Remembering Jayanta Hazarika

It’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years that count.
— Abraham Lincoln

Assamese singer-composer Jayanta Hazarika is perhaps a classic example of these famous words by the erstwhile President of the United States of America. His evanescent lifetime was marked by his superior musical gifts, unprecedented success and popularity.

Late Jayanta Hazarika was an eminent singer, instrumentalist, composer and music director. His integration of Western notes into indigenous Assamese tunes positioned him as the archetype of a progressive Assamese musician. He was an expert in a legion of musical instruments including guitar, dumra, mandolin, accordion, tabla, mouth organ and more. He is also one of the few musicians who could play more than two octaves in the harmonium at a time.

He was born on September 20, 1943 to probably the most illustrious family of several gifted artistes and doyens of Assamese music. A younger sibling of musical prodigy Dr Bhupen Hazarika, Jayanta assisted his brother in composing and directing music for many Assamese films; although he composed the first tune in his life at the tender age of nine for lyrics written by one of his elder brothers, Nripen Hazarika. His career in playback singing started in 1963 with Maniram Dewan (an Assamese feature film). He also sang for films like Lotighoti, Faguni, Chikmik Bijulee, etc. At the behest of his music director-brother, he composed the score and lent his vocals for Mrityu sabati samadhi tolit, a song that overwhelms listeners with its emotional intensity even today.

This trendsetting musician independently composed some of the most memorable tracks of Assamese music. His euphonic contributions cover films like Bonoria Phool, Niyati, Brishti, Dharmakai and Natun Asha (completed by his wife Manisha Hazarika after his death). Some of his evergreen numbers are Tomar morome mor, Dekha nai, Surat magan bhayal rati, Bhorir taluwar pora jodi, Ei akash bor bishal, etc. Besides, he had also composed music for many documentaries like Flora and Fauna of North East India, Wheels and the Horizon, Sanman and Jyoti Chitraban.

Jayanta Hazarika also had an immense love for composing music for plays. During his stint with Lakhimi Theatre of Goalpara, he completed seventeen songs for five dramas, in addition to the background scores. He also handled the music for notable plays like Siraj by Phani Sarma, Baan by Prafulla Bora and Jinty, Janma, Yuddha Ghosanar Din, Jerengar Sati – produced by Progoti Silpi Sangha of Guwahati.

While performing at the International Conference of Political Songs (February 14, 1972) in Berlin, he accompanied Dr Bhupen Hazarika and mesmerized the audience with his soulful compositions and powerful vocals. Apart from his commercial performances, Jayanta pioneered the formation of the Sur Bahini, a mobile musical brigade which was committed to working selflessly for the welfare of the poor.

Jayanta Hazarika’s avant-garde style was inspired by the pioneering style of legendary filmmaker Jyotiprasad Agarwala. Like Agarwala, he combined the elements of Assamese folk, Indian classical and Western music to create a contemporary musical genre, yet entirely retaining his Assamese roots.

His soulful melodies were usually characterised by melancholy lyrics, eccentric chords and deft use of the guitar and violin. Hazarika also included unconventional preludes and interludes while composing and arranging music. The technical handling of a prelude in the basic 1-3-5 form (tonic, subdominant, dominant), and the interlude beginning in the minor and coming to rest in its relative major are still rare and laudable achievements in Assamese music. Be it the delicate guitar plucking in Surat magan bhayal rati or the rich saxophone score in Mrityu sabati samadhi tolit, he managed to elevate the quality of his songs and deliver a rich euphonic experience every time.

After his premature demise on October 15, 1977, he left behind his wife, veteran musician-singer Manisha Hazarika (who later completed many of his unfinished compositions), and a talented son, Mayukh Hazarika. Manisha was born and raised in a musical ambience in Kolkata, but chose to stay back in Assam after her husband’s death to keep his legacy alive. Mayukh’s singing has echoes of his father’s vocals but has skilfully managed to create his own signature style over time.

The sheer depth, appeal and technical finesse of Jayanta Hazarika’s compositions were way ahead of their times and still continue to inspire aspiring musicians of successive generations. His phenomenal musical legacy can never be encompassed in words. His musical excellence can perhaps be only realised by letting his songs run through our souls. It is extremely unfortunate that his musical journey ended with his unexpected demise, bringing an abrupt halt to the mellifluous years ahead of him.