I was in high school when I had heard John Lennon’s Imagine for the first time. Before the days of the internet, and growing up in a small town in Assam, I was years away from educating myself on the force and legend that was Lennon, as well as the understanding of how powerful and significant the song already was with the world. But he was long, long gone.
It was a summer evening, when I heard the song for the first time. It emptied me completely. I felt a void. I felt happy. I felt sad. I felt ecstatic. I felt tragic. For the first time in my life, I couldn’t understand how with a single voice and a piano line underneath, one could hit humanity so hard. There was nothing, and everything. It could charm you like witch-hazels in spring. It could be the knife that suddenly sliced your heart and told you, that probably all was not well with the world, while you thought it was all beautiful and sunshine out there. It could get under your skin like a snake. On a quiet day, it could hit you like a tornado without warning.
In the video, all Yoko Ono does, is walk with Lennon, get to the closed, white room, open the windows and simply sit by his side. This is what music is. It opens the windows. And it will simply let the world flow in. And then you are experienced, a la Hendrix.
Lennon never told us what to think. He didn’t hold our hand; but, simply told us to ‘imagine’. This is where the magic of a beautiful piece of music comes in. It will let us be. We will find our own planet.
The same goes for Bhupen Hazarika’s classic immortal – Buku Hom Hom Kore - more popularly, ‘Dil Hom Hom Kaare’ from the movie Rudaali. There is no one way of defining the classic; but various ways of living the emotion. The Assamese song was probably written 50 years ago, but resonates God-like even in the present day. In my journeys through the innards of Assam, I have found girls as young as 8 years, from farming families on rice fields, standing up to attention and singing this song, their faces lit up over kerosene lamps. Is it the lyric or is it the melody? Or is it just pride? What did this song do to us? What spell was that? We will never know. There will always be more. As someone famously once said – ‘Music is a black art’. Understand, at your own peril.
Hiren Bhattacharyya popularly known as Hiru da, wrote it in one of his everlasting pieces, ‘Gaane ki Aane’ – loosely translated as – ‘what does a song bring?’ And in the writing he compares the experience to stunning visual imagery of melodic ladders and the places where a rainbow will rest, where there are waves in the skies painted by arrows of light. This was a piece magically brought alive by Zubeen Garg in his first composition, a seminal song by the same name, more than 2 decades ago. And this song vibrates like a storm in Assam even now. You only have to listen to it once, to understand the subliminal nature of the mood.
These were songs that touched and changed our lives much before mainstream MTV and other influences. They determined our lives. And I am not only writing this as a musician, who came in much later. For example, if you go to the North East and particularly Assam, you will find generations that shaped their philosophy of life to Bhupen Hazarikas music. Lennon’s Imagine has been the maxim for peace all around the world, for close to half a century. So profound can be the effect.
As musicians I think, we carry great responsibility. We have a place and a position to change the future. As Bernard of Chartres had observed, we are standing on the shoulders of giants. We need to make our choices right. We must. And since we don’t know what the music does, we must be doubly careful. From my experiences, I definitely feel, music is to the mind, what water is to the plant. And we will understand that only when we know that water is much more than just H2O.
About Joi Barua:
Joi Barua is a composer, singer and songwriter. He sings in Assamese, Hindi and English. Apart from his band, Joi, Barua also sings and composes for Hindi films.
Joi believes that music is the key to all things good and that is what he constantly strives to do – to make people feel good through his music. He believes that artists need to take a step further and talk about art and share their experiences with the world.