Kalpana Patowary is a hugely popular film playback and folk Singer from Sorbhog, Barpeta, Assam. She is a disciple of the great Ustad Gulam Mustafa Khan and much-influenced by the bard of Brahmaputra, Bhupen Hazarika. Kalpana is the first-ever Indian female singer to sing and record the Chhapriya vocal style of Purvi folk music, till then a preserve of closed male dominated circles. She sings in 30 different languages but interestingly, Bhojpuri music is her forte, where she is undisputedly the best-selling artiste of the Bhojpuri cinema.
A musical prodigy she trained in Kamrupiya and Goalporiya Assamese Folk Music under her loving father Sri Bipin Patowary - a distinguished Folk Singer himself, honing her incredible 5-octave voice and mastering various forms of Bhojpuri Traditional and Folk, ranging from Purvi, Pachra, Kajri, Sohar, Vivaah, Geet, Chaitra, Nautanki, etc.
Kalpana is a graduate in English Literature from Cotton College, Assam and Visharad in Indian Classical Music from Bhatkhande Music Institute University, Lucknow. She started performing at the age of four holding on to her father’s hand. Since then she has been a regular feature at the Doordarshan Kendra in Guwahati, Assam, as well as a regular artist on All India Radio (AIR) Yuba Bani in Guwahati, Assam from 1992.
She came to Mumbai in 2001, initially singing jingles and remixes. In 2003 she cut an album for T-Series, Gawanwa Leja Rajaji, which went on to become the biggest selling album of the year. The 2005 super-hit Bhojpuri film, Sasura Bada Paisawala, helped Kalpana to establish herself in the Bhojpuri film industry and she has not looked backed since then. In 2008, her participation in the reality show, Junoon - Kuchh Kar Dikhaane Ka, on NDTV Imagine, brought her into the national limelight.
Besides delivering hit Bhojpuri songs, Kalpana, with her raw-powerful voice she has also been carving a niche for herself in Bollywood, having rendered her voice in Hindi in a number of Bollywood films including Welcome, Billu, Begum Jaan and R. Rajkumar.
In 2012 Kalpana Potawary was signed by EMI/Virgin, UK, to record her album, The Legacy Of Bhikhari Thakur, which pays tribute to Bhikhari Thakur, the legendary Indian Playwright, Lyricist, Actor, Folk Dancer, Folk Singer and Social Activist, also known as The Shakespeare Of Bhojpuri. The album is based on the theme of migration and separation of families due to male family members leaving home to earn a living, a recurrent theme in Bhojpuri music. There’s a large Diaspora of migrants from Bihar and UP not only within India but also around the world. To her credit the album was nominated for the ‘Best Folk Album’ in the non-film music category at the Global Indian Music Academy (GIMA) awards during 2013.
Kalpana has peformed at the MTV Coke Studio during 2014–2015 demonstrating the age-old traditions of Khadi Birha, besides various stages in India and abroad promoting Folk and Bhojpuri music on international platforms. In May Kalpana performed for the Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the inauguration of the Dhola-Sadiya bridge, India’s longest, which was named after legendary Assamese singer Bhupen Hazarika. She has won numerous State and film awards and performed across the world including Europe, the Caribbean Islands, UK, US and South America.
Following are excerpts from an exclusive interview with Kalpana Patowary, in which the acclaimed singer speaks to Pradeep Joseph, about her Bhojpuri connect, folk music and her musical journey:
How do you like being called the Bhojpuri Queen?
Actually in the very first place “I am not a Bihari from Bihar” but the most-interesting thing is that, “the people of Bihar are in my heart and I am in their heart”…“Bihar ke log mere Kalpana ke prem mein hai and Kalpana bhi Bihar ke prem mein hai”,
But the physical thing and the geographically thing is not there…the Culture of Bihar from the yester-year Patika, Ambika, Maithali are the existing forms. Maithli is the Spiritual (Pavitra) form, I gained all experience as I continued working with the Bhopuri world. I wanted to sing for the Purvanchal gayaki – but - I am from Assam from Uttar Purvanchal.
When I commenced working on Bhopuri music, it neither happened in Bihar nor in Uttar Pradesh but in Mumbai…I started doing shows I started interacting with the actual Bihar and Biharis - they approached me as Rani Rani Rani so I wondered what they meant by Rani?
In the village on one hand it was so very good musicians and singers who were singing Bhajans and Kirtans and on the other hand the others who delivered the hard-core Femininity in them rendering their Feminine sexual (erotic) desires…I do not know what Rani I fit into now.
I have sung in say 30 languages. I sang in Kannada. I do sing in all styles – Dakshin, Uttar, Purab, Paschim,
I rendered the Lok Sangeet like what I am going to sing now in Bhojpuri wherein Assamiya Kalpana Bihariyon ko represent kar rahe hai…I was seen in my Dakshin Bharatiya film Lankesh Patrika based on the ….. I think I present and represent that unity and diversity…So, I think I am that Rani who addresses Rani in her renditions.
Assamiya Kalpana Bihar mein represent kiya gaya hai.
No MUSIC festivals but the year dedicated to Women?
With any Woman the story is the same and all one, from a girl to a daughter to a bride…I was part of Vogage, a folk fusion band, and even now I am a part of it…I remember meeting Atul Churamani at that point of time…
Bhojpuri is still innocent, it has not got its language hold, Assam has over 8 to 10 languages like I have Nari Shakti, I wish with Bhojpuri I will deliver, so I composed a song-track called Sohar for Paddy Fields…Sohar is sung when a new child is born, but my Sohar theme is a mother and pregnant mother expecting and carrying a child, speaks to her child she is carrying.
Paddy Fields is taking a very big risk by diverting from commercial music to regional forms, Bhikhari Thakur is like a “Shakespeare of Bhojpuri”, with no TRP content…I need a lot of funds (in terms of investment) and support – so – I think I’m taking a big risk at this point of time.
Your views on Women Empowerment.
I wish today my Music delivers a message through my renditions by entertainment. Sorry to say we say we are modern but it’s not so cause even today a Woman has no say… if you look at the emotional turmoil…Shakti Manifest is the name of the society…I go to interior regions and tell all daughters and mothers most-especially…I tell them I am a Bhojpuri Singer and I have my own studio and my own place in Bombay - so - do come over and sing out your talent…Women Empowerment is all what I believe in.
Any songs on Women Empowerment?
Janam se le ke marang , Islam mein, Kabir ek Banarasi has a folk form,
Female body (dead body) aurat ka dulhan ka roop uska atma and parmatma
line …… qui tori sakhi……
chandan ka tak
banal aka tolana
Kaban from Assam in Mongolian touch I have recorded
Ganga Behti Hai Koun
Yeh ek Milan hai
The three best women-oriented songs?
Kauno Tagva na lootal ho
Ganaga Behti Hoon Kyon
Bhikari Thakurji ka Behti Becchu, a song from those olden times.
Are you a women’s activist?
When I came to Mumbai in 2001, my age was different and my point of view of looking at things were different but now its much-deep-rooted, I am known as an Item Queen…I sang when I was just 4 years old along with my Father – a Folk Singer – I used to hold my Father’s hand and sing…I sung a lot many songs I remember.
When I look a Bhupen Hazarika I feel the training does exist somewhere…Activist is a strong word, Yes but I can say Kranti that’s what I want to do…so I sang Pichkari…
I’m sorry to say I am not a Bihari but I worked on Bhojpuri Bhikhari Thakur.
So I plan to approach Louis Banks to take this forward…With exception of 1 or 2 Bhojpuri artistes I don’t see all other Bihari artistes are promoting Bhojpuri music in the right way…Not necessarily in Bihar or UP the language Bhojpuri (innocent) exists.
I am a non-Bihari…Meine Bhojpuri ka namak khaya mein namak haram nahin.
I am trying bridge in between the two worlds…Either it’s my foolishness or there’s over-flowing love.
Tell us about your experience and all throughout tell us everything about how did you go – the people you meet and what you do feel about them. Who are the Artistes who impressed you?
My first long trip was in 2014 to the West Indies in the Caribbean…There are lot of Bhojpuri Biharis Ghayana, Surinami ….. they love their particular musical genre chatni sokha …I was sent by the Indian Government…The Legacy of Bihari Thakur I did in Mantralaya in Mauritius.
It was Bhojpuri literature but I do not do it for the Biharis, there’s a Brahmin lobby (in the government), the right Ambassador for Culture has to be there but no we have a problem with Bihar cause its specifically partial, the people out there treated me as if some age-old folk has come to them.
Cajri Sohar Baghua are shudh forms over there, I had gone to Dubai I got the award, then Osslomi etc…are very different in Norway and…People were not bothered with language but concerned with Music. They were all singing and dancing along simply enjoying the music.
A story of Ladhki in a line…And the most-interesting were the Timbuktus wherein a Timbuktu asked me to perform along and Ila Arunji was there…Say choli kepeeche kya hai choli ke peeche kya hai she has the confidence.
I was wondering why they didn’t ask her but asked me to do it…Then I thought, I think I have something in me I must take forward my Music incorporating folk.
You are taking Fusion music into Bhojpuri like Film music in Western influence, so, is that the way you want to present your music?
I want to blend in both.
You sung for Bollywood?
How many I don’t know but Gandi Baat, Begum Jaan or Bidhaai…
Then before I sang like De Dhana Dan, Welcome, Aafrosh, again item song, Aila Re Aila, Billo Barber,
I don’t believe Bollywood is the mainstream but Bollywood has a lot of strength but how the power is used does matter. But leaving aside art films Bollywood main-line – it’s realistic for sometime you are driven into,
My first I started recording in 2010 and released in 2012 Bhikari Thakur. I thought of an archive and I thought of Bhupen Hazarika ji so more then devotional songs I am more into during Chhat puja and on the other side is commercial film songs. In Bhojpuri doing bhajra ak folk. Say 2 lakh and above audience come to see me my shows,
Musically I have got nothing. Say 3 to 4 years I did R&D on Bikhari Thakur instrumentation is 70 years old that’s played and is completely different. There’s no electronics into it,
Dholak has Banrasi etc… but Bollywood has no Bihar
It has Harmonium, Dholak, Jaal, etc….
I did the Bhakti Andolan. In Assam Bhagti Sangeet,
The secret scriptures of Kirtan Ghosa and…And Monicut made of wood…The secret scriptures of Monikut.
I worked on Anthology of Veda…And khadi veda I went into Coke Studio…Called an artiste from Ghazipur to Mumbai in order to archiving – documenting.
I have two parts archive and other to collaborate with others like Louis Banks etc…. I do not want to go with fusion band. I want to be happy doing something I wish to.
You have been maintaining Your heritage – and – it’s a big risk factor.
Say something that people do not know about you?
I think I have already said a lot so far. Well…. what more do you want to know about me. Infact, there’s nothing much to say and nothing new about me –but - in the Bhojpuri journey I have myself, updated and upgraded my skills and discovered…. in the sense I have myself, invented… some things and lot more new things were happening at that point of time.
When but when I first came into the Bhojpuri world as a female artiste there were lots of new things and in-kept with the Bhojpuri trend. And all those associated with the Bhojpuri music industry like music directors etc were quite excited when they got to know about me.
In Bhojpuri there’s Purvi as one folk form. It is that it comes from the Purvi tak. Maximum people from Bihar are across the Country and worldwide. I think even now in Bihar there’s employment hassles so most go away to the East in order fetch employment to make their living so when they go from Bihar they either go to Calcutta or Assam.
It is said when the Man leaves the Women behind home and go out for work. And, when the wife or sister or mother remembers their men, it’s the wind blowing from the Purab (East) it’s called Purab ka hawai (Purvaiya) flown in.
Until now there existed different types of Purvaiyas. And the much-talked about Purvaiya is the Chhapraiya Purvaiya sung in quite a high pitch and sung like… in a talking voice. It’s the male artistes who sung all female elements (female themes) uptill I came into the picture. My singing range is very high-pitched. When I first heard the songs sung by them, I learnt that the songs they sang were sung in pretty-high pitches which were very-very different. It was interesting. Though, you have Classical notes in it but you do not have to sing the murki(s).
Ultimately in 2004, I, Kalpana Patowary, successfully, became the first-ever first female vocalist to render the Bhojpuri Chhapraiya Purvi in the male-dominated industry.
In what way do I express when we talk about Bihar in many aspects there’s a lot of negativity and wrong notions even in Bombay lot of misunderstanding has happened, politically, when 100 years back Mahatma Gandhi came to India from Africa and on this occasion of andolan sangram we celebrate 15th August Independence Day its part was somewhere lost in the Champaran of Bihar. And in this year during 2017 we complete years of the Satyagraha Champaran. So, in this context, on this occasion, in the name of Champaran Satyagrah, I paved tribute to the Bihar Satyagraha Champaran.
I felt that someone or the other has to do it, somebody has to do it. I thought must do it, for it is one such moment. Champaran locale language is Bhojpuri
If I do not bring in this very-moment then like why do deserve positivity of Bihar Bhojpuri?
So, we went in to the remote right into the village to the Ashram where Mahatma Gandhi and Kasturba Gandhiji himself, had built up their own Ashram.
When was this released?
Released in Delhi like I have a lot of BJP MP friends. Say about a year ago, we released the same. It’s on Youtube and all over. I am very comfortable in every