in the Northeast? What would you say is the most unique thing about the music from the region?
AH. The music scene in my opinion, is actually pretty vibrant with a lot of great young talent throughout the region. I feel that our cultural heritage,coupled with the progressive spirit of our people are our biggest assets. There are young musicians from the region who received the right kind of exposure. Provided young talent is inculcated with a sense of maturity, they have the potential to be wonderful cultural ambassadors for the region.
The hardest part however, is creating the circumstances for artists to be able to sustain their work – But I feel optimistic about the prospects.
TNT. Do you think that music has become a viable career in the region or is it a must for musicians to move out to bigger cities to make a name for themselves?
AH. I don't think music is a viable career option in the region just yet. Most successful artists from the region depend on a network spanning the major cities across the country to make their work viable. Although it may not be necessary to move to the metros, it is essential to establish a network of working relationships with the right people across the country.
TNT. Musicians are generally paid very little here as compared to other parts of the country/world. People always want free tickets to shows not realising that the musicians need to get paid. How do we change this?
AH. People asking for free tickets is something that happens pretty often. But that's not so much of an issue.
I think we need to keep sight of the bigger picture and keep putting up exciting platforms and avenues for established artists and young talent to put out their work regardless. The fate of the music scene in the region is tied to the social and economic aspects of our society and also to tourism, connectivity and infrastructure. So there are a lot of factors in play.
TNT. Thank you Amarnath for speaking to TNT-The Northeast Today, we wish you the best in your future endeavours and hope to hear more good things from you.
(By Jessica Passah)