A 86-year old blues singer passed away today

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By Mukherjee. P
NOVEMBER 5: My blues riff died a bit with his exit.

Each one of us has one blues moment in our lives. For some it would be a grandmother`s lullaby that permeates back into consciousness. For some it would be the shrill whistle of the train that brings back the bluesy feel in their urban heartless soundscape. For many in north-east of India and Bangladesh and Bengal and I am sure some other elsewhere, that moment of blues madness came when they encountered Bhupen Hazarika for the first time.

How would you otherwise explain a life that spans an assembly election victorty, a parliamentary election defeat, a playback recording for Jyotiprasad Agarwala`s Indramalati at the age of 12, a seminal study in Colombia University to look at the prospect of audio-visual techniques in the field of basic education, directing an interesting feature film Shakuntala in 1960, singing a range of borgeets and goalpariya folk with equal aplomb and when you think that this is all…he surprises you with a heart-breakingly direct english version of Old Man River.

Oh yes ! I forgot about the blues moment. Don`t look further..very recently in a film called Gandhi to Hitler (a Hindi film), the legend sang Narsi Mehta`s Vaishanava Jana to. Personally, I have never seen a song tinged with equal measures of bhakti and blues. The voice coaxes and cajoles the notes..turns the Gujarati grand-narrative into an Assemese milieu and yet there is a south Asian feel to the melody and the improvisation (mind you not the type that needlessly showcases..) was just enough to make you think that this is Miles Davis meets Sachin Dev Burman.

I am sure, we all have our list of Bhupen Hazarika favourites. Maybe Manush Masnusher jonyo or maybe Ganga or maybe the Rudaali soundtrack. Irrespective, of your choice or rejection dip into his range and look at the melancholy in his most vibrant songs.

In a factory line of one hit wonders and download heroes, between musicology theories and popular taste…one of the rare political voices is no more.

Hemanga Biswas, Kali Dasgupta has passed away, you do not get a Sahir, Maqdoom, Jan Nissar Akhtar to write lyrics any more…Kabir Suman fights with ill-health, the rest of India may not even know of a brilliant Tapta album called AFSPA, so-called marketed alternative bands are peddling mundane lyrics..the political inside the melody has never been so wafer thin…at this crossroad..Bhupen Hazarika passing away reminds us of the near-death of political music.

In some emergency ward somewhere in the country, political music is on a saline drip…breathlessly waiting to die…or to fade out…or to extinguish itself soundlessly..

Bhupen Hazarika`s passing away hastens the process.

It still aches.
It`s still the blues.
(P. Mukherjee is an alternative theatre director. He has written five books on theatre)

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