An English poet writes a powerful poem depicting the life of her great-grandmother from Assam | an Interview of Karen Weed

Assam Skies album cover / Karen Weed
Karen Weed is a poet based out of London. She wrote a poem called 'Assam Skies' based on the life of a British tea planter who was Karen's great grandfather working at a tea-estate in Assam in the colonial era and Rampiyari, a young woman from Assam. The poem has been converted to a ballad by an American country singer Char Seawell and Assamese musician/producer Jim Ankan Deka. Very soon, a musical video depicting the story of Karen's great grandmother Rampiry will be released online by Bangalore based production house Music Malt under ChaiTunes Project. Here's our team member Jasmine's interview of Karen about her life as a poet and the legacy of 'Assam Skies'.

Tell us little about yourself – your childhood, life in general and the journey as a lyricist.

As a child I always loved writing poems/songs and creative stories. It was at school when doing a project for my English exam that I chose my grandmother's interesting life to base it on. I sat my grandmother down and set up an old style tape recorder and let her tell me all she knew. Unfortunately the tape has been lost but my memory is still intact. My working life started in admin offices but then changed direction to working with young people with special needs, a role I found much more rewarding. Presently I am a full time live in carer for my disabled mother. This has enabled me to have more time to reconnect to writing. I love to play my guitar but not an expert by any stretch of the imagination. I am also too shy to play in front of people (laughs). My hobby is making Soy fragranced candles and melts and have started up a very small business which fits in well with my caring role.

What inspired you to write the poem Assam Skies which is based on Assam? What is the story behind?

The lyrics are about my grandmother's life. Born in Assam to an English tea planter father and an Assamese mother. She and her sister were put into a home in Assam the same year their father married his English wife. They felt abandoned and were told that their mother, Rampiry had died of a broken heart when they were taken away. I wanted it to be a lasting tribute to Rampiry and to tell his secret that he kept so well hidden until he died. After a lot of research I finally found him but unfortunately too late for my grandmother and her sister to see. It’s an ongoing story but it was finding his photograph and seeing his image that brought out the emotion in me to write Assam Skies. I think it will resonate with a lot of families who have similar stories from them times.

How did you come up with the idea for a collaborative project? Give us a brief of people involved in the making of Assam Skies.

Writing had been by hobby for quite some time now. I decided to enter the UK Songwriting Contest in 2017 with Assam Skies to get a measure by how the judges from the industry judged it without anyone knowing. I shared Assam Skies lyrics with a good friend and it was their positive reaction that gave me the confidence to show family and other close friends whilst waiting for the results. To my surprise it achieved Semi finals placing. That’s when I started to believe in myself and I have since entered a few other songs and last year reached semi finals again but with slightly higher score.

I’m up and running now, but still can’t play my guitar in front of people (Laughs). The idea was to have something for the family to keep so on the UK Songwriting forum I was chatting to people about bringing Assam Skies lyrics to life. Char Seawell singer/songwriter from USA said she would look at them and see if "they sing to her" she certainly brought them to life. At Christmas time in 2018 she sent over her amazing creation of Assam Skies along with her amazing voice. This then got me thinking that it would be wonderful to have someone from Assam to give it an authentic sound as well as make it into a professional song and become a fitting tribute to Rampiry.

So I went onto the internet in search of the best, I found Jim Ankan Deka and went through all his music and loved them all. Then I read about his achievements in setting up his music school, travel for backpacker explorers and all the good he does giving back to Assam. I wanted him to do it but never believed he would actually agree. When he replied to my email I was over the moon. He is a music genius and true gentleman steering and involving me in every step of the way, making it an incredible experience. He and his musician friends, Debjani Hazarika, Barun Das, Debozit Kalita, Prabal Gogoi created an amazing authentic sound for Assam Skies. His music creation fused really well with Char's original melody. Well just listen to it. I couldn’t dreamed of anything better. Then the icing on the cake was the amazing Catherine Khiangte from Mizoram, with her beautiful voice so full of emotion.

What are your plans to help Assam Skies meet the masses?

I have been sharing the song with local and national radio stations. I am sure there is an interest in listening to this wonderful ballad which tells the history of the Assam tea plantations through the perspective of the children who were forgotten and abandoned during those times and the knock on effect for them and their families.

I dream BIG for the future of Assam Skies. There is a scope for a video to unfold the lost pages of the history untold. We are at present working for the same. I think it would make a wonderful musical, there are so many layers to this story. It has adventure, romance, broken hearts, struggle, ignorance, hope..., everything to make a cracking musical to further get the story told.

What are your future plans? Any more collaborative projects?

My future plans in general are to carry on writing. It’s like a therapy for me, I will continue with lyrics around the Assam Skies theme in the hope of a musical opportunity in the future.

I would always be open to collaborating again with talented musicians to hear my lyrics brought to life. Folk was perfect for telling the story of Assam Skies but I would be interested in another genre for my next one though. Guitar is my favourite instrument and a lyric I wrote for last years Uk Songwriting Contest about nature and life did very well reaching Semi finals with a higher score than Assam Skies so would love to hear that one day as a more guitar lead pop/rock type song.

However, I am in absolutely no rush. I will know when it feels right and go with my heart.