Joi Barua's career as a musician began with the advertising sector as a singer for various ad jingles like Nescafe, Kurl On, Vodafone and more. He then went on to lend his voice to some of Bollywood’s much loved numbers like Dil Dhadakne Do from Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and Kahaani from Udaan.
In an attempt to get into Joi’s mind and take a good look at how he works his magic, what moves him and more, we followed him into his colourful home or what he calls, his melody den. Surrounded by a mantelshelf holding his keyboard, his guitar, and a shelf full of artefacts from his travels to exotic places around the world, our fascination has already begun.
“I guess I was 3 or maybe 4 years old when I first began playing the violin,” he says, adding “I always loved the mood that a song would set. It just created a pleasant atmosphere in and around you. But, it was my sister who encouraged me to sing.”
He talks about the musicians who inspired him during his formative years. His favourite musicians are The Beatles, John Lenon, ABBA, Boney M, Indian classical legends like S.P. Balasubrahmaniam, Bhupen and Jayanta Hazarika, and western classical giants like Beethoven and Rousseau. “My school principal’s favourite song used to be El Lute by Boney M; it’s about a man who was wrongly imprisoned. That number was a learning experience for me of what music could do, take something so painful and wrong, add a melody to it and make everyone feel the pain with rhythm,” he muses.
Explaining his homeward journey…
While a musician generally grows popular in their native land and later moves to Bollywood, Joi had it the other way round. He explains, “After working for advertising and a few good movies, I came to realize that I could take a different role and do so many more things.”
“I grew up speaking Assamese, and one can only express truly in a language that one has smiled in, cried in, where you’ve expressed pain in a language that’s innate to you. People might not understand the words, but the heart understands the feeling behind the way a song is sung.”
Speaking of feeling, we ask him about his latest tear-jerking animated track Rabha (if you’ve not watched it yet, do that NOW. Listen and Watch)... “My friend Ibson narrated the story of Gaji Rabha - second in command to the revolutionary Bishnu Rabha. He was undergoing torture after being captured, and was fearful of revealing the location of his comrade’s safehouse. So, he cut his tongue off by biting on it,” explained Joi.
“How does a man inspire that sort of courage into somebody that pushes him to cut his own tongue off? This feeling of sacrifice and passion, hit me hard,” said Joi adding a quote by Joseph Campbell, ‘A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself’.
On bringing the world renowned saxophonist – George Brooks on board
“I’m one of the first set of fellows for INK talks, and we recently had been on a road trip across the U.S. George was one of ten fellows there. I didn’t plan on bringing him onboard, it just fell in place. The writer, the exceptional animator and the brilliance of George Brooks’s saxophone makes it such a special number. We made it a point to not rush through this, as a song that’s conveying so much of pain, love and sacrifice has to be done right, it needed to be represented in a certain way.”
He exclaimed, “Music is not a solo output, it is always, ALWAYS, collaborative. It comes through society; one can never take full credit for a song!”
If he had to advise upcoming indie musicians about one thing...
“How do I advice? I’ve never come across a parent who trained and encouraged their child to lead a musician’s life; maybe now, but not previously – every musician you see out there today has fought against the system, family, everyone to pursue their dream. They know what they are doing, how can I even advice?”
After some nudging, he gives in and says, “Maybe I’d advice musicians to be honest. Great art comes from playing about the things that you truly need, never play music that the world wants to hear. The catch is it should mean something to you, only then will the song have magic in it.”
On this sentiment, Joi gives us a little bit of historical anecdote. He tells us about the once outspoken atheist, and badass slave trader, John Newton and his classic hymn Amazing Grace, which was written in the mid 1700’s after he survived from a sea storm. Even today, the hymn is played over a million times annually. It is an emblem of hope and survival.
“Music has the ability to transform your state of mind, and make you feel something that is the exact opposite. A musician who sings cruel bitter songs generally (might not always be the case) comes from a very sheltered Californian Sunshine kind of life. I lost someone really dear to me a couple years back, and found myself under depression then. I needed to feel happy, and hence sang and wrote of things I wanted to feel,” he shares.
The prolific musician is currently working on his debut as a music composer in John Abraham’s upcoming film and prepping for the launch of his second album ‘Pride’.