Hemanta Kumar Jamatia - from a hardcore militant to custodian of folk-music of Tripura

Hemanta Kumar Jamatia
At 14, he was a folk musician. At 26, he became a member of a militant group - the Army of Tripura People's Liberation Organisation. Seventeen years later, he won the Sangeet Natak Akademi award. Here is the story of Hemanta Kumar Jamatia.

Hemanta Kumar Jamatia - a former hardcore militant of the All Tripura People's Liberation Organisation from the state of Tripura, now considered the sole custodian of Tripura's dying folk music. He is the first folk singer from Tripura who was awarded the highest honour in the field of music by the Government of India's Sangeet Natak Academy in 1996. So far he has penned more than 200 songs besides scoring the music. Hemant sings in kokbarok, one of the tribal dialects of Tripura.

Born in 1954 in Trishabari, Tripura, Jamatia belongs to the Kokborok tribe of Tripura. He imbibed early in life the rich musical tradition of his region.

He gained major renown beginning in about 1979, when he became a musical representative for the separatist Tripura National Volunteers. Until 1983, he was the chief weapons instructor for TNV and commanded a "battalion" of the outfit from his hideout in the thickly forested Chittagong Hill Tracts in adjoining Bangladesh. That was when Jamatia used to wander from village to village in Tripura, singing revolutionary songs to woo youth to join an armed rebellion. And his revolutionary songs would inspire hundreds of youths to support the TNV.

But once he understood that armed insurgency is nothing but futility, in 1983 Jamatia surrendered and returned to normal life, dedicating his work to the folk music of the Tripuri people. Today Jamatia shuttles between studios in Agartala, recording for All India Radio and Doordarshan or rendering his voice for locally produced audio cassettes to woo back the rebels that he once inspired to go underground.

He endeared himself to large rural audiences, performing extensively in the towns and villages of the region. He has also been singing on the radio, and has several audio-cassettes of tribal music to his credit. Further, he had composed music for the documentary film on his tribe: Nritya Chhande Jeevan Jibika. He is known today as one of the leading performers of the folk and tribal music of Tripura.

"Music often triumphs over guns," says Jamatia who wants to be remembered as a singer and not as a rebel leader by the people of Tripura.

(Ref - http://www.rediff.com/news/2001/aug/08trip.htm)