Monday, September 1, 2008

Bas(s)ically Raja

Tabla is a standard percussion instrument that has been used in Indian film music for decades very successfully. However, Raja’s percussion always sounded very different from all his predecessors – I used to wonder what made him different. He always has a bass line (remember B in SATB) for every song of his and that made him so different from the others.

Most film music used the bass guitar as an optional accompaniment till Raja arrived. Armed with his WCM knowledge, one of the key changes he brought into the music business is never to have a composition without a bass line. He made the bass guitar pronounced in different ways in his compositions . Some of his bass lines are so melodious that it can become a melody line by itself! Singing bass – that’s Raja style. While a vast majority of Raja’s compositions have the bass guitar supporting the melody, he has done several compositions where the bass guitar almost has its own rhythm pattern, but will still go along with the main song’s rhythm. There are some songs where Raja’s bass guitar almost becomes a counterpoint to the main instrument. If you start taking a counterpoint view of the bass guitar pattern and the main lead instrument (viz. flute, guitar, violin, synthesizer), it will become hard to figure out a Raja song which does not have a counterpoint. He has this god given ability to manage multiple patterns simultaneously that a bass guitar composition does not appear like a big deal to him. Other MDs do try some of these techniques, but Raja is so experimental in his approach that it deserves special mention.

Let’s take some examples: Listen to the harmonica (called mouth organ in Indian circles) play in Nilavu Thoongum Neram from Kunkuma Chimizh (1985). Observe the bass guitar play a different melody with the harmonica – very uncommon technique in those days. Hear the harmonica playing with the singing bass guitar...

Listen to the entire song Alli Thantha Bhoomi from Nandu (1981) – the bass guitar play is very pronounced and you cannot imagine this song without it. Or listen to some of his 90s music - Mazhai Varuthu Kudai Konduvaa from Raja Kaiya Vachha (1991) – the bass guitar is so pronounced in this track and the total effect on this song is simply outstanding. Kodiyile Maligapoo from Kadalora kavidhaikal (1986) is a great example of the importance that Raja gives for the bass guitar.

If you observe the song Chinna Chinna from Mouna Ragam (1989), it is a duet. I am sure you will disagree. The main singer is Janaki, but the other singer is the bass guitar. The bass guitar has a completely different pattern but still goes perfectly with the main singer – vintage Raja. Listen to the singing bass guitar in all the prelude and interludes...

Listen to Vaan Meedhile from Ragangal Maruvadhillai – the bass guitar in this fast paced song again competes with Janaki for its part very similar to the Chinna Chinna song. If you observe the prelude of Poonthalir Aada from Paneer Pushpangal (1981), the bass guitar pattern is completely different from the main guitar that is playing the melody, but goes on to sing its own melody! Pon Vaanam Paneer Thoovuthu from Indru Nee Naalai Naan (1983) is another great tune of Raja where the bass guitar sings along with the main singer, Janaki. This is another greatly orchestrated song – the synthesizer and the bass guitar creates a fantastic pattern that Raja has exploited in several songs.

Pay attention to some of Raja’s dance numbers – he creates a swing effect using the bass guitar. Example, Vaan Megam Poo Poovai Thoovum from Punnagai Mannan (1986), Athadi Ammadi Thenmotu Thaan from Ithayathai Thirudaathe (1989), Anjali anjali from Anjali (1990), Vaanile Thenila from Kaaki Chattai (1985).

If you observe some of his semi-classical tunes, his use of bass guitar to support it is outstanding. The basic song is set on the basis of a CCM raga, but the bass guitar arrangement is done in such a beautiful way that its WCM based notes glide around the main CCM tune. Example, Pani vizhum malarvanam from Ninaivellam Nithya (1982) – this song is set to the CCM raga Chaalanaatai. Notice the bass guitar pattern. Aagaya Vennilave from Arangetra Velai (1990) – set in CCM raga Dharbhari Kanada – observe the bass pattern. Isai Paadu Nee from Isai Paadum Thendral (1986) set to the CCM raga Jog – the bass pattern in this song is so pronounced.

Some more examples on his light music numbers – Unnaiyum Ennaiyum from Aala Piranthavan (1987) – observe the bass guitar play throughout the pallavi and charanams. Nila Kayuthu from Sakala Kala Vallavan (1982) and the famous Illamai Itho Itho from the same movie – the bass guitar gives all the vibrancy to the song.

There are several solo numbers of Janaki that can be easily recognized as Raja songs without much musical knowledge as you can identify a pattern that you cannot describe if you did not analyze it. I will provide you three of them which are very ably supported by fantastic bass guitar rhythm patterns – Vandhadhu Vandhadhu from Kili Petchu Ketkava(1993), Pagalile Oru Nilavinai Kandaen from Ninaive Oru Sangeetham (1987) and Poongatre Theendathe from Kunguma Chimizh(1985). The tabla pattern in all these songs is enhanced by the bass guitar with its own rhythm.


Unknown said...

Good post...but to be straightforwardly honest, if we want to discuss the Bass Guitar applications of Ilaiyaraaja, we need to start another blog. Not just a single post.

Anonymous said...

Very true Aakarsh, also i would like to mention a couple of songs
whose bass i have played on the bass guitar and they are both
wonderful. They are 'Vegam Vegam' from Anjali and
'Vaanengum Thanga Venmeengal' from Moondram Pirai


Poobaalam Isaikkum from Puthiya vaarpukal, Raasave from Aranmanai Kili, Geetha sangeetha from Geetha (kannada) also start with awesome work of Bass guitar.

ravinat said...

Hi Ezhil

Bhoopalam Azhaikkum is from Thooral Ninnu Pochu.

As Aakarsh has mentioned, I have hardly done justification to this subject.

Raja's bass work continues in this century with some amazing synth bass work, which I have covered to some degree in my topics on Techno Baroque.

Maybe, in the future, if I have enough research material, I may write on his bass work in detail. I have several other topics that I have already researched on and as a result this will definitely get pushed out.


Ravi Natarajan

Anonymous said...

I listened to "Vaan Megam poopoovai thoovum" song last night more than 100 times (even after falling asleep several times due to the bass pattern lullaby.

Every night i used to listen bass patterns of Anjali Anjali Song for meditation. Last night i wanted a change and listened to "Vaan Megam" song. (Then i found this blog when i searched about this song)

Man!!!!! What a composition!!!!

I never read music so someone please do a research in his bass work and publish some results. I am waiting for it!!!

(Also listen to "Vaanam Namakku Veedhi" Bass pattern in Anjali Film" - It also makes u transcend with its Ding Dong Lullaby)


praveen said...

Passing references are made to the Legendary Viji Manuel contributions in Ilayaraja repertoire.Not much information is available on his exact contributions(in specific songs) with synthesizers,keyboards,piano,Bass guitar etc.May be some one will fill in.

Hi said...

Probably for the mind-boggling use of beautiful bass, you can add to this list,'Thangachangili minnum paingili'from the film 'Thooral Ninnu Pochu'.
Sreekanth Venkataswamy

ravinat said...


Many readers have pointed out that I have not done justice to this topic.

When my current research projects get completed, I will definitely revisit this topic. Thanks for your input.

வசந்த் said...

How about the song Manin Iru kangal konda mane mane from Mappilai movie

Anonymous said...

Enna satham indha neram from Punnagai Mannan is yet another example of Raja Sir's BASS specialities.

Anonymous said...

I post the link below titled Bass Nuances, worth reading, note that this is the archived site of erstwhile Geocities

Anonymous said...

Urakalai Godavari(Abhilasha, Telugu) is a Raja's composition that has dominating bass.

Unknown said...

And there are few songs of Raja where Bass guitar acts as lead for example "Megam kottattum", "irandum ondrodu ondru sernthathu" and more 😍 What a genius he is ❤️