Friday, September 16, 2022

SJ – Orchestral vocal instrument - Harmony (1970s)

 Harmony is an integral part of Raja’s work from the get go in 1976. It continues to this date on every possible genre he touches. It somehow is a non-issue for him to bring it into any type of music he composes. While the technical definition of harmony is multiple voices sounding simultaneously, we are going to see how a ‘human voice (SJ)’ did become part of a Raja composed harmony in the next three posts, one per decade.

The first track we will hear is from the song, ‘Aagaaya Gangai’ from ‘Dharma Yudham’ (1979 Tamil). The way Raja structured the second interlude is nothing short of a harmony masterpiece. You will hear two sets of violins, cellos and double bass playing (foreground and background) initially. This is followed by the guitar and SJ along with the violins still continuing in the background. Absolutely mind blowing. The synthesizer joins the harmony as well. Fortunately, the tune was such a big hit that this interlude is quite popular.  A fantastic arrangement with more than 5 instrument parts (violins, cello, double bass, guitar, synthesizer) apart from SJ’s voice to create a harmony experience. At the time when the song came out, harmony was not something that was widely understood by the film music listener. Raja , definitely, raised the film music listener to the next level, with this work. Way ahead of its time.

Let’s hear, ‘Aagaaya Gangai’, harmony with SJ’s orchestral vocal instrument…

The next track is from the song, ‘Indha Minminikku’ from ‘Sigappu Rojakkal’ (1978 Tamil). I have included the harmony parts before and after the SJ harmony parts so that it is clear that her voice is another in the harmony. The initial harmony is arranged with a flute,  lead guitar and bass guitar, only to give way to SJ’s humming and it is supported by three  more voices – the lead and bass guitar , synthesizer. This is followed by a beautiful harmony passage of the violins that bridge the interlude to the charanam.

Let’s hear, ‘Indha Minminikku’, harmony with SJ’s orchestral vocal instrument…

The next track is from the song, ‘Kandaen Engum’ from ‘Kavi Kuyil’ (1978 Tamil). I have included some parts before and after the SJ parts to illustrate how her voice is used as part of a harmony. The initial part is a parallel counterpoint between the guitar and the flute. The SJ part is a beautiful harmony of the violins and her voice. What follows is a simple synthesizer bridge to the charanam.

Let’s hear ‘Kandaen Engum’, harmony with SJ’s orchestral vocal instrument…

The next track is from the song, ‘Kanmaniye Kaadhal Enbadhu’ from ‘Aarilirundhu Arubathu varaiyil’ (Tamil 1979). This track has three parts but all of them are vocal harmonies with SJ’s voice. The first part is SJ doing both the Alto and Tenor  as a humming as part of the interlude. The next two parts are from the charanam. One of the voices (Tenor) stays as a humming while the Alto parts are executed with words. Musically, the words don’t mean much as it is still a vocal harmony.  While I am not entirely sure, if this was his first vocal harmony experiment, he went on to do greater things with SJ’s voice with ‘Karaiyellam Shenbagapoo’, a couple of years later. While, SJ must have experienced this (most likely) technique for the first time, she was quick in executing it very nicely.

Let’s hear,’Kanmaniye Kaadhal’, harmony with SJ’s orchestral vocal instrument…

Monday, August 15, 2022

SJ – Orchestral vocal instrument - Call and Response (1990s)

 The C&R journey from the 90s continued into the 90s as well. However, the pace of SJ being used in this orchestral format came down significantly during this decade. We will see a few examples from the 1990s.

The first track is from the song, ‘Maniye Manikuyile’ from ‘Nadodi Thendral’ (1992 Tamil). This is a PolyCaRe clip with the santoor playing the background melody throughout the clip. The call by SJ is responded by the flute and while the flute responds, the santoor continues in the background with its simple melody.

Let’s hear, ‘Maniye manikuyile’, C&R with SJ’s orchestral vocal instrument…

The next track we will hear is from the song, ‘Oru kunguma sengamalam’ from ‘NaangaL’ (1992 Tamil). This is a complex C&R arrangement – it has two back to back C&R arrangement with proper guitar chords. This is not just one more humming as it happens quite often in Indian film music. The initial call is by SJ with the guitar chords and the response is from the tabla. The second call, a different melody, from SJ is responded to by the flute with its own response. You have to pay attention to the further synthesizer and violins, playing  a C&R, after the SJ C&R ends.  This is to illustrate, how deeply buried is SJ, the instrument inside the Raja orchestra. Such is the thinking of a musical genius. You will never find such an arrangement by any Indian composer.

Let’s hear, ‘Oru Kunguma Sengamalam’, C&R with SJ’s orchestral vocal instrument…

The next track is from the song, ‘Oru Raagam tharaadha veenai’ from ‘Unnai Vaazhthi Paadugiraen’ (1992 Tamil). This is a simple back to back C&R arrangement. The initial call and response is played together between SJ and the violins. The second C&R is a proper division of responsibility between SJ and the violins where SJ makes the call and the violins respond. The violins are used to bridge the C&R to the final charanam in typical Raja style.

Let’s hear, ‘ Oru ragam tharadha’ , C&R with SJ’s orchestral vocal instrument…

I am sure there are a few more examples of SJ being used as part of a C&R arrangement in the 1990s. Feel free to include your picks in the comments…

Friday, July 15, 2022

SJ – Orchestral vocal instrument - Call and Response (1980s)

 While discussing ‘unusual conversations’, I had indicated that Raja used the C&R technique extensively in the 70s, 80s and 90s. As SJ sang for him during just three decades, Raja has used SJ’s voice as part of several Call and response arrangements. In fact, SJ as an orchestral instrument, has been most used in the C&R format than others.

Within the decades, in the 80s, Raja used her voice in this orchestration technique the most. We will see several examples in this post. They are simply in the alphabetical order. 

Let’s begin our journey with the prelude of the song, ‘Endhan Kannil Ezhulagangal’ from ‘Guru’ (1980 Tamil). This is a C^R arrangement with SJ’s voice and the flute. The flute plays the exact melody that SJ uses to sing ‘pa pa pa pa’.

Let’s hear ‘Endhan Kannil ‘C&R with SJ’s orchestral vocal instrument…

The next track is from the song ‘Isai Medaiyil’ from ‘Ilamai Kalangal’ (1983 Tamil). Observe that the initial humming by SJ is part of an overall harmony arrangement with the guitar. The response to SJ’s voice is played by an electric guitar.  You can see how Raja exploits her voice in this orchestral arrangement with various instruments.

Let’s hear ‘Isai Medaiyil’ C&R with SJ’s orchestral vocal instrument…

The next track is from the song ‘Kiliye Kiliye’ from ‘Aa Raathri’ (1982 Malayalam). The initial tune is played by the bass and lead guitar and SJ responds. The response to SJ’s voice is done by a flute. It is a 3 instrument combo C&R in which SJ is one of the instrument.

Let’s hear ‘Kiliye Kiliye’ C&R with SJ’s orchestral vocal instrument…

The next track is from the song, ‘Mettioli Kaatrodu’ from the film ‘Metti’  (1982 Tamil). This requires careful analysis. The long initial humming is part of a harmony arrangement where the guitar plays the chords and the bass plays a counter melody. Interestingly, the response is another beautiful violin melody that plays twice. Raja wants to embellish this further. He follows this with another Call from SJ and the violins respond with a like melody. Total exploitation of SJ’s voice as an orchestral instrument with violins.

Let’s hear ‘Metti Oli’, C&R with SJ’s orchestral vocal instrument…

The next track is from the song, ‘Ore Murai Un Dharisanam’ from ‘En Jeevan Paadudhu’ (1988 Tamil). Only Raja can think of another beautiful way of using SJ in a C&R with flute that is completely different from ‘Endhan Kannil’. The instruments are the same, the arrangement and the melodies are completely different. The call is made by SJ and the flute. The flute plays the exact melody along with SJ. The response is a flute melody which is different from the SJ melody. Such innovations come so easy for the genius.

Let’s hear ‘Ore Murai’, C&R with SJ’s orchestral vocal instrument…

The next track is from the song, ‘Pagalile Oru Nilavinai’ from ‘Ninaive Oru Sangeetham’ (1987 Tamil). The orchestration gets even more complex though I have categorized this song under C&R. It can be easily categorized as a PolyCaRe composition with SJ’s voice as one of the instruments.  The track begins with the violins in the background playing a melody throughout the first part and the flute joins in the foreground with a lead melody in counterpoint. SJ’s voice responds to the flute while the background violins continue. I cannot think of any composer using SJ’s (or any other female voice) in such a sophisticated arrangement in Indian films.  The violin plays the same melody with a minor twist after SJ’s part.  SJ ends the PolyCaRe parts with her final rendition of her melody repeating the flute melody. The following part is a traditional C&R between SJ’s voice and the guitar.

Let’s hear ‘Pagalile Oru Nilavinai’ C&R with SJ’s orchestral vocal instrument…

The next track is from the song ‘Ponvaanam Panneer thuvudhu’ from ‘Indru Nee Naalai Naan’ (1983 Tamil). It begins with gushing violins followed by 4 musical C&R phrases between SJ and the flute.

Let’s hear ‘Ponvaanam Panneer’ C&R with SJ’s orchestral vocal instrument…

The next track is from the song ‘Poo Maalai’ from ‘Thanga Magan’ (1983 Tamil). It is a very relaxed melody C&R exchange between the electric guitar and SJ. Please observe that it is not the same melody that they exchange, but has variations in every phrase.

Let’s hear ‘Poo Maalai’, C&R with SJ’s orchestral vocal instrument…

The next track is from the song, ‘Sumam Prati Sumam’ from ‘Maharishi’ (1987, Telugu). This is heavily orchestrated part with the guitars (lead and bass) backing both the call and the response. SJ’s call is answered by the flute followed by a complex C&R where SJ is answered by the synthesizer, but the flute plays along with SJ in her part.

Let’s hear ‘Sumam Prati Sumam’ ,C&R with SJ’s orchestral vocal instrument…

The next track is from the famous song, ‘Thumbee Vaa’ from ‘Olangal’ (1982 Malayalam). SJ’s call is answered by the synthesizer, There are two separate melodies that SJ and the synthesizer exchange. The bass lines that are overlaid on SJ’s voice has the Raja harmony elements screaming at us!

Let’s hear ‘Thumbi Vaa’, C&R with SJ’s orchestral vocal instrument…

The next track is from the song, ‘Uruginaen Uruginaen’ from ‘Anne Anne’ (1983 Tamil). Raja tries out SJ in a C&R arrangement with a saxophone. The experiment turns out to be fantastic.

Let’s hear ‘Uruginaen…’, C&R with SJ’s orchestral vocal instrument…

The next track is from the famous song, ‘Vaa Vennila’ from  ‘Mella Thirandhadhu Kathavu’ (1986 Tamil) where the C&R arrangement has three back to back parts. The first part has two phrases that SJ sings for which the violins respond. The next part is a beautiful exchange with the electric guitar and the final parts are an exchange with a synthesizer.  In a single interlude, SJ’s vocal instrument is made to work with three different instruments by the composer!

Let’s hear, ‘Vaa Vennila’, C&R with SJ’s orchestral vocal instrument…

The next track is from the song ‘Vaanuyarndha Solaiyile’ from ‘Idhaya Kovil’ (1985 Tamil). The interaction between SJ and the flute is completely different. The flute responds to SJ’s call. But it does not repeat the melody line. It has its own short musical response.

Let’s hear ‘Vaanuyarndha Solaiyile’, C&R with SJ’s orchestral vocal instrument…

I am sure there are a few more examples of SJ being used as part of a C&R arrangement in the 1980s. Feel free to include your picks in the comments…

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

SJ – Orchestral vocal instrument orchestration types

 Let’s get into the methods Raja has employed in using SJ as an orchestral instrument in his compositions. Most of the techniques must be familiar to this blog’s readers as these are staple Raja techniques. What is unique is the use of the female voice within that orchestral structure. My research revealed at least 40 compositions where there is a conscious deployment of the female voice into an orchestral structure. However, I could have missed a few and readers are welcome to bring them up as they see fit.

Call and Response

As we saw in the ‘Unusual conversations’ set of posts, this technique was used a lot by Raja in the 80s and the 90s. SJ was his dominant female voice and Raja used her voice while deploying this technique as an orchestral instrument, the most, among all techniques.


During the entire career span of 23 years, Raja successfully used SJ’s voice as part of his harmony compositions. It is still puzzling how SJ adopts her voice to a Western technique when she had no formal training in that school of music.  One can only wonder about her ability to hear and grasp what a composer wants out of her voice


Throughout his career, Raja made use of counterpoints in his music and during SJ’s years of singing for him, he turned her into one of the orchestral element in his counterpoint composition, at times. This is an interesting use of the female voice that few have attempted


While Raja’s use of the PolyCaRe technique (Polyphony + Call and Response) is legendary, he has used SJ’s voice as part of  PolyCare compositions as well. While the technique itself represents one of the highest sophistication levels of orchestration, it is equally amazing that SJ adapted so easily to even this technique.


Strumming is staple technique of any guitarist. However, Raja uses SJ’s voice instead of a guitar strum beautifully in his interludes!


The category ‘various’ does not mean a catch all bucket. More than one technique has been used by Raja throughout a song when he used SJ’s voice as part of his orchestration. There are a few songs just dedicated for this. It will be unfair to keep them under the other categories and repeating the song. This is perhaps the category, where he fully exploits her voice having written a detailed score and decides to replace instrument parts in several areas with her voice.

A word of caution.  Some of the songs discussed in these series of posts may have been discussed before. Some have parallels in the topic of ‘Nearest Neighbor’ posts.

We will analyze these posts by decades, where applicable.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

SJ – the Raja orchestral vocal instrument

Most Indian film composers exploit the voices of talented female artists very well. Given the range of the female voice, many of them have done one thing consistently in the last 70 years – humming. Lataji, Ashaji, Susheela, or Janaki have been used by several composers for their fantastic ability to hum and carry the song with aplomb. The current crop of composers have used Chithra and Shreya continuing with the tradition. One thing you will notice is the way Raja composes music involving Lata or Asha. He will somehow bring in a humming element into it as that is language independent.

 Let’s begin with some beautifully haunting humming by female vocalists: In the 60s, the Lata solo of ‘Naina Barse Rim Jhim’ in ‘Woh Kaun Thi’ by Madan Mohan was a rage.

During the same time, the Susheela humming of ‘Nenjam Marapathillai’ for MSV-TKR from the movie with the same name was equally a big rage. 

 In the 70s, RD Burman exploited Lata’s humming capabilities with his famous Sivaranjani based song, ‘Maire Naina Saawan’ from Mehbooba. 

Raja did use Lata in his 80s work, but never had a song which began with the haunting humming, his predecessors had taken advantage of. He did use Janaki’s (will be called SJ going forward) voice for its haunting humming capability in several compositions. Some top of mind examples:

  1. Annakili Unnai Thedudhe from Annnakili (1976) 
  2. Kandaen Engum from Kaatrinile Varum Geetham (1978) 
  3. Kaatril Endhan Geetham from Johnny (1980) 
  4. Dhoorathil Naan Kanda from Nizhalgal (1980) 
  5. Mouna Ragam manaveenai from Kolangal (1995) 
  6. Paadavaa Un Paadalai from Naan Paadum Paadal (1984) 
  7. Ponnil Vaanam Thoovuthu from Villu Paatukaraen (1992) 
  8. Puththam Pudhu Kaalai from Alaigal Oiyvathillai (1981) 
  9. Raasaave Unnai from Aranmanai Kili (1992) 
  10. Vaa Vennila from Mella thirandhadhu Kadhavu (1986) 

Having said that, few composers before Raja have also attempted to blend musical instruments with female voices as they come close with some instruments such as flute. The 60s song of SJ, ‘Singara Velane Deva’ exploited her voice being on a very close timbre match with the nadaswaram instrument. That will not be our focus in this series of posts. We will focus on Raja’s use of SJ’s voice as an orchestral instrument. In this situation, it does not matter, if it is an electric guitar, or a bamboo flute, a synthesizer or even a saxophone. She was his debut singer in 1976 and sang for Raja for 23 years till 1999. In my view, there is no parallel to the way Raja exploited SJ’s voice as an orchestral instrument in Indian film music. 

It will be a delight to explore how the composer exploited her instrument timbre voice and how she performed as a vocal artist, in ways unknown, before their collaboration.

What exactly is the difference between humming and the female voice being used as an orchestral element? Most humming are great fillers and composers have always kept it separate from the orchestral elements. The only orchestral element that plays along the humming, at times, are rhythms. The rest of the orchestra takes a back seat. 

When a female voice is used as an integral orchestral element, it must actively engage with the orchestra and also do its part when called for, by the composer. It is surrounded by the orchestral instruments that dominate the section – the female voice just adds color to the otherwise instrument composition.

No wonder, Raja always mentioned SJ as the most intelligent singer he worked with. To sing a composer's composition is one thing; to become part of a composer's orchestra is another. She was able to effortlessly blend with Raja's intricate Western compositions though she had no formal training with Western music.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Nearest Neighbor – conclusion

 In this analysis journey of nearest neighbors, we explored several instrument pairs and how Raja has been quite path breaking and innovative with instrumentation in his orchestration work. Several instrument pairs were not even thinkable to most composers till Raja showed them the possibility. Even with synthesizer dominated tones, very few composers are experimenting the same way today. Part of the reason for Raja’s music’s longevity is this exploratory instrumentation and wonderful melodic structures behind each such instrumentation that has been carefully chosen by the master of orchestration. 

I am sure there are other examples that I may have missed. Feel free to add them as your comments to the posts.

Nearest Neighbor - Trumpet and electric guitar

 Placing an electric guitar next to a trumpet is rare, though these two instruments have been used independent of each other in several music phrases by composers prior to Raja.  It never occurred to composers that these two instrument parts next to each other can be very captivating. This is the last of the Nearest neighbor parts post and we will explore several Raja examples in this category as he has used this combination a lot.

The clip below has four tracks. The first track (29 secs)  is from the interlude of the song, ‘Ennodu Paatu Padungal’ from ‘Udhaya Geetham’ (Tamil 1985). This is a nice call and response arrangement between the trumpet and the electric guitar  The second track (31 to 47 secs) is from the interlude of the song, ‘Sorgam Madhuvile’ from the film, ‘Sattam En Kailyil’ (Tamil 1979). This is a very early on experiment with these two instruments, when Raja was a young composer. The third track (49 to 1:09 secs) is the interlude of the song, ‘Vaanam Keezhe Ponalenna’ from’ Thoongathe Thambi Thoongathe’ (Tamil 1983). This is part of the magnum opus in orchestration by Raja and he places both these instruments in counter to each other, with the violins playing the harmonic parts. There is a lot going on in these 20 seconds. The fourth clip (1:11 to 1:34) is from the interlude of the song, ‘Vaazha Vaikum Kadhalukku Jai’ from 'Aboorva Sagodharargal' (Tamil 1989) with a slow paced trumpet and the electric guitar playing its parts in C&R. 

Let’s hear the nearest neighbors – Trumpet and Electric guitar…