Thursday, June 9, 2011

All music is one - Part 1

It’s easy to take shelter under common sense and dismiss a whole bunch of striking things in life. What strikes us as commonsense must be true isn’t it? Einstein once said that ‘Commonsense is a set of prejudices accumulated before the age of 18’. It is so true in the world of music too. I always see how many people try to always come out with statements such as ‘East is East and West is West’ whenever, they choose to swing one way or the other. One of the things that Raja has always said is that ‘all music is the same’ for him. He even went on to further say that writing a complex instrumental such as ‘How to Name It’ or a film song or a complex crossover musical like ‘Thiruvasagam’ is still no different for him. 

While it is easy to oversimplify music as a simple combination of seven notes, it is extremely hard to put this to practice. To transcend between two musical systems is hard; to do that over 5 or 6 systems is many orders of magnitude tougher. Only a musical genius who has the ability to see commonality between these complex musical systems can just not speak about it but also demonstrate it in his work. Raja is a rare breed and we will explore some of the tracks where he walks the talk.

Let’s define what we mean by complex systems. The obvious ones are Carnatic, Western and folk music systems. The other elements to music that applies across the board are elements such as rhythm, voices, instrumentation. What we are analyzing here goes beyond fusion music. Fusion music still demonstrates that the composer has taken two different things and mixed it. The ones that we will discuss here are examples where Raja simply switches from one to the other(s) with no one realizing what he has done. Here are some top of mind examples.

The song ‘Poo Malarnthida’ from Tik Tik Tik (Tamil 1981) is a song that is set to Karaharapriya ragam. The way Raja arranges this song leaves you wonderstruck on how he uses Yesudas for both Carnatic and Western singing and Jensi for light singing – all in one song. The instrumentation for this song leaves you totally confused – is this Carnatic or Western? The simple answer, all music is one

Common sense tells us that counter melody arrangement is normally done in Western music based compositions. Negative. In the post called ‘Isai Vignani’, we saw how Raja demonstrated with SPB singing a humming and Carnatic swaras as two melodies simultaneously in Anveshana. Here is another example, where Raja shows in the song ‘Keeravani’ from Paadum Paravaigal, (Tamil 1988) the same technique. Why would someone do this contrary to Carnatic music best practices? The simple answer, all music is one

Every year Carnatic musicians pay homage to their guru in Thiruvaiyaru by singing the pancharatna keertanas. One of the keertanas set to Shree ragam that is very popular is ‘Entharo Mahana Bhavulu’. No normal composer messes around with this song. Raja sets it to duet and another ragam (only the first 2 lines are taken from the song) for a different mood (romantic) in Ashoka Chakravarthy (1989 Telugu). Why? The simple answer, all music is one

Naadam Ezhundhadadi from Gopura Vaasalile (1991) is a fantastic melody set to Sriranjani. What has a classical Western violin dialog with Indian Carnatic violins got to do with a Sriranjani composition? You must be nuts to think of such a concoction, shouldn’t you? Listen to the first interlude of this song, where Raja throws a generous chorus that sticks strictly to the ragam. Why would such a strict guy throw the Western violins in dialog with the Indian violins? The simple answer, all music is one

The song ‘Rasathi Rasathi from Poovarasan (Tamil 1993) is hard to put a finger on. Is this folk music strictly? The lyrics are very colloquial and makes you think so. The instrumentation however is ultra-modern with synthesizers and grand violins playing a perfect Western Classical performance (or a trance type music).  The interludes are from one world, but the main song is from another. How can they coexist so well? The simple answer, all music is one

We covered this in the post called ‘Voice therapy’. The track is a cheerful folk one where the kids and the grandfather have a good time – ‘Potri Paadadi Penne’ from Devar Magan (1993 Tamil).  Using ghatam and flutes, it is a delightful, simple tune. The same tune is sung in a sad mood ‘Vaanam thottu Pona’ with kettle drums in the film. However, the interludes are changed to completely mixed Western choir arrangement to signify the sorrow of the village with the headman passing away. Western choir replaces ghatam and flute and the tonal mood changes completely. How? The simple answer, all music is one

The song ‘Arumbum Thalire’ from the film Chandralekha (Tamil 1995) is set like a regular film song with all the frills such as the synthesizer, rhythm pad and the works. You have the typical fast paced song for a young hero. However, the rehash of the same song in the same film ‘Tharai varamal’ sang by Unnikrishnan uses exactly the same tune, but uses a bhajan like arrangement. If you hear one, you cannot come to terms with the other. Why? The simple answer, all music is one

The song Kootukuyilai from Manam Virumbudhe Unnai (Tamil 1999) was not a major hit. The song starts off with Raja singing Natchatra Grahanaam in Sanskrit in a perfect vocal harmonic arrangement. (We will later cover vocal harmony in detail). It gives you no idea about the song that follows it. Hariharan starts the song with the rhythm pad and the synth accompaniment like so many other Raja songs. In the pallavi, you will notice Bhavadha singing perfect Carnatic swarams in this otherwise light musical piece. Sanskrit vocal harmony, light song, Carnatic swarams, what’s going on? The simple answer, all music is one

We have all heard several very pensive songs of Raja that have his stamp written all over. Some of them are fantastic Western classical violin treats carefully camaflouged as Indian melodies. Chinna Chinna Roja Poove from Poovizhi Vasalile (1987 Tamil) is one such song. Another song, set to Gowrimanohari, with some brilliant Western violin parts is Anbe Vaa Arugile from Kili Pechu Ketkava (1998 Tamil). Here is another song – Kanneer Thuli from Raja Kaiya Vachcha (1993 Tamil) – the instrument arrangement of this pensive song set to Desh, makes you wonder, if the composer is nuts, if you just read the text – trumpets, violins, bells and a Western classical interlude. When you hear the track, you realize that everything has its place and the composition is well rounded with the right mood. Surprisingly, all these three tracks are sung by Yesudas. It is hard to come to terms with WCM violins, classical Indian melodies and blend them so effortlessly. The simple answer, all music is one

If you observe his recent song ‘Malar Villile’ from Ponnar Sankar (2011), you will see all the elements of several musical systems coexisting happily. Nothing sticks out like a sore thumb. The song has a 70s style chorus, some parts with synthesizer and synthpads, some parts with flute and mirudhangam. Parts of the pallavi have mixed rhythm arrangement. The postlude of this song is very interesting – brilliant mix of classical and synth based arrangement. How can you think of such a complex mix of musical arrangements in a single track? The simple answer, all music is one