ICONS OF ASSAM is a segment created entirely to honour and bring into light the works and achievements of the gems of Assam in the music field through exclusive interviews. Starting off , it was only befitting that we featured one of the most notable and acclaimed musician of the state Mr Kalyan Baruah. The virtsuoso guitarist and multi-instrumentalist has brought countless laurels to the state and has played with numerous music icons of the country throughout the years. We caught up with the man himself to know more about his story.
Welcome to Anylouder Kalyan Da. How have you been ?
Hey Ashiqur…. Finally we get to speak…Yes. Yes. I have been good…Thank you !
Tell us a bit about your musical upbringing . How did your infatuation with the guitar happen ?
Well. I grew up living in different towns of Assam as my father had a transferable job.Often I spent time alone by myself. And I used wander around listening to the sounds in my natural surroundings. For example, I would stop and listen to the music of the tea gardens drifting in the air in the evening and would be fascinated with those songs, the sound of a radio playing songs in the neighbour’s house in the afternoon was a treat. When we lived in Majuli the sounds of Doba in the evening would mesmerize me.I used to go and see the Raas at the Xotros as my sister used to sing for the Raas or sometimes the sound of a Naoria singing while fishing would amaze me. All these experiences had an impact on me and helped to develop my senses towards Music.Later when I lived in Sivsagar for a while i joined a music school and enrolled to learn Tabla. That time it was the only instrument that they were teaching. One day someone from my neighbor showed me a guitar and he strummed the horribly tuned strings!! Well that was it. I heard the magical sound of an acoustic guitar and I knew then..this is it…this is what I want to play..!!
Tell us a bit about your association with Late Loknath Subba . Your Cotton College days were pretty creative i guess ?
Yes to continue the story of my fascination for Guitar…. when I came to Guwahati i was gifted 150 rupees by my brother Biraj to buy a guitar. My late bother -in-law Indra Bania bought a guitar from Shillong with the help of Bhupen Da (Bhupen Uzir). Equipped with my own guitar I landed up at a school somewhere in Guwahati on a Sunday morning wearing white shoes and socks. I saw everyone had their Guitars on their lap and was wondering what the hell was that all about. Though it was very in thing to play Hawaiian guitar that time. I surely wasn’t in the mood for learNing that style of guitar playing at that point of time. So I left and was feeling hopeless. That’s the time Loknath Subba came to rescue me..!! Bhindow ( bother-in-law ) was an active member of the famous theater/cultural club called Aikyatan at Pub Sarania…Pabitra da..(Late Pabitra Kumar Deka, writer/journalist) ran a music school on Sunday mornings…So I went there to learn from Loknath Subba. and the.moment I saw the students and Subba playing at the school, I knew I have come to the right place. So that’s how I began. I’m forever grateful to Aikyatan and Pabitra Deka for not charging a penny for my classes…
After that I went to Cotton College ! A whole new world opened up for me. To be able to play guitar was a cool thing as you would get socially accepted and anyone (specially of female kind )had anything to do with music would know you and call you to play with them during the College week festivals and so that was nice. And I used to be busy but don’t know how creative was that at that point of time. But it exposed me to the technicalities of playing different genres of music. That was when I was asked to join Friends with my friend Late Dhruba Sharma. And my exposure to the western music world began…Spent many hours playing practicing the electric Guitar, touring gigging all over the Northeast.
How did Moonwind happen ? How was the thought process back in the 80s with Sumon Dutta , you and the other band members on taking the music of a band forward ?
Besides Friends, I used to regularly jam with Suman and his brother Eamon. They were doing acoustic guitar music with lots of Vocal harmonies which I used to like…I even played keyboards with them for couple of occasions… We also recorded few covers like CSNY, Eagles etc. as a demo….Eamon wanted to take the band to Mood Indigo at IIT Mumbai and turned the Band into a electric band with drums/Bass etc.…So we called ourselves Moonwind..And went to Mood indigo, IITMumbai. That was in 1986. As far as the thought process went…I was pretty much into doing music full time then and was serious about lots of things like kind of songs we should play . Rest of the band members had different goals, like I did. so sometimes I did things looking at my career in music point of view…they did from their point of view. Sometimes we agreed sometimes we didn’t. But it was fun all the way..
Doing a job for a corporate biggie like Wrangler and tgen leaving it to pursue music fully . Was that one of the most critical decision to make in your life ?
Nah…that was the easiest thing. I mean leaving a job. Like any other Asamese boy, I too , was under lot of pressure from family, society, to get a job. As everyone , then, was convinced that I will not be able to survive just by doing music. So to shut all that, I got a job. In fact two jobs. First, with a co called network India limited and then Wrangler. I worked against my will…!! I hated it. But looking back at it now.. I realized that it was important for me to work at that time as it made me more determined to do something in life. That you love the most..!! I knew what’s good for me and what’s not..!!I believe everyone should do ,what you love..
The transition from being an independent musician to the Bollywood mainstream must have been something totally different. Take us through your intial years in Bollywood ?
At that point of time. There was no Bollywood..!! It was Hindi film songs and the advertising industry and lots of Bands playing live. I never thought of being part of the Film Song Recording Industry then. I was working regualrly in the Advertising Industry,independent music albums like Lucky Ali, KK, Salim Merchant, Toufique Quershi, Dinshaw Sanjana and many others as a session musician/producer and was playing live with bands like Blue genes, Sound Advice with Merlin D’Souza on Pianos and Vivian Pocha on vocals as well as my own bands around all the clubs in Mumbai.
Well, the Hindi films recording scenes happened much later. I could see that lots of well known Musicians form the genres of western music from the Mumbai were turning their heads towards the Hindi films music industry and contributing to write some really great music. So one day I accepted one of those calls to go play for a Film recording sessions and never looked back after that. It was lots of fun working with guys like Salim Suleiman, Vishal Shekhar , Pritam and many others as they were also my friends from the advertising industry. It was good to be part of Bollywood to help create some sensible music , rather than being outside and bitching about it. And goes without saying money was good too At least I could buy the gears that I always wanted.
It wasn’t that easy in the beginning being alone in Mumbai, coming from a small town to a Big city like Mumbai was a giant step for me…But Mumbai is a city that appreciates talent and would welcome and reward you from wherever you are….Its such an amazing place..! Also, I feel proud of the fact that I was able curve out the first path to Mumbai as a professional doing only Music. It gives me immense pleasure to see, so many guys from Assam doing music here in Mumbai. It’s a super highway of Musicians flowing out of Northeast.
Everyone has his or her own style of working. For me it is important to understand the person that you are working, for hours , days and years..!! Making music together comes from bouncing off each other’s personalities and their experience in life. I spent years ,hanging with Lucky knowing each other on a personal level, travelling…recording. And the same thing goes for KK…we are together for almost 20 years now and still continuing..!! Everyday with these guys is fun and never ever feels like work..!! It s one big Family..!!
What are some of the things you miss about home ? What do you think are the perks and cons of being constantly on the move ?
First of course is home food..!! I miss being away from my family, children..!! But then the call of the the road is so strong…I kind of ,tend to forget about everything else while I travel. Probably I shouldn’t…
Its awesome to meet people and play for them and get their instant reaction of appreciation or hate…Any practicing , any form of music, should be performed live in front of an audience because that’s what we are traditionally meant to do. I try to keep, more or less, an equal balance between a studio life and live performance.
More than 3 decades of playing the guitar . What are the good changes that you have seen in the independent music scene throughout the years? Why do you think our bands back home , even after bring so good , fail to make it big outside ?
Have seen lots of changes…. now a days there are so much more platforms for exposure…Musicians these day are more aware of the world and technically brilliant too…., in the Indie music scene, bands are writing songs in a language that represent their own zone , culture and country…it’s a good thing to write music in their own language ,,rather then faking an accent from Texas..!! Because its who we are..!!
As far as bands from back home concerned ,they need to be more consistent with their effort to make it big…things don’t happen overnight…you need to give yourself enough time to keep trying for sometime..! In spite of all that….So happy to see that , there are so many bands , artists from back home doing so well in the national/international level.
Tell us about your gears . Any new endorsements ?
I have been always playing a fender strat…though over the years I have accumulated few other guitars…For sessions I use a Fender American Deluxe and Gibson ES336 (thanks to Gibson, India)..mainly…I haveteles, a very old Ibanze Scoield model, Fender US Standard, I have been using Taylor 614 ce and 514ce, Gibson j45, Martin GPCPA4 rosewood, Talkamine, and custom made guitar in my name by a company called Kepma, Another one by Alberto from Mumbai, and Hand Made Nylon string Guitars..
For amps I have been endorsing this little Polish amp called Taurus..
Also have mesa boogie,and another amp called Blu guitar by Thomas blug from Germany.
For Pedals….it kind of keeps changing…Until recently…I have been using just an overdrive pedal and a tuner between the guitar and the amp….I have always loved it that way….thats the purest oraganic tone of an Electric Guitar…but two pedals that I always have are the Sans Amp Tri OD which is a discontinued model and the lehle Sunday Driver…delays for studio as wellas live , I use the eventide, lexicon reverb, and OCD for overdrive with Sennheiser wirelss system.
Over the years I have gone thru host of different gears to elaborate to mention here…..
For pedal board I use Holey Board by chemistry design, and also pedal train.
Decline in good Assamese OSTs . What do you attribute its downfall to ?
Guess everyone is looking for instant success…even the listeners want a quick listening. Anyone and everyone who is remotely talented want to be a star today. One needs to put in some good amount of time and effort intellectually and otherwise ,to write music that will have an impact.
One Indian guitarist and one international guitarist you would love to share stage with ?
Really haven’t thought about that….I admire everyone with their tastefully crafted skill and art..
A sneak peek into your future projects . Can we expect a Moonwind reunion show sometime in the future ?
Besides the sessions and Song Productions that I do almost everyday…I am composing music on an Assamese Film Project ,Planning and jamming on ideas on a single with KK, another project in the pipeline is with Lucky with his World Tour. Also in the process of producing some songs for some very young talented songwriters from Mumbai.
Advice for young budding guitarists.
Never stop spending time with your instrument…More you play more you know…Also remember a guitar in your hand is an extension of your thoughts inside ….so play what you feel in your heart..
Thank you Kalyan da for your time. Leave a message for your fans .
Thank you Ashiqur, for giving me an opportunity to talk about a few things and for the fans all I have to say is ( even though its clichéd)
Follow your dreams and know for sure that one day it will come true.Love, Kalyan Baruah
By: Ashiqur Rohman