Anurag Saikia is the talk of the town, not because of the plethora of accolades under his belt but because of his newest venture called ‘Project Borgeet’. The Assam-based music director-cum-singer has recently got Borgeet — a genre of Assamese devotional songs sung by the 15th-century poet-saint Srimanta Sankardeva and his disciple Madhabdeva — recorded by FAME’s Macedonian Symphonic Orchestra in North Macedonia in southeastern Europe.
The Macedonian Symphonic Orchestra has helped in creating scores for popular Bollywood musicians such as Vishal and Shekhar, besides AR Rahman.
Team VibesMojo caught up with Saikia to know more about the musical genius and his unique venture.
From Borgeet by saints Srimanta Sankardeva and Madhabdeva to FAMES’s Macedonian Symphonic Orchestra, take us through the unique journey.
When I used to think about my future, I always used to dream big. I was born and brought up in an environment of music — our house has over 15,000 gramophone records. My mother, Dipali Saikia, is a professional borgeet singer and my father, Dr Anil Saikia, is a researcher of folk songs. So one can constantly hear the sounds of Borgeet and different symphonies in our house. Hence, in this environment, I was able to find the confluence of the two contrasting music. Even these days when Borgeet is performed one can see that along with khul, flute they often use a violin. So I thought what if we can use 100 violins in place of just one? When I went to Chennai and saw that such experimentation are already underway with other songs, I then thought to myself, why not Borgeet? That was the inception of the idea for this project and I got a few people to support me through this venture.
Why Borgeet? Why not some other form of Assamese devotional music?
I feel that other than Borgeet there is no alternative form of devotional song which is widely known and accepted. I don’t see any other kind of song or music in Assam having the same standard of classical music as Borgeet.
Tell us a bit about the research phase that was done before the recording of this song.
I belong to a family that is seeped in a musical environment, an environment where we not only discuss music but scientifically and critically analyse it as well. Also, my father was very sharp in music, ranging from musical instruments like khol to classical songs and even borgeets. He also wrote a book titled Sangeetor Natokot Sangeet. Secondly, born to a family of music enthusiasts, it became easier for me to gain access to the creators of various forms of folk music, be it lokageet, Goalparia, Kamrupi, Jyoti Sangeet, or Bishnu Rabha Sangeet. Hence, I was able to meet about 80% of all the Pandits of borgeet from Assam. I was also able to get important insights from different Sutradhikars and Satras from Majuli, Borpeta, Bordowa, Patbaushi and Kamalabari to name a few. I didn’t limit myself to only Pandits but also gathered knowledge from around 25 noted researchers belonging to various institutions. Moreover, other than the songs that we were recording in Macedonia I am also making a documentary showcasing my journey. The main idea behind it is to make this documentary a go-to material for people who wants to do any further research on Borgeets for they will know the resource persons to talk to. The songs are a completely different chapter as it was my childhood dream to see and listen to Borgeets in an international and big level.
How did the musicians from FAMES’s Macedonian Symphonic Orchestra first respond when you pitched in the idea?
FAMES’s Macedonian Symphonic Orchestra is a well-known one and India’s major cinema directors and even big-shot music producers have always been working with them. I can also say this that nowadays with the up-gradation of technologies one can get a good quality output without the same big scale production that I have used. There are very few people who still records using an 85-piece symphony orchestra, even Bollywood rarely approves it this days. With new software and techniques of doubling and layering one can still get the same output using just four to five violins. But it was a long-standing dream of mine to create something real and authentic and hence a large scale.
At the offset, I sent them four to five Borgeets as it is impossible to make a symphony of all kinds of Borgeets. They were surprised, to listen to such beautiful tunes that had previously remained hidden in a corner of the world. They were also astounded by the mature compositions of 600-700-year-old songs. Moreover, to know that the original folk songs (original for we know the names of the creators) have been flourishing for so long was another surprising factor for them. They had a few more questions and doubts which we will be addressing our documentary but all said and done, they loved the songs the moment I took it to them. Now, it’s not solely because they would be performing something new but that this would be a treasure for the world of music.
Can you tell us a few of the hiccups that you might have faced during the recording of this unique project?
When we intend to take up a huge project of the likes of this, some minor and major issues or hiccups are bound to occur. Moreover, as I have said before I have very little experience and so I am always learning in my job. This project, be it the two songs or the documentary, which has just started is not only for me. I have a simple objective which is that through this documentary or songs a few international music artists might come to know about Borgeet or Sankardev and Madhabdev and who knows might even visit the satras here.
I must say that after the 85 musicians performed the song and went out of the studio humming the tune, I found my success there itself. Given the fact that the musicians outside India are far more dedicated to music than us so even if one or two remember the Borgeets I can say that my work was done. I am also lucky that I can enlighten myself through this project of mine so that when I meet international musicians I will be able to give them the right and correct information.