Concert review: Papon and The East India Company entertain with Indian folk, ballads and Bollywood songs

Papon & The East India Company at Kalaa Utsavam.
Papon & The East India Company at Kalaa Utsavam. PHOTO: ESPLANADE-THEATRES ON THE BAY

Esplanade Concert Hall

Last Friday

It was far from a full house and it was the first thing Indian composer-producer-singer Papon noticed when he arrived on stage.

“There could have been more people...,” he said before getting on with the show with his band, the East India Company.

And the audience cheered from the word go, for good reason.

Born in the north-eastern Indian state of Assam, Papon is trained in Indian classical and traditional Assamese music. 

His training showed as he took the crowd on an unforgettable ride through the diverse worlds of Indian folk – mostly from his home state – together with ghazals or ballads and Bollywood songs.

Hailed as among India’s powerful new music voices, his unique blend of musical notes and the unusual sounds he has been creating with his band have been getting rave  reviews for their freshness.

Freshness is what he brought to the stage, both in terms of presentation and in the mix of the repertoire. He took pains to explain the context of many of the songs and had entertaining back stories for some of the folk songs or the ones he used to serenade girls during his college days.

Sitting in the Esplanade Concert Hall, for the first time in this venue, I felt I was in the comfort of my own home in the company of a friend I was meeting after a long time.

There was nothing put-on or laboured in the concert that extended well past its allocated 90 minutes. 

Eventually someone showed up on stage to tell Papon he was well over his 90 minutes. He clearly feels the music and likes to go with the flow, uninhibited by the trappings of time. 

The way he connects with his listeners is worthy of emulation. Even his introduction to his growing body of work in Bollywood was endearing.

“I also sing for a big set-up in India called Bollywood,” he said to much laughter before putting on his shades to achieve the full rock star effect.

It was sheer delight to hear some of his signature soothing numbers, particularly Kyon Na Hum Tum (Why Not You & I) from the 2012 comedy-drama Barfi!, starring  actor Ranbir Kapoor as the lead character Barfi.

Rooted in the rich folk traditions of India, Papon’s soothing and sometimes edgy music charms audiences.

By the end of the night, he had the fully entertained crowd on their feet with his rendition of a joyous folk song that is often used for the popular Assamese Bihu folk dance.

It was absolutely delightful to watch the Assamese in the audience move closer to the stage, at Papon’s prodding, to bring alive a dance form known for its joyous brisk dance steps and elegant hand movements.

As the audience did the Bihu, it was apparent that music transcends all boundaries and appeals even to those who may not comprehend the lyrics.

Between ghazals, Bollywood and music rooted in the very traditions of India, Papon and the East India Company completely nailed it