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Watch: Joi’s Animated Video for New Assamese Track “Rabha”

The Mumbai rock act headed by composer-singer Joi Barua collaborates with American saxophonist George Brooks for the song that tells the story of an unsung revolutionary

Riddhi Chakraborty Jan 21, 2016
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It takes all of one view for “Rabha” to tattoo itself onto your mind. The latest video by Mumbai-based rock act Joi stands apart not only for its vibrant animation [courtesy of Samudra Kajal Saikia] but also for its fine vocals that grow on you. It also tells a story unknown to the vast majority of India, that of Gajiram Rabha, best known as comrade to Assamese freedom fighter and cultural advocate Bishnu Prasad Rabha.

“It’s not a widespread story,” says vocalist Joi Barua, adding, “My friend Ibson met Gajiram Rabha 12 or 13 years ago and happened to tell me his story sometime in 2014. He said, ”˜I need to tell you about this amazing man I met’”. Ibson Lal Baruah is also Barua’s bandmate who wrote the lyrics to “Rabha”.

The story goes that during the freedom struggle, when Rabha [who was part of Revolutionary Communist Party of India] was arrested by the police, he severed his tongue so as not to give away his comrades from the party. “The level of Gajiram Rabha’s sacrifice moved me. I knew immediately that I wanted to do something that would explore what inspires that kind of sacrifice and passion to make a hero like that,” says Barua.

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“Rabha” is a lingering, cinematic track that manages to leave a lump in the throat. Thanks to American saxophone legend George Brooks, who plays molten, almost grieving parts throughout the song. Says Barua of Brooks, “It was an honor to work with him. George is the other voice of the track and is actually the character of Bishnu Prasad Rabha himself.”

Barua met Brooks in California, USA, at the Ink Talks convention in 2014 and felt there was a natural flow of creativity between them. Says Brooks, “Joi has one of those voices which have a special quality about them — something that touches you on an emotional level. I had my saxophone with me and we played a couple of songs, and there was a great connect.” They didn’t meet for another six-seven months but stayed in touch. Meanwhile, Barua had already recorded “Rabha” and was looking for different sounds to experiment with on the track. Brooks who had collaborated with Indian artists like tabla maestro Zakir Hussain, and was familiar with Indian music, seemed the perfect fit. Barua met Brooks again in February 2015 to record the latter’s parts for the song.

According to Brooks, Barua is cautious about stepping into collaborations prematurely. Instead, he makes an effort to ensure the relationship between the two artists is comfortable first. Says Brooks, “Joi made sure we were on equal terms as artists, as collaborators. He was open to my suggestion and inputs as an artist.”

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“Rabha” is brought to life by the striking animation by Delhi-based Assamese artist Samudra Kajal Saikia, who, according to Barua, worked relentlessly for 42 days on the project. The video has imagery of Assamese culture which is juxtaposed with images of Rabha. “Rabha” is part of Joi’s new album, Pride, which will feature songs themed around Barua’s cultural roots. “We should all be proud about where we come from, our histories and the people who were part of it. That’s also what inspired the name of the album.”

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