Rahman @ 50

As A R Rahman turns 50, I think there are two things unique about his contributions in the field of Indian film music. One – he used human voice as just another instrument. He brought in the singers, had them record and used their voices as he pleased. Two – he started crediting musicians on the album labels. Musicians like flautist Naveen and drummer Sivamani had become household names.

First was his biggest and most disruptive contribution though. Human voice was considered to be pristine and divine in the film music until Rahman came in. One could not imagine playing around the vocals with the electronics. You could do that to guitar or violin, but not to the vocals. The singers could make sounds that are funny and weird which was considered to be a talent but no one was allowed to touch their voice and mix it electronically. Rahman broke those rules slowly and steadily. The monopoly of the singers were about to be crunched (and when I say vocals as an instrument, I’m not talking about harmonies or a’capella or western choir settings in the music; Ilaiyaraja had already done that).

Many credit Rahman for bringing in the elements of western music to the Indian film music, but he wasn’t the first do that. Again, there was Ilaiyaraja with whatever little exposure he had to the different kinds of music available back at a time when the world wasn’t this open. Maybe Rahman experiemented a bit too much with instruments and different styles of music that the musical identity that he consiously created was soon lost to others who followed this ‘technique’. As a result, in the initial days of Harris Jeyaraj, one could not tell apart the difference between Jeyaraj and Rahman. The arrangement and approach were just about the same. Which makes one wonder whether Rahman was more of a musical arranger than a composer, though the difference between the two is a fine thin line. There is no ‘Rahman sound’ in the film music, just as there is no Harris Jeyaraj sound or Yuvan Shankar Raja sound. They all seem to follow the same pattern and technique, and are failing to make a mark of their own (and I’m not talking about popularity here).

Post-Oscars, Rahman seems to be in a quest to find his own identity in his music. Off late, his music seems to be veering away from the populist lines, but it doesn’t look like he has found it yet. Maybe, the influence of sufism is the kind of identity that he should further explore, like Folk is to Ilaiyaraja, but he is not yet ready to take that up.

That said, I end this note with one of his songs, one in many years that is still ringing in my ears.

Malayalam Film Songs 2015

Advise to Vidyasagar – stop imitating Ilaiyaraja even if it is on Sathyan Anthikkad’s request (reference to movie “Ennum Eppozhum”). We look forward to your signature music. Not just some skeleton of another music director.

2015 has seen many ‘casual’ songs being hit – like ‘Enne thallendammaava”, or “Kaikottum kandittilla” (both from Oru Vadakkan Selfie), and “Kaalam kettu poy”, or “Scene Contra” or many other such songs from the film “Premam”. For one thing, Rajesh Murugesan and Shaan Rahmaan – these won’t go past another set of such casual songs from yet another movie. You got to remember that. “Malare” however stayed and you got to thank Sai Pallavi for the song to have stayed, not so much for the quality of musical chords (why did you have to put that heavy set of strings to overshadow the vocals?!). If that is how you want to be remembered, okay, fine. “ithu puthen lokam” from ‘Premam’ however was nice, both lyrically and music wise.

“I Remember You”, the English number from the movie “Nee-Na” was a class apart. Good job on the male version, Nikhil Menon. Also on the track “Where Gravity Fails”. You have brought back the good old soft rock back to filmy music. Also your song “Then Nila” sung by Sachin Warrier was so nice to hear. Good job on the track of “Nee-Na”. Bijibal has kept it nicely with the tracks “Ee Mizikalil” from Lukka Chuppi (love those guitar riffs) and “Ente Janalarikil” from Sudhi Vaathmeekam. And Gopi Sunder has put the curtain to 2015 with the song “Puthu mazhayaay” from Charlie.

That sums up the otherwise mediocre musical year of 2015.

Music Review: Zikr Tera

“Zikr Tera”, the latest offering from Roop Kumar Rathod and Sunali Rathod, has a few things special about it. The album celebrates 25 years of togetherness of Roop and Sunali Rathod, the artists call it a tribute to the late ghazal singer Jagjit Singh, and this is the first album that the duo is releasing digitally. But more than any of these features, what makes it stand out in our times is that it brings back a music genre that is long forgotten in the mainstream music.

The Rathods bring back the flavours of ghazal that you loved, the one genre that Pankaj Udas, Jagjit Singh and Rathods themselves have reigned in once upon a time. The sound that was so common in the eighties’ and nineties’ mainstream music scene. This album gives a chance to listeners to enjoy the music that is easy on your ears and what better voice than Rathod himself to indulge in!

The album has eight songs, of which two are solos by Sunali Rathod, five solos by Roop Kumar and one song by the duo together. To be honest, I think the least interesting tracks of this album are Sunali’s solos. The singer seems to have lost the charm of her voice and seems uninterested. My favorite song from the album is “Haathon Mein Haath”, the duet which stands our primarily for the soulful rendition of Roop Kumar. “Meri Chaadar Tha” and “Sawaal Sabne Kiya” are other two favorites, again for the mellifluous voice of Roop Kumar Rathod. When you hear these songs, you realize how much you missed the man and his voice.

I hope this album brings back the old days of easy music listening where the composition talks straight to your heart with a beautiful voice. And that many more artists break free of the clutches of the record labels, now that a whole wide world of internet possibilities are open before them.

Click here to listen to the songs of Zikr Tera at Gaana.com

To DMCA and the music industry biggies

More than two years back, I received an email notification from 4shared customer support that one of the songs I posted there (a cover version of the Malayalam sing “Anthiveyil Ponnuthirum”) violated the original copyright and had been taken down. Then just about six months back another one on a Hindi cover version of the song “Main Agar Kahoon” was reported and taken down with a warning that a third instance would end up with my account being banned. Then I learn from Rahul Soman that the website Muziboo has been shutdown permanently due to such copyright infringement claims. All these removals and warnings involved DMCA (The Digital Millennium Copyright Act), which is a US copyright law that is supposed to protect the intellectual property.

I had sent an email to 4shared contesting the copyright infringement claim but I did not receive any reply but further warnings without addressing the real issue here. Make no mistake, I respect intellectual property rights. But here I was, or many people like me who makes the majority of users at Muziboo, posting the karaoke/cover versions of the original songs with leaving original credits with their owners. Obviously, we do not make any money out of it. And these cover versions help audience remember the originals and appreciate it once again. At times, we also get applauded for our own efforts too, sometimes people commenting that our amateur, home-recorded versions were better than the originals.

If DMCA continues to make such claims of copyright over these harmless cover versions, how is it going to end? Is this restricted to the karaoke/cover songs uploaded over internet? Or does this extend to the music troupes who make a living out of singing the cover versions? Or the large number of celebrities and YouTube stars who made big with their versions? Can we not even sing at home, tuned to the karaoke tracks? Why are these big shots afraid of the music lovers like us, who aren’t in this for money but just the love of music?

I was thinking that if this was going on earlier, I would never have met M G Radhakrishnan and sang for him. I know many people in the industry who has made it big or is starting to make it big have started with singing the cover versions. I hope they will do something about it. To bring it to the attention of the biggies in the industry and get them to do something about it. On a large scale in the future, this move will put a cap on many amateur talents.

Million Dollar Baby

Life at times is like Clint Eastwood, the composer. Out of the blue, it brings out strangers on your way, walking beside you and in the very next moment they’re gone. You don’t want to know where they came from or where they’ve gone or who they are. You’re left untouched. Like those guitar riffs in Million Dollar Baby.


Guitar doesn’t weep gently; Cello does. And when it does, it feels like a lump in the throat. You hear the hoarseness in the voice, unlike the Violin. It’s hoarse, but it’s not loud. When Cello weeps, it’s all by itself, inside the closed doors. Not like Violin that cries out on someone else’s shoulders.

Nagavalli by The Down Troddence

This is one gem of a work. I’ve never been a fan of Thrash Metal and don’t know much about the genre either but these guys made me listen. The way they infused the story of Nagavalli, a fictional character from the popular Malayalam movie “Manichithrathazhu” that made Shobhana a national award winner, and put it in to the contemporary context is a great work. Add to that the pinch of folk and finally the perfect blending into the original score. Perfect example of how you can use the popular art psyche to introduce or popularize the little known art forms/music genres. Contrary to the new-age indie bands who poor lyrical quality, these guys beat it on that front too. Well done THE DOWN TRODDENCE! (And whoever done the video deserves an applause too).

Malayalam film songs of 2013 – My picks

Been doing this list every year for the past 4-5 years and here comes the list of my favorite songs from the last year. I haven’t listened to all the songs and albums that were released last year, so this list comes from whatever I could listen to.

If I am to pick up the best music album of 2013, it will be “Amen“. Every song from this album is a treat to ears and Prashant Pillai is definitely a music director to watch out for. His music is fresh and captivating. Add to that the lyrics by the legendary Kaavaalam Narayana Panicker which makes “Amen” the album of the year.

Now to the list:

Song: Zammilooni
Movie: Annayum Rasoolum
Music: K
Lyrics: Rafeeq Thiruvallur
Singer(s): Shahbaz Aman

My top favorite song of the year. The highlight of the song is definitely Shahbaz Aman’s voice. There is love, pain and longing in his voice for this song. And it doesn’t have a heavy orchestral background. You will appreciate the song more if you have watched the movie which in itself is a beautiful work.

Song: Vattoli
Movie: Amen
Music: Prashant Pillai
Lyrics: Kaavaalam Narayana Panicker
Singer(s): Lucky Ali

I like everything about this song except that Lucky Ali was a misfit, not for the voice, but for the language. His diction is the only thing that kills the song because you can’t make out what he is singing except for a few words here and there. But you know it’s Lucky Ali and his voice is a perfect fit for this song. Almost all songs of ‘Amen’ is a favorite to me and this one tops the list.

Song: Aliveni
Movie: Kadhaveedu
Music: M. Jayachandran
Lyrics: ONV
Singer(s): Madhu Balakrishnan, Mridula Warrier

There isn’t anything fresh about this song. You have heard so many beautiful Malayalam songs in the same lines, the orchestral arrangement reminds you of many songs you’ve heard in the past but still, the singers – especially Madhu Balakrishnan – makes you play this song on loop.

Song: Ottakku Paadunna
Movie: Nadan
Music: Ouseppachan
Lyrics: Dr. Madhu Vasudev
Singer(s): Vijayalakshmi

I think probably the mass popularity of the song “Kaatte Kaatte” from his period venture “Celluloid” is what made director Kamal to come up with another song that ‘sounds’ old. However, Vijayalakshmi’s crystal clear rendition and voice with Ouseppachan’s melodic structure make this song beautiful.

Song: Otta Thumpi
Movie: Pullipulikalum Aattinkuttiyum
Music: Vidyasagar
Lyrics: Vayalar Sharath Chandra Varma
Singer(s): Shankar Mahadevan, K. S. Chitra

This is a typical Vidyasagar but that’s why you like this song.

Song: Laalee Laalee
Movie: Kalimannu
Music: M. Jayachandran
Lyrics: O. N. V. Kurupp
Singer(s): Mridula Warrier, Sudeep Kumar

A beautiful lullaby, sung so beautifully by Mridula Warrier. Her voice is so fresh, clear and beautiful.

Song: Shalabhamaay
Movie: Kalimannu
Music: M. Jayachandran
Lyrics: O. N. V. Kurupp
Singer(s): Shreya Ghoshal

This one is sung by Shreya Ghoshal and an absolute favorite.

Related Posts:

Malayalam film songs of 2012 – My picks
Malayalam film songs of 2011 – My picks
Malayalam film songs of 2009 – My picks
Malayalam film songs of 2008 – My picks

A song that traveled places

Way back in 2008, I had posted a song in my old blog. It was a prayer song that I used to sing in my school everyday during the morning assembly. The song is very special to me because it was written and composed by two teachers of my school and I used to sing it with my good friend from the school days. The lyrics and composition of this song is so simple yet beautiful. So whenever someone asked me to sing a prayer song, I would sing this one.

Who would have thought that it would inspire many more people! I came to know from the comments to the blog post that the song was rendered in many Malayali events and appreciated by many people. And just the last week, I got a message from a person saying that her daughter would be singing this song at an inaugural event of a charitable trust which was formed in memory of her nephew. It is amazing how a song transcends the places and appreciated by people. And I wish those teachers knew about it.

Here goes the song again…

Every great thing must come to an end

They say every good thing must come to an end. So must Blogswara. Yes, we are going to put a full stop to our project after 6 years, 7 albums, 65 songs and a whole new bunch of amazing singers, lyricists, composers, orchestrators and mixing engineers.

Interestingly, we’d never thought past a single music album. Those were the good old days of music blogging and many singers were just beginning to find their listener base online. We thought of bringing all these musicians together under one umbrella and that too, to create a set of original songs and music. Thus was born our first album. And that was four months before Facebook opened up to public.

The journey went on. What we thought would come to an end after the first two albums had kept going on strong and in the meanwhile new platforms were born. A whole new world of social media exposure was waiting for the artists to explore them. Still, we went strong. We produced seven music albums. We inspired people and similar projects/websites. It is truly a moment of pride. But over the years, the momentum was slowing down. There are richer and easily accessible platforms that handle the publishing and sharing aspects easier than ever, like Facebook or YouTube.

That was obvious and inevitable, by the way. You don’t have to get stuck in time with a project that was a need of the hour when there was none but to continue to do it when there are better platforms does not make sense. Now if there is an amateur singer who wants to make his voice heard in the public can create a network through social media and make himself heard. We realize that and it is one reason that we are leaving for good.

We are proud to see that some of the artists whom we had introduced through Blogswara have made it big in the mainstream. Divya S Menon has made her mark with the song “Anuraagam” in the Malayalam movie “Thattathin Marayatthu”. Shyam, Praveen and Prasanna of TSJ Studio have made their debut in the Tamil film music industry with the album “Kamban Kazhagam”. Praveen Lakkaraju, Sreenivas Josyula and Sindhuja Bhaktavatsalam made their entry into Telugu music industry with the movie album “Hormones”. Sunny Sanour made his entry as a music director to Telugu music industry with the songs in the Telugu film “Swamy Ra Ra”. We are so happy and proud of these wonderful musicians.

Blogswara is a project that is so close to my heart. The project had taught me that regardless of many differences – regional, linguistic, caste, creed, religious, political etc – people can come together to create something that will make everyone rejoice in music. Most of us have still not seen each other or spoken to each other, yet we have built a relationship strongly rooted in music that continues to the date. It is music that binds us all, which is why I chose the tagline “United in Music” for Blogswara.

Personally too, Blogswara has helped me learn many things. The early lessons of leadership and organization, the pains and pleasure of it, came through Blogswara. I can proudly say that I have never succumbed to the pressures that would compromise the very founding principles of Blogswara. There were times when the pressure was mounted up on me to bring in the commercial aspect to Blogswara, or to bring in the religious fervor to it through the songs but I have resisted all that. I would rather see Blogswara vanish to thin air than deviating from it’s founding principles. Of the free/open music culture with CC licensing and the secular nature of the project. Of bringing in people of diverse cultures and languages in an effort to appreciate music. I can proudly say that I have been successful in that.

Another moment of pride was when Jessica Keyes, a student of Department of Music in University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada chose  music blogging with a primary focus on BlogSwara for her academic defense. Her paper titled “Blogging Music: Indian Musicians and Online Musical Spaces” presented an ethnography of the Indian music blogging community and a critical analysis of the historical and technological foundation for music blogging.

There are so many people to thank. Narayanan Venkitu and Ajith Gopalakrishnan to start with. Senthil (Sen) for the spark of Blogswara. Ganesh D for the name Blogswara. Abdul Shafeeq for the initial art work and CD covers. Gopal M S for the name ‘Trunk Call’. Murali Krishnan of Connexions, Chennai for the initial support. Jyothis E for the continued support with web space through many albums. Nandu Mahadevan for bringing in a process in place. Roshan Ravi for the cover art of Blogswara’s album ‘Trunk Call’. Legendary Tamil writer Sujatha for his piece in Vikatan, Karthika Thampan of Manorama News, Asha Anilkumar of Indian Express, Shilpa Nair Anand of The Hindu, K Santhosh of The Hindu, Anita Iyer and Aparna Joshi of Sound Box Magazine, Sankar Radhakrishnan of Business Line, B S Biminith of Mathrubhumi, Deccan Radio, Poornima for Radio Mirchi Chennai coverage and bloggers like Amit Verma, Kiruba and Neha Vishwanathan of Global Voice Online etc. And many thanks to all Blogswara participants and member without whom this project would never have happened.

And thanks to you, our listeners, who have encouraged us and helped us grow. We will still be online if you wanted to hear our songs again. It has been a great ride and it couldn’t have gotten better. Peace and music to all!