Saturday, October 4, 2008

Folk revisited

I had mentioned in the introductory sections that most of Raja's folk is Westernized folk. To be exact, most of his folk tunes are harmonized folk. Tall claim, huh? Let’s take a crack at it. This is like peeling the onion skin. You have to follow this methodology to analyze his folk based tunes:

  1. Train your ears to skip the lyric. Often times, some folksy words are used to camouflage the western composition. Example, try to forget terms like ‘rasathi’, ‘rosapoo’, ‘raasaa’, ‘rosa’ etc., commonly used to deflect your attention.
  2. Try to forget the visual as the song could be picturised in the country side.
  3. Try to imagine that the percussion exists but not the tabla or the dholak.
  4. Focus on the timing and the interludes
  5. Voila, you can see all the harmonization that is cleverly devised to make you think that it is folk!
Don't get me wrong – I am not saying that Raja does not do folk; all I am claiming is that most of his folk based tunes receive the same WCM treatment that most of his light, CCM tunes receive.

Let me illustrate with a few examples. Consider the song ‘Rasathi Unnai Kaanatha Nenju’ from Vaidehi Kathirunthaal (1984). Pay attention to the prelude and the interludes. The lyric is fully folk and so do not focus on it. The prelude starts with a call and response type arrangement with a relaxed 4-6 rhythm pattern. It turns into a counterpoint between violins before the song begins. The first interlude is a wonderful conversation between the violins and the flute – if you ignore the beats, this is like any other WCM composition. The second interlude also uses a beautiful combination of violin, guitar, bells, cellos and flutes. Throughout the song, the base guitar pattern follows strictly the meter. Clever arrangement, delivered with a great melody and camouflaged with a folk lyric – that’s vintage Raja. Hear the track...

Another example, Muthu Mani Maalai from Chinna Kounder (1992) – this uses the same technique but with a different melody and different arrangement. The 1st interlude is a great call and response arrangement between the flutes, synthesizer and the violins – just imagine that the tabla is absent – it is like another WCM piece. The prelude uses bells and a violin section in conversation followed by the flutes. The second interlude also uses beautiful arrangement of violins and flutes. Another song in the same movie – Koondukulle Enna Vechu – uses a similar arrangement with a different melody. Observe the bass guitar pattern in both the songs. Again, this is clever usage of WCM techniques to sugar coat a beautiful folk melody! Hear the track...

  • Uchi Vagundeduthu from Rosapoo Ravikaikari (1979)
  • Samakozhi Koovuthamma from Ponnu Oorukku Pudhusu (1979)
  • Megam Karukuthu from Ananda Ragam (1982)
  • Megam Karukkaiyile from Vaidehi Kaathirunthaal (1984)
  • Adi Aathadi Ilam Manasu from Mudhal Mariyadhai (1985)
  • Kulaloothum Kannanukku from Mella Thiranthathu Kadhavu (1986)
  • Kodiyile Maligapoo from Kadalora kavidhaigal (1986)
  • Pachaimalai Poovu from Kizhakku Vaasal (1990)
  • Thendral Vandhu Theendumpodhu from Avatharam (1995)
  • Ilam Kaathu Veesuthe from Pithamagan (2004)

  • Nobody has done as many westernized folks as Raja has in recent memory. He effortlessly handles a folk melody, harmonizes, adds lilting interludes and preludes and delivers a hit with ease. Most of the B-grade movies that Raja turns our like a production shop has all the careful steps that I described. Folk melodies are no different from light melodies or heavy CCM based tunes for Raja. There are perhaps over a thousand songs that fit this category.

    Another dimension to Raja’s folk is the song Aayiram Thamarai Motukkale from the film Alaigal Oiyvadhillai (1982). This song was based on a traditional kummi type song that Raja wanted to introduce. Raja turns this kummi into a CCM raga subhapanthuvarali and also introduces chorus and Western orchestration on top! We now have a 4 flavored offering which has all the same techniques of a typical Raja folk composition.

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