In all sincerity, I have been writing this piece inside my mind for over a month now. But I guess when a casual conversation leaves this everlasting an impression on your mind, it doesn’t matter how much time has passed. It’s not like the inspiration wears off or that the optimism wanes away.
In my defence of this candid preamble, I am referring to my conversation with Joi Barua, who has, by now gained the love and admiration of our people enough to make him a household name, and requires no introduction. A singer more by passion than by profession, Joi Barua is one of those people who have lived their life knowing exactly what they wanted to do, and have been fortunate enough to be actually doing it.
I first knew about Joi Barua as the voice that croons “Shining in the setting sun like a pearl upon the ocean…” in the popular number “Tera Hone Laga Hoon” from the movie Ajab Prem Ki Gajab Kahani. Turned out he is also the voice behind many, many more well-liked Bollywood numbers. On knowing that he has lent his voice in movies like DevD and Udaan, which have been an acoustic treat for everybody’s ears, I wondered why I had never paid heed to the name behind the voice. I found the answer when I talked to him.
What really struck me was just how easy it was to talk to Joi Barua. As easy as catching up with a friend on what’s new in the world. And one of the first things I got to know about him was how earnest he is when he says he doesn’t do it for the name; it doesn’t take you long to understand that he actually means it. Hence the lack of huge fanfare, until recently, when Asom suddenly woke up to Joi Barua with the release of his very first album, Joi: Looking Out The Window. In fact, for Asom, the year started with that album, as they witnessed Joi Barua performing a few songs from his album live, in a state-wide television news channel on New Years’ Eve. More than eager to know how Joi Barua came to be the way we know him, I wanted to learn it all, right from the beginning.
Joi Barua has been blessed with a family with music in their heart, and his childhood was infused with music. With an almost insatiable appetite for all sorts of music, Joi Barua was like a sponge, soaking in everything. Even if it meant waiting for a whole week to listen to western music on the radio each Sunday for just an hour. Right from then, he veered towards music which had soul; music, in which the “feel wasn’t compromised”, to quote his own words. Joi Barua had always known he wanted to do something to do with music, and the talent was honed by his father, who imbibed in him the principle of not being selfish when it came to music. His father imparted to him the belief that as a performing art, one’s music should cater to the soul of the audience; the priority being to try stir their emotions, and not self-gratification.
However, Joi Barua’s career hadn’t begun in music. On a momentous evening in Delhi, after having worked for about three years in various jobs his heart wasn’t in, he knew he couldn’t take it any longer, and decided to move to Mumbai, a decision in which he was helped and supported by Zubeen Garg, popular singer already well settled in Mumbai, and a good friend of Joi’s. He considers himself extremely lucky to have found work in his very first week in Mumbai, given that people struggle for years to even get a break in the City of Dreams. So he’d had it easy then, I commented, to which he had replied, “Maybe I had my share of tough times in Delhi?” His first work involved doing jingles, a field which is highly competitive and sought after. Jingles, is afterall, where all the experiments are done. Despite not being trained formally in music, or maybe because of it, Joi Barua’s unique voice stood out amidst others. Joi’s Barua’s voice has been heard in many jingles, for a multitude of brands including Nescafe, Horlicks, Barclays Bank, Vodafone and Kurl On. Joi Barua’s first break into mainstream Bollywood music came with the club remix of the popular song “Dekh Le” from Munna Bhai MBBS for music director Anu Malik. And since then, he has been working with various music directors like Amit Trivedi, Ram Sampath, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and Vishal-Shekhar, just to name a few.
Very recently, Joi Barua made name in the international scene on being invited at the first INK (Innovation and Knowledge) conference, a TED (Technology Entertainment and Design) affiliated multidisciplinary conference, as a Fellow. Considering how prestigious an honor it is to be recognized as a TED fellow, I wanted to know how it happened. Joi Barua went on to tell me how in reality he went to the conference twice. The first was when he had been attending the conference in lieu of his just deceased brother-in-law. A casual singing session post dinner created waves among everyone present there, and those waves carried Joi Barua’s name far and wide. To the extent, that he was invited to be a TED Fellow, and to perform in front of a stellar line-up of speakers and attendees like filmmaker James Cameron (of Titanic and Avatar fame), cartoonist Matt Groening (of The Simpsons fame)as well as Lynda Barry in the INK conference on December 12, 2010. Interestingly enough, while the audience would have related to any famous Bollywood number better, Joi Barua decided to follow his gut instinct, and performed the song “Tejimola” from his album Joi: Looking Out The Window, taking his biggest risk while doing so. The point, as Joi Barua puts it, wasn’t to impress, but to sing something close to heart. The song, based on a popular Assamese folklore, was immensely well received. So much, that Linda Barry came up to Joi Barua and complimented on how despite the language being unknown to her, she had been touched by the beauty of the song. In Joi Barua’s own words, “Language isn’t a barrier, the music will cut through”, and he believes that music always touches a raw nerve.
That Joi Barua’s music is all about the soul reflects in the album Joi-Looking Out The Window. The album, which is the outcome of the combined effort of Joi Barua himself, Pawan Rasaily (guitar and music programming), Manas Chowdhary (bass), Ibson Baruah (lyrics) and Abani Tanti (Producer), is a true echo of those very sentiments. While the very first thing that would strike you about the album is the refreshing variety among the eight songs that comprises the album, the next instant you would wonder about what goes behind making each song. On questioning him on those lines, what I got to know was that the origin of the song is the thought; the melody comes in tandem with the thought. The album is an infusion of different genres; from slow rock numbers to peppy, pop numbers, to soul to jazzy ones. What is intricately woven into the tapestry of variety however, is the essence of the music. The heart. The honest, sincere pathos. One just needs to listen to the songs to feel the pulsating, almost palpable emotions.
So did name and fame change anything for Joi Barua? Apparently not. “I’m still doing the same things”, he says. And it really is evident when you talk to him. When you talk to him, you realize that this is a person who is earnestly doing what he loves, and that, for him, success just means he does it in a greater dimension. Despite not having plans of returning to Asom, Joi Barua takes pride in the fact that his soul will always be Assamese. Rare it is to see someone with a vision that soars high in the sky, and yet has roots that stay firmly grounded. Fried Eye wishes nothing but the best for Joi Barua, and absolute success for his future ventures.
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