Sunday, December 2, 2012

Usage of choir for string section, bass sections, wind sections - Black and Red tulips

This is a Raja specialty. No other composer can match him as this seems like a bit of improvisation at the last minute before conducting the piece. There are so many situations where he has replaced the notes written for an instrument with the human voice. It is interesting to guess the instrument for which the notes were originally written!

In order to understand what we mean by string, wind sections backing songs, let us take three examples from Raja’s music, the first one where strings back the main voices, the second where wind sections back the voices and a third one where there is nothing to back the main voices. Following this, we will analyze songs where Raja replaces instruments completely with just chorus.

Let’s hear the charanam of the song ‘Deva Sangeetham’ from the film ‘Guru’ (Malayalam 1997), Please do not focus on the rhythm or the voices and focus on what plays in the background. You will hear a lot of violins backing the main singers. This is an example of strings backing the charanam. 

Let's hear Deva Sangeetham's charanam...

Let’s hear the charanam of the song Yerikkarai Poonkatre from Thooral Ninnu Pochu (Tamil 1982) and you will notice that the only instrument backing the main singer during the charanam is the flute. 

Let's hear Yerikkarai Poonkatre charanam...

Let’s next the charanam of the song ‘Siru Ponmani Asaiyum’ from the film Kallukkul Eeram (Tamil 1980) and you will hear no instrument backing the main singer at all.

Let's hear Siru Ponmani charanam...

Having got a good sense of how typically Raja does his orchestration of his charanams, let’s move to his specialty – replacing that with choir, sometimes male, and at other times female or mixed. Now, conducting an instrument based backup for the charanam is hard enough. This is a greater challenge as the wrong choir can spoil the melody completely. Such challenges are too small for the genius. Time for examples.

ABC Nee Vaasi from Oru Kaidiyin Dairy (Tamil 1984) – This song appears like a typical Raja melody till you closely pay attention to it. Set to Mohanam ragam, Raja embellishes it in many ways using the female choir.  The prelude has some neat carnatic humming by the female chorus. The pallavi has the female chorus humming along. The charanams have no strings backing the singers. The female chorus backs the singers fully. The second interlude has some neat Western choir by the female singers in the scat mode.  This track strikes me as one, the choir could be replaced with both strings and wind sections.

Let's hear ABC Nee Vaasi charanam...

Azhagiya Nadhiyena from Paatukku Oru Thalaivan (Tamil 1989). The prelude starts off with the female chorus. The interlude 1 continues with a similar female chorus. Notice that the charanam is backed by only chorus and not by strings. Interlude 2 uses the female chorus in a different mode. 

Khel Thendrale from Nenjathai Killathe – prelude (Tamil 1981). The prelude is filled with female chorus. The pallavi has the female chorus backing the main singer. The charanams have the female chorus backing the singer fully – no strings.  

Ade Neevu from Abinandana (Telugu 1990). The pallavi has the main singer backed by female chorus.  Even the interludes have a lot of chorus work. The charanam is also backed by the female chorus 

Let's hear Ade Neevu charanam...

Chinnakuyil Paadum Paatu Ketkudha from Poove Poochoodava (Tamil 1985) (charanams use choir and claps instead of strings). The track also uses chorus for transition between the charanam and the pallavi.

Let's hear Chinnakuyil charanam...

Etho Mogum Etho Dhagam from Kozhi Koovuthu (Tamil 1982)– observe the use of chorus in places that are actually string passages. Part of these passages are for flute and others for strings in my view.

Let's hear Etho Mogum charanam...

Inimael NaaLum Ilangalaithaan from Iravu Pookal (Tamil 1986) (charanams use choir instead of strings). This song is a classic, where the use of chorus is all over the track. The prelude, the charanams all, use brilliant chorus arrangement that carries the Raja stamp every moment. In my view, the entire chorus passages could be easily replaced with flute passages, given the classical nature of the tune. This is the track that made me sit up and take notice of the fact that a composer can replace his entire background instrumentation with choir, if he is talented enough!

Let's hear Inimael NaaLum charanam...

Keladi Kanmani from Pudhu Pudhu Arthangal (Tamil 1989) (charanams use choir instead of strings). Observe the way Raja plays around with the choir that is used instead of the strings (violins, my guess) – he moves the voices from left to center to right and then back to left navigating through center again. Only the first 16 bars have the choir backing the singer. The last 8 bars have only percussion and bass.

Let's hear Keladi Kanmani charanam...

Kootathile Kovilpura from Idhaya Kovil (Tamil 1985) (charanams use choir instead of strings).This again sounds like violins being replaced by female choir.

Unnai Ethir Paarthaen  from Vanaja Girija (Tamil 1994) (charanams use female choir instead of strings). The arrangement of the female choir to back the main singers is very innovative. You can observe that the female choir is in counter melody to the main singers and at times sing into the main singer’s lines. You will never find that intruding. My guess is that this is perhaps flute lines converted to chorus lines. The first few and last few bars have the choir backing the main singer with the middle ones being void of choir. When you hear the track closely, you can also hear the synthesizer track guiding the choir.

Let's hear Unnai Ethir Paarthaen charanam...

Malargalile Aradhanai from Karumbu Vil (Tamil 1980). The entire charanam is backed by female choir. The interludes are heavily ornamented with choir.

Oru Kaaviyam from Aruvadai Naal (Tamil 1986) – the first and the second charanam iare backed by female choir with the exception of the first few bars where the table backs the main singer.

Oru Naal Antha Oru Naal from Devathai (Tamil 1997) – traditional, western, male female, both choir – all inclusive. The entire charanam is backed by male/female Western choir. The interludes are heavily ornamented with choir. However, the last few bars have violins backing the main singer. Though it deserves mention in this category, it does not entirely fit into this.

Poongatre Theendathe from Kunguma Chimizh (Tamil 1985). The entire charanam is backed by female choir. The pallavi is also backed by the female choir. The prelude has the female chorus along with flutes and violins starting this Brindavanasaranga based tune. The first few bars have veena backing the main singer thus disqualifying this song from this category.

Raathiriyil Poothirukkum from Thanga Magan (Tamil 1983). The entire charanam is backed by female choir. The interludes are filled with female choir.The first few bars have only the guitar and the percussion backing the main singer. Following this, the female choir takes care of the rest of the bars. My guess is that these are perhaps flute passages replaced with female choir.

Let's hear the charanam of Raathiriyil..

Thamtha Theemtha from Pagalil Oru Iravu (Tamil 1979)– only some parts are mixed, majority is female choir. Charanams are backed only by voices. Set to Mohanam, the charanam female choir parts appear more like violin passages replaced. This track in general has some fantastic female choir backing the main singer as well as filling the ludes. You can never hear this track on stage due to the complexity of the arrangement. Some parts include male choir too and not everything is strictly Carnatic. It’s hard to put your finger and call it as dance, folk, western or Carnatic – typical Raja!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Usage of Carnatic and Western choir in a single track - Red, white and Blue tulips

This can be male, female or both. This is a very rare occurrence in Indian film music and Raja has done this with ease. Again, this is a Raja specialty that few composers have comfort handling. Talk about resetting the bar even higher!

Kadhal Oviyam Kandaen from Kavi Kuyil (Tamil 1977) – this track is by Sujatha when she was a little girl. The 1st interlude has western style choir arrangement. The 2nd interlude has Carnatic style chorus backing!

Let's hear the interludes of Kadhal Oviyam Kandaen...

ABC Nee Vaasi from Oru Kaidiyin Dairy (Tamil 1984) – This  song appears like a typical Raja melody till you closely pay attention to it. Set to Mohanam ragam, Raja embellishes it in many ways using the female choir.  The prelude has some neat carnatic humming by the female chorus. The pallavi has the female chorus humming along. The charanams have no strings backing the singers. The female chorus backs the singers fully. The second interlude has some neat Western choir by the female singers in the scat mode. 

Halli Lavaniyalli Laali from Nammora Mandara Hoova (Kannada 1996) or Alli Sundaravalli from Kangalin Vaarthaigal. The track starts off with the bass guitar and is continued so nicely by the keyboard and a very jazzy female humming. The humming in the pallavi is a complex one where parts are sang by Chitra and other parts by the melody singers. I particularly enjoy the arrangement of humming where Chitra hands it over to the melody singers - nice!   Interlude 1 starts off with a nice flute playing in counter to bells. It is smoothly transitioned to a nice call & response between flute and keyboard supported by the bass guitar. The next handover is to a nice chorus arrangement - very modern, yet classical. Only Raja can think of these phrases. The chorus is backed by a very pleasant synth and bass guitar.The chorus is complex with Chitra and the melody singers taking turns, overlapping at times. The flute adds another dimension to the chorus. This is one of the best chorus arrangements of Raja in recent times. 

 The charanam is a very nice melody with some of the phrases sung by SPB and the others by the melody singers. While SPB freaks out with his modulation, the melody singers are embellished by the bass guitar and the keyboard.  Interlude 2 starts off with some heavy flute and synth work. All three arrangements play simultaneously - synth, flute and chorus for the first nine seconds. The chorus that follows is another complex arrangement - the interplay between flute and chorus in counterpoint blows you off your socks. WOW Raja! And as though it is not enough, he throws in another little curve ball at you - a nice call and response with two sets of choral voices. The bass guitar lines take care of the rest and the transition to the charanam. If you recollect some of Raja's tracks such as Malargalile Aaradhanai (Karumbu Vil) or Malargale Nadaswarangal (Kizhakke Pogum Rayil) or Naadam Ezhundhadadi (Gopura Vasalile), the chorus is all classical. If you recollect tracks such as Oho Megam Vandhade (Mouna Ragam), Rojapoo Ada Vandadho (Agni Natchathiram), the chorus is set to a western arrangement.This is chorus on steroids! It can't get any more modern, any more classical simultaneously.

Let's hear the interludes of Halli Lavaniyalli...

Aruna Kirana from Guru (Malayalam 1997). Guru was another Raja – BSO joint venture. You can always expect some great Western choir when they come together. The grand symphonic prelude ends with some male chorus in tribal mode. The pallavi has some male/female chorus parts too. The charanams have some conventional humming and some lines sang by the female and the male chorus. The second interlude has some female chorus parts. 

Oh Priya Priya from Idhayathai Thirudhathe (Tamil 1985) – male choir is western and female is set to Carnatic in interlude 1 singing in harmony. The second interlude has the female choir in humming mode. This song is set to Sivaranjani ragam.

Vanam Engey from Nenjiladum Poo Ondru (Tamil 1978) – the prelude and some parts of the interlude are beautifully interwoven between western and CCM choral parts

Let's hear the interludes of Vaanam Engey...

Illalo Kalise from Anveshana (Telugu 1985) or Nizhalo Nijamo from Paadum Paravaigal (Tamil 1988). The first interlude has some great mixed western choir arrangement. Raja uses Balu to sing swarams on top of the western choir arrangement in the background and ends it with some fantastic violins. A real treat for the connoisseur of choir! The second interlude has the male choir in the foreground and the female choir in the background. Again, Raja uses different Balu swarams to overlap the choir arrangement.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Usage of Folk and Western choir in a single track - Pink and Orange tulips

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Introduction to harmony singing

As mentioned before, Indian music has a rich chorus tradition. Most bhajans are sung in groups. Even several Indian folk songs are sang in groups. For example, the South Indian folk music form, Kummi is a chorus tradition. Even in South Indian Carnatic tradition, the guru vandhana done for the creators of this music form is sang in chorus. The thivaiyaru homage to Thyagaraja is a good example. 

In western musical tradition, the art of group singing has existed for several hundred years. Most of the dance musicals have had a chorus component always. Stage presentations of stories such as opera have a rich chorus culture. Like bhajans in an Indian setting, choirs have a rich religious setting originating from the church. An example would be Whitney Houston, the American pop singer who passed away recently, had her early training with vocals as a choir singer in the church. 

In Indian group singing, we consider singing with the right shruthi and bhavam as very important traits. While these are equally important in Western group singing, there are several technical elements that went along with Western group singing. While ability to sing is important, in Western group singing ability to site read music is equally important. In Indian music, as long as the person has good ability to sing, understand the swaras, most of the other aspects are taught by the conductor on the job. In Western music, while all these abilities are very important, pitching is given a lot more importance and within a single piece of music, pitching is arranged differently for different singers and this is best understood only when someone understands musical site reading.

Choirs in the western world have always been associated with the church. This is part of the western culture. Before we jump into the technical aspects of Western harmony, let’s take a look at this flashmob youtube video, where the crowd sings a Christmas choir, uninitiated in a food court during a routine December afternoon…

 Unfortunately, harmony singing is very misunderstood. There are several TV interviews where new Indian film singers use the term ‘harmony’ very loosely. Most of them state that they did ‘harmony singing’ at the beginning of their careers. What they mean is that they were part of ‘group singing’. So, what is harmony singing? In short, it is a way to decorate the main melody. The decoration obviously has rules. Let’s go back to the old article on harmony where we learned about Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass. (Harmony basics). For the purposes of understanding harmony as applied to choirs, we can skip Bass. For example, if the melody is the Soprano voice, the harmonies will be stacked below in the Alto and Tenor intervals. If the melody is the Alto voice, the harmonies are stacked differently. The Soprano will be above the melody and the Tenor will be below. If Tenor is the melody, then both the harmonies will be stacked above it, one at Soprano and another at Alto intervals.  This idea is very well demonstrated in this youtube video:

You can notice that this presents composers with several options once they have decided on the key of their main melody. Any slip in this arrangement of melodies to harmony will create a very unpleasant cacophony. It is important for any composer to understand important keys related rules for harmony (harmony should be either on the fifths or 3 keys apart from the melody), the harmony singers should also easily understand and latch on to the melody, but stay away from its pitch honoring the rules. It must be noted that the main melody can either be sung or be played with an instrument. If you hear the song Kottum Kuzalvizhi (Kaala Pani 1996 Malayalam), Raja uses voices  in harmony around the main melody played by violins. 

Time for some examples from the Western Classical Music world. Here is a clip from 1742, a composition by German composer Handel, called 'Hallelujah' (from 'Messiah'). Please note the brilliant use of choir in harmony using both male and female voices with the violins.

Here is another brilliant background score from the film Omen, by Jerry Goldsmith, using some spectacular choral harmony 


Though our focus is to understand how Raja has used vocal harmony in his various chorus arrangements, let us also take a brief look at some of his work with vocal harmony in general. One of his earliest experiments with vocal harmony was the song ‘En Kanmani’ from the film Chittukuruvi (Tamil 1979) where he used the voices of Susheela and SPB alternating in Alto and Tenor. Following this, he also tried some parts of the song Kanmaniye Kadhal Enbadhu from the film Aarilirundhu Arubathu Varai (Tamil 1980) where he used a similar technique with SJ and SPB voices. In the early 80s, Raja has tried vocal harmony in several songs, but the one where he hit the ball out of the park was the song ‘Pon Oviyam’ from the film Kazhuku (Tamil 1981), where Raja did a mini festival with voices. Some parts of this song are a vocal counter melody and some others qualify as vocal harmony. The choir switches to all three parts, when IR or SJ sing in Soprano, the choir sings in Alto in counter melody. They also switch roles and the choir sings in Soprano when IR or SJ switch to Alto. Here is the youtube video of this song (ignore the bad picturisation):

Another track that uses vocal harmony very well in the early 80s is the song ‘Adi Athadi’ from Kadalora Kavidhaigal (1985 Tamil) where several parts have two female (SJ) or two male voices (IR) in Soprano and Tenor. Observe the lines “Ilam Manasonnu Rekkai Katti” or “Oru Alai Vandhu”, the way it is sang.

 Around the same time, another very popular Raja track where vocal counter melodies are in full play is the Pagal Nilavu track Poo Malaiye (Tamil 1986), a duet from IR and SJ.

In this track, there are at least 16 counter melodies embedded. Not sure, if there is any Indian film song that can boast of this.

The list is endless with Raja and his work on vocal harmony. We will now get back to the world of Raja’s choir arrangements that are harmony centric.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Chorus by children - Blue tulips

Raja has done this extensively, all the way up to ‘Paa’, though ‘Anjali’ comes to mind immediately. He has used children to sing, western, folk, traditional chorus in different situations.

Anjali Anjali from Anjali – observe the choir in the background (Tamil 1990). This song is more known for its children singing and the chorus. The first and third pallavi has some neat children choir backing the lines. The song itself is a great work on vocal harmony. The charanams are executed as a traditional chorus. The second pallavi is also executed as a normal chorus. 

Let's hear Anjali Anjali..

Gum Sum Gum from Paa (Hindi 2009) is perhaps the most reused tune by a single composer in Indian films (the 6th time). This song is fully done with children and Bhava’s voices. 

Kotaiya Vittu from China thayee (children) (Tamil 1992) The song’s initial pallavi is sang by children. In the charanam, the children repeat Uma’s lines. This is very traditional. The second pallavi is sang by the children fully. 

Marangal Tharum from Dhruva Natchathiram (Tamil 1993). This song is sang by children. The orchestration of this song is truly mind boggling. Several initial bars have no orchestra at all. Following this, there is some percussion and some brief violin strokes. What follows this is some 2 minutes of one of the grandest and finest violin and woodwind arrangements by Raja. 

Let's hear Marangal Tharum...

Mottamaadi Mottamaadi from Anjali (Tamil 1990). This song is fully sang by a group of children. 

Minnaminumgam from My Dear Kuttichathan (children) (Malayalam 1984). This song is executed with children backing Yesudas. The song starts off with some neat children Western choir. In the charanam, the children sing conventional Indian choir in between phrases. Some of the charanam’s mid bars are backed ( 5,6) by children singing in a scat mode. The final transition between the charanam and the pallavi is executed with Das in scat. The second charanam is executed very similar to the first one. 

Let's hear Minnaminumgam ...

Vanam Namakku Veedhi from Anjali (Tamil 1990) This song is fully sang by a group of children. 

Oru Kiliyin thanimaiyile from Poovizhi Vaasalile (Tamil 1987) - Has children choir and some good traditional and western female choir. There are two versions to this song. From a choir perspective, both the versions are arranged the same way. The children sing some lines in the pallavi and the female choir backs him – all in the pallavi. The charanam has some neat female choir that is perfect western choir with Tamil words – nicely written by Vaali. It’s not easy to get such simple repetitive words that fit the notes so perfectly. Hats off to the combo. You will easy figure this out if you approach these phrases from a musical note perspective. The second interlude has some great innovative choir arrangement. Again discrete notes backed by the bass and lead guitar to give you the impression of a western choir, with perfect Indian ‘la la la’ phrases. It’s hard to match this composer’s one faculty – choir and arrangement!  The children’s choir is used as the transition between the charanam and the pallavi.  

I am sure there are others that Raja has done and I may have missed. Readers can add comments to surface those tracks...

Usage of Folk and Carnatic choir in a single track - Red, white and yellow tulips

Can be male, female or both. This is a Raja specialty that few composers have comfort handling. Though this is not very common, there are a few songs that I know of where Raja has used this technique. The track is typically set to a Carnatic ragam and there is either a prelude or an interlude with choir in Carnatic format. Raja chooses to introduce a folk choir in the same track and it never sounds out of place. Time to reset the bar higher!

Maalaigal Idam Maruthu from December Pookal (Tamil 1986) – This is a track set to brindavana saranga ragam. Prelude is set to Carnatic humming sang by a female chorus. The second interlude is pure folk set on kummi style again rendered by the female chorus.

Let's first hear the Carnatic chorus that is the prelude of the song...

Now, let's hear the folk choir in the second interlude of the same song...

Malligaye Malligaye from Periya Veetu Panakkaran (Tamil 1990) – This song is set to Sarasaangi ragam. The prelude is set to humming in Carnatic by the female chorus. The second interlude in folk chorus with folk instruments.

Let's first hear the Carnatic chorus that is the prelude of the song...

Now, let's hear the folk choir in the second interlude of the same song...

I am sure that are some more examples that readers can uncover...

Monday, July 2, 2012

Scat singing backgrounder

Many composers have used a whole bunch of Western techniques before Raja.  Kishore Kumar was very famous for his yodeling in the HFM world, much before Raja. The song, ‘Zindagi Ek Safar’ from Andaz showcased Kishoreda’s yodeling by RD Burman in the 70s. Another RD Burman favorite is the song sang by Usha Uthup in the 70s hit ‘Hare Rama Hare Krishna’ – I love you – simply brilliant rendition by Usha.  Asha starts off ‘Daa Re Tu Ru’ and Usha further scats ‘Doo Re Tu Re’, and takes off…

Here is the famous Usha Uthup scat song – One Two Cha Cha Cha…

If you dig through some old MSV tracks in the 60s, you may end up with a few such picks by AL Raghavan and others.

Before we dive deep into Raja’s scat journey, let’s try and understand what scat singing is all about.  Scat singing has its origin from the improvisational world of Jazz music though some experts do not entirely agree.  Some do argue that it existed long before Louis Armstrong came into the scene. In any case, most agree that it is a stock technique of several Jazz artists. Even yodeling is a form of scat. For the most part, scat singing involves short syllables sang in an improvisational way, varying pitch, volume and other vocal characteristics. Several Jazz artists have used different scat syllables such as "louie-ooie-la-la-la" or "shoo-doo-shoo-bee-ooo-bee"

Here is a great example of Ella Fitzgerald singing ‘How high the moon’ and she uses scat singing all over the place.

Jazz artists have used scat singing to bring in humor into their performances also. Here is a brilliant Western Jazz work by two great Jazz artists, Louis Armstrong and Danny Kaye..

SPB used to do a lot of yodeling as he was a budding singer in the 70s. Raja tried to use his friend’s unique abilities and wherever possible, threw in a Jazz improvisation, though the rest of the song was purely an Indian melody. Raja has done so many of these songs where he brings in scat elements. Raja’s favorite scat syllable seems to be ‘Ra Pa Pa..’. Let’s look at some examples.

Ninaivo Oru Paravai from Sivappu Rojakkal (1978) – Both Kamal and Janaki do scat singing as part of their humming.  Look at the pitch variations. This is not improvisation – rather, scat by design.

Netru Indha Neram from Tik Tik Tik (1982) – pay attention to the second interlude, where there is scat singing by a male voice, nicely executed. The tempo of this singing is arranged to be faster than the entire song.

Moodu Pani was Raja’s earliest scat adventure film. Three of the songs in this film use extensive scat…

En Iniya Pon Nilave from Moodu Pani (1980) has some brilliant scat parts for Yesudas. That ha tha tha tha tha.

Paruva Kaalangalin from Moodu Pani (1980) – Both Janaki and MV have several scat parts throughout the track. Again, Janaki excels with her modulation. (tha ka tha ka…)

Vaan Engum from Moondram Pirai (1982) – Observe the SPB scat singing in interlude 2. (tha tha thu thu…). Nice work to an otherwise pop song.

Kavidhai Paadu Kuyile  from Thendrale ennai thodu (1984) – observe the SPB scat singing (Ra Pa Pa) in this otherwise Indian melody.

Endhan Kannil Ezhulangal from Guru (1980) – Janaki freaks out with Scat singing. She starts off with scat singing (Pa Pa Pa ) in this track. The modulations in this track are just amazing. This is a Janaki-only track.  While others brought her classical dimension out, Raja dug through every faculty of here and showcased it.

Pudhu Maapillaiku from Apoorva Sagodarargal (1989) – this is the ultimate scat song by Raja. The male chorus and SPB freak out in Raja’s traditional ‘Ra Pa Pa’. In fact, I have not heard a Indian song that uses scat as much.

Raja, Rajathi Rajan from Agni Natchathiram (1988) – the song has several scat elements (Pa Pa Pa…) sang by the male chorus throughout the track.

Choir Scat singing - White with red stripes tulips

Raja has used scat singing in his music throughout his career using both male and female voices. We will explore scat singing later in detail. For the moment, let’s stick to scat by chorus. The first thing about scat singing in Indian film music reminds us of Usha Uthup in Hare Rama Hare Krishna in the 70s for RD Burman.

Paruva Kalangalil from Moodu Pani (Tamil 1980) – some parts by female only choir. The song starts off with some neat scat singing. The pallavi has some female western choir backing the main singers.  The 1st interlude has some neat passages with mixed choir – very nicely executed. The charanams have the female choir in conventional format taking on inter lyric space. 

Let's hear Paruva Kalangalil...

Pudhu Maapillaiku from Aboorva Sagodarargal (Tamil 1989). The ’Ra Pa Paa’ in this song is famous work of Raja where SPB and chorus keep the scat singing going throughout the song. In fact, there are some nice vocal counterpoints that we discussed in our section on Counterpoint with voices. The other track in the same movie, ‘Raja Kaiya Vacha’ also has the interludes with innovative scat. Some parts of the charanam are also backed by the chorus singing scat in between the main singer’s lines. Both these tracks are all male scat singing.

En Uyire from Poonthota Kaavalkaran (conventional choir too) (Tamil 1988). The prelude of the song starts of the song starts off as an Indian melody humming. It slowly morphs into scat singing between Chithra and the female chorus. This track also uses female chorus instead of strings to back the charanams.

Let's hear En Uyire...

Kadhal Needhana from Time (Tamil 1999)– Some parts have traditional female choir too. The prelude starts off with male chorus scat singing and this continues as Unni sings the pallavi in the background. The first interlude has some female conventional chorus parts. 

Minnaminumgam from My Dear Kuttichathan (children) (Malayalam 1984). This song is executed with children backing Yesudas. The song starts off with some neat children Western choir. In the charanam, the children sing conventional Indian choir in between phrases. Some of the charanam’s mid bars are backed ( 5,6) by children singing in a scat mode. The final transition between the charanam and the pallavi is executed with Das in scat. The second charanam is executed very similar to the first one. 

Oru Thottavadi from Pachakuthira (Malayalam 2006) has scat singing by both male/female choir. There is also traditional choir in the track. This is a very busy track with several musical ideas thrown in freely. The first interlude has some interesting scat parts for the female chorus after the sax play (Daa a did da) followed by the scat by the male chorus. The second interlude has some great trumpet play to start off and it switches to some shehnai!  Again, Raja uses the female chorus scat followed by the male chorus scat.

Let's hear Oru Thottavadi...

Pon Veyilile from Oru Yaatra Mozhi (Malayalam 1997)– pallavi has some brilliant female scat singing. This is innovative use of scat in melody mode. When Chitra sings the pallavi, the female chorus sing ‘Tha thoo tha tha tho’ in the background in a very non scat way – fitting the melody structure perfectly. The interludes have extensive conventional female chorus. 

Raja Rajathi Rajan from Agni Natchathiram (Tamil 1988) – uses extensive vocal harmony. The second interlude of this track uses scat singing by the male chorus extensively.

Rojapoo Aadi Vandhadhu from Agni Natchathiram (Tamil 1988) – the prelude uses female scat singing in this track. The first interlude uses traditional and scat parts from the female chorus. The second interlude has female chorus scat parts in several places.

Vaan Meedhile from Ragangal Mudivathillai (Tamil 1983)– the prelude of this song uses scat parts from the female chorus and Janaki. The rest of the song does not have any scat parts

Vanam Enna Kezhirukku from Vetri Vizha (Tamil 1987). This is one of those rare songs sang by SPB and Malaysia Vasudevan. When SPB sings, Vasu scats and vice versa. There is female chorus in scat mode as part of the 1st interlude. The first charanam has a lot of scat singing by SPB and the second one Vasu takes his scat turn.

Let's hear Vaanam Enna...

Anando Brahma from Shiva (Telugu 1989). The first interlude has female choir in scat mode with some great violins. 

Sorgam Madhuvile from Sattam En Kaiyil (Tamil 1978). The prelude has some female scat singing. The pallavi has also has female choir scatting in between SPB’s lines. The charanam has a few bars with some nice Western female choir backing SPB. The second pallavi has both the choir and SPB in scat mode. 

Let's hear Sorgam Madhuvile...

Unnai Thedi Vennila from En Mana Vaanil (Tamil 2002) – the prelude has male choir in scat mode and the song has a lot of female choir support. The first interlude has some nice scat parts too. The charanams and the pallavi have some nice female choir singing in between the main singer’s lines. The second interlude has some more scat parts too. The last pallavi has some nice vocal harmony as the icing on the cake. 

The second interlude of Devathai Pol Oru from Gopura Vasalile (Tamil 1990) has the three main singers singing in scat chorus mode.