Some time back, I had read an essay by Sarat Kumar Mohanty, one of the most prominent essayists of Odisha, about the crisis of talent in contemporary Odisha (this was most probably in late 90s or early 200s). He had argued how there has been a gradual decline in talent and experimentation from the 60s and 70s in all the areas of creativity—citing explicitly the example of a young Akshaya Mohanty cycling around Cuttack with new tunes on his lips.
For at least three decades—60s to 80s—Akshaya Mohanty stood for all that was new in Odia music. While there were other popular singers and composers—such as Prafulla kar and Bhikari Bal—anything that was innovative and experimentative emanated from the mind of Khoka Bhai, the way Mohanty was popularly called. His music combined the nativeness of Odissa in all its forms—folk, classical, or the newly emerging urban culture of Odisha—with inspiration from across the world—in form, style, and content. While Harry Belafonte’s There’s a hole in the bucket became a highly odia-ized Mathiare gote kana, Bachchan’s poem Laao laao piya nadiya se son machhari became Dhibara re anide anide mote suna Ilishi. In some others, he used khanti (pure) Odia content to try new forms. Such an experimentation is Odisha’s all time favorite Kanchi Abhijaaana.
For a long time, that experimentation has been missing. It is heartening to see there is some effort, of late. And not surprisingly, leading it from the front is Devdas Chhotray, one of the most prominent lyricists of the Akshaya era, whose other identities include a noted civil servant, educationist and writer. To most Odias, though, it would suffice to say that he wrote songs such as Paradesi bandhu tume, Kainchi kakudi nalita pita, Mate Saila Saila Nakara Guna, and Rupa Shagadire Suna Kania.
I first picked up an album called Maya Darpan a little more than a year back from Time N Sound in Bapuji Nagar, Bhubaneswar, a shop I religiously visit on each of my trip to Odisha. When I picked up the CD, what impressed me were both the idea and the guts. It was the poetry of Mayadhar Mansing, something that exhilerated (and to be honest, scandalized) us in our school days. No other poet who was considered a great by our parents generation had anything close to what Mansingh offered. I also felt the exprimentation was particularly adventurous, as both the composer, Om Prakash Mohanty and singer, Susmita Das were unknown names to me, though I must admit that I have hardly kept up with Odia music in the last two decades. “Devdas Chhotray presents” on the top of the cover was reassuring, though. But when I listened to it, I knew here was a classic. Unfortunately, none of my friends who listen to Odia music had heard about the album, let alone listening to it. I too could not find much in the usual places on the Internet to forward a link.
So, while I was appreciative, I was sceptical too about the continuation of that experimentation. That is, till a few months back, I picked up two more by the same trio—this time the lyricist being Devdas Chhotray himself. One called Hati Saja Kara, was taken from the name of a poem (and a book which I had happened to read) by Chhotray. The other, called Nua Luha Puruna Luha decribed itself as a collection of songs that were introspective and nostalgic—and which claimed that it was inspired by Ghazal and sufi poetry. And both these albums impressed again, though I would confess that I found the Nua Luha…to be a little heavier in terms of lyrics, with melody failing to catch up. That apart, all the three were great experimentation, largely successful. This time, I could get some info on the web about the composer and the artiste.
All the three are released by a label, Mitu’s Music, owned by singer Susmita. I wrote to her and got a prompt reply. The good news is that the songs are available in her website, susmitadas.in, and anyone can listen to these. By the way, some of them are available in Youtube as well such as Dekha hela kimpa from Maya Darpana and Hati saja kara from Hati Saja Kara.
Better news is that their experimentation continues and in the offing are two more albums: one, Rubaiyat of Omar Khaiyam, and two, some old radio songs of Akshaya Mohanty, which are no longer available.
I will surely post more on the topic, if I manage to speak to the trio in near future.
While with three albums out and two more in pipeline, this trio lead the experimentation wave, there are some other notable efforts as well. One is an album of Akshaya Mohanty’s unsung lyrics sung by an artiste Namrata Mohanty, called Deepa Jale Deepa Libhe, released again by the artiste’s own label, set to music by the same composer, Om Prakash Mohanty.
Another is recital of Sriradha, arguably the best long poem written in Odia in the last 50 years, by Rabi Satapathy, again released by some unknown label. This is an even bolder experimentation. And while Satapathy does a fairly good job, I would recommend it only to someone who has no other way of reading the poem. The voice is uniform throughout and surely the poem is not. Nevertheless, here I am talking of experimentation and am not into reviewing the work.
One last example I would like to cite would probably not fall in this category—as it is not really a creative experimentation but a commercial one—but nevertheless made me hopeful. It was a collection of children songs such as Jhool re hati jhool, Chaka chaka bhaunri, Dho re baya dho, Itikili mitikili, and Aa aa re bai chadhei. The songs were accompanied by some below average animation, but nevertheless, this is the only Odia CD that I have bought for my five year old son so far, though he has more than 100 CDs of Hindi and English cartoom movies, songs and so on. This, too was released by an unknown label with a Mumbai address. And since then, in each of my visit, I have inquired if there is a second one but unfortunately I have always heard a no.
On one hand, the wave of experimentation makes one hopeful and reassured. On the other, the fact that very little is known about these albums to people who would have loved to lap them up, makes one a little apprehensive. None of them are released by any of the major labels—neither the Saregamas and the Sonys, nor even the JEs and the Sarthaks. In case of Susmita, she admitted that their marketing has been anything but extraordinary.
I just hope that increasingly the new medium of web would be used creatively and effectively by both the artistes and the fans to reach out to the market that may just be waiting in San Francisco, Dallas, London, Bangalore or New Delhi. I promise to keep a watch.