Can be male, female or both. This is a Raja specialty that few composers have comfort handling. This is a very hard thing to do – marrying completely opposite musical systems – one that is very structured and another that is unstructured. It comes easy for a genius however.
Eriyile Elantha Maram from Karayellam Shenbagapoo (Tamil 1981). This track will definitely rank among Raja’s top 10 choir arrangements. In short, a masterpiece. Based on writer Sujatha’s story, the requirement was only for folk tunes. Raja embellishes it with Carnatic and Western choir and creates a masterpiece. There is no such track I have heard in Indian film music. The prelude starts off with the traditional Carnatic swarams (Sa re ga ma pa da ne sa) one set of female voices overlapped with another set of voices singing western choir for a few bars. It changes over to conventional folk choir (than Na Na) by one set of voices. This is joined by exactly the same folk choir by another set of female voices at a different pitch. The first one in Soprano and the second one in Alto. Both the voices are singing folk but in perfect western harmony. You can even call this as true fusion that has never occurred to anyone before Raja. When Janaki sings ‘Yeriyile’ at least 5 times, observe what the choir does in the background. For the first two occasions, Janaki is doing the Soprano and the choir is touching almost the bass. The third occasion, the choir shifts to Alto and Janaki remains in Soprano and the choir does not repeat the last two ‘Yeriyile’. Why does Raja do that? As I mentioned before, he is THE EXPERT in vocal harmony and there are reasons for this. The chorus do the traditional sing-along in the pallavi. Let’s take the first interlude next. One set of voices sing ‘laa laa laa’ in soprano and another set of voices sing ‘la la la’ in sharper notes in alto creating further harmony. The last transition to the charanam uses some innovative choir arrangement – ‘than thana’ is sang in bass by one female choir and the other female choir uses the very high pitch ‘oooyee’ in soprano. This song requires a separate post where every bar is explained. The charanam has lines repeated by the choir in vocal harmony. The last but one bar has some neat western choir by the group backing Janaki. The second interlude uses phrases such as ‘Dum Dum Dum’, ‘Pee Pee Pee’, ‘thana tham’ all arranged very cleverly in harmony to imitate a nadaswaram and a thavil – the idea is Western, the implementation is pure folk. Take a bow before the genius.
Let’s now go into the detail of this track even further. Let’s first start with the first 40 second clip:
- The first 7 seconds or so, there is a bass joined a little later by an acoustic guitar to create the basic rhythm. No voices
- Between 7 and 12 seconds, the female choir starts off with Carnatic swaras - Sa re ga ma pa da ne sa – Observe the bass guitar climbing the notes along with the chorus
- Between 13 and 17 seconds, the female choir repeats the Carnatic swaras again in Soprano. This time, it is joined by another female choir joins with discrete notes ‘ha’ ‘ha’, placed exactly after a Carnatic note is sung and in Alto
- Between 18 and 20 seconds, one set of female choir sings a folk choir (than Na Nadhinam Than Na Na Na) in Soprano. Following it between 20 and 22 seconds, another female choir repeats the folk choir in Alto. This is a simple C&R before Raja takes you to the next step. The bass guitar does its usual magic
- Between 23 and 42 seconds, Raja takes these two sets of voices and shows how they can be harmonized together with the bass guitar. Observe the effort and care he has taken in conducting this to ensure that the voices do not screw up the range they are singing this. Though the tune goes up and down, the Soprano and Alto stays true to the definition. Harmonized folk – thanks Raja for the lesson!
Let’s now go a bit under the covers on the pallavi of this track. (Clip 2)
- Most of the harmony magic is done in the first 9 seconds of this clip. Raja gets the female choir to stick to Tenor and keeps Janaki’s voice in Alto. In these 9 seconds, the word ‘Eriyile’ is repeated 5 times by both parties sticking to their range.
- Between 10 and 25 seconds, the pallavi is arranged in a conventional Indian folk format where the female choir repeats the last few words sung by Janaki
Let’s now analyze the first interlude (Clip 3)
- Between 5 and 11 seconds, Raja uses two sets of voices singing exactly the same lines – ‘la la la’. One in Soprano and another is Alto. He ensures that there is perfect coordination between the voices as they still stick to the range. This is perfect western harmony using Indian style wording!
- Between 16 and 21 seconds on the clip, Raja now repeats the same technique, but with a different melody, but the same words!
- Between 36 and 41 seconds, Raja embellishes this further. He uses two sets of female choir, one singing perfect western discrete notes (using than thananam) in Tenor and now he throws a typical folk piece in Alto on top of it. Genius!
Let’s take the part towards the end of charanam 1 and see how Raja uses the female choir in harmony for the transition back to the pallavi (clip 4):
- In the first 4 seconds, as Janaki descends to the pallavi, observe the embellishment that Raja throws in with the female choir in the background in Tenor. Creativity at its peak
Let’s now analyze parts of the 2nd interlude in this song where Raja uses the typical childhood play and turns it into harmony! (clip 5):
- For the first 3 seconds, one set of female voices sing (Dum Dum Dum). Observe the range – tenor
- Between 3 and 7 seconds, Raja throws another quick lesson on harmony with three sets of voices. He introduces the second set of voices to sing (‘Pi Pi Pi’) in Soprano. Before you can complain, he brings the third set of voices that sing ‘thana nana’ in Alto. Brilliant!
- Between 8 and 12 second, he uses Pi Pi and and ‘Dham’ in Soprano and Alto with a different timing.
- Lastly, between 13 and 15 seconds, Raja brings all the three together again with different timing and melody.
Please use Windows media player and hear this track in slow speed to comprehend the brilliance of the composer. While Indian composers today brag about harmony, such creativity using folk, Carnatic and local genres to fit a perfect western harmony – I do not expect to see it in my lifetime again!
Megam Karukkaiyile from Vaidegi Kaathitunthaal (Tamil 1984). This is a masterpiece of sorts where Raja shows his mastery over choir arrangement. He uses both male and female voices to create the impression of esapaatu, a traditional folk technique, where the singing between the groups alternates. However, he does something more clever. He makes the male voices sing Western, when the female voices sing folk and vice versa. The song starts off with the female voices singing ‘thana than thana’ which is traditional and the male voices go ‘aahaa oho aahaa oho’. Initially they alternate a few phrases and you can soon notice that they merge, both the groups singing the same and different phrases. When Raja sings the pallavi the male voices go single syllable ‘aaa’ and when Uma sings, the female voices so ‘aaa’. Notice the male voices in tenor and the female in alto. That’s a typical Raja curveball. Do you call this esapaatu or pure western choir? It depends on how you view it.
Thendral Vandhu from Avatharam (Tamil 1995). The track starts off with set of female choirs singing ‘thaana thanthana’ in phase shift mode and finally gets into vocal harmony with Raja taking the bass and the choir stays on alto. The first interlude has again two set of female choirs – one that hums the conventional Indian tune and the other doing the sharp ‘than than than tham’ in perfect harmony. The second interlude is arranged with a lot of synth, flutes and guitar. The female choir is used to hum an Indian melody.