Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Longevity


Recently,  I was having  a telephonic  conversation with a close friend of mine and invariably the talk was on music in general and his music in particular. In fact the fulcrum of the topic was ‘longevity of music’. Here, ‘music’ should be understood as a particular form and also music by specific composers in that form.

Let me elaborate.  Though music is universal, the undeniable fact is that it has many forms (or should I say genre?)- Classical, Folk, Pop, Jazz.. Film Music.  The one mentioned first and the one mentioned last are more relevant to this post and needless to say that the conversation focussed on these two.

‘Will his music last forever? What is your opinion’, asked my friend. I instantly spoke about the music of yesteryears-say of MKT- and how it still attracts people. But my friend’s contention was that it is a miniscule percentage. Well, in the absence of a scientific survey it will be difficult to prove, but the very fact that the name rings a bell and that people still listen to/ hum these songs proves that those songs are not dead. Though I did not say this to my friend, I have seen posts in the social media raving about such songs. Now, how relevant is this to Raaja’s music? I shall come to that soon but before that I must also say something about the classical music scenario. I am confining myself to carnatic music now and shall quote examples from Hindustani and Western Classical, maybe in some of the future posts.

I told my friend-who unfortunately claims to have no liking for this form- that kritis composed more than 150 years back are sung with great fervour by the artistes. ‘If different artistes sing the same kriti(s) in various concerts, how ‘different’ is it? Is it not the same stuff?’ asked my friend. ‘Here is where the ‘differential’ in terms of voice, style and creativity’ come into picture was my refrain. How can there be creativity if one performs the same song?  A logical question in the minds of people who are not exposed to this form.

A typical rendering of the kriti starts with a raga elaboration called as ‘aalapana’, followed by the rendering which will have some lines repeated with a subtle variation each time it is sung called as sangatis, followed next by focusing on one particular line and singing only this line several times during which multiple dimensions of the raga will be touched-called as ‘niraval’ and finally the swara segment where the artiste renders ‘kalpana swaras’ spontaneously while at the same time drawing some patterns with mathematical calculations in line with the taaLa of the song. Though the process remains the same, the way an artiste handles the various segments in the process will be different from artiste to artiste. In fact, the same artiste while singing the same kriti will sing a different aalapana, a different niraval and a different kalpana swaras(adhering of course to the grammar of the raga). Kritis can also be sung without aalapana, niraval and kalpana swaras, but even then there will be difference-ranging from subtle to highly pronounced- differences in the way various artistes render the same kriti.

In a nutshell, Carnatic Music is not rigid. It has the creativity factor , has enough scope for innovation within some parameters and most importantly it shows the spontaneity of the artistes. It has lasted many years now (some of the ragas like ShankarabharaNam, Kambhodi and Bhairavi have been in vogue for centuries and there are even references to these ragas in the Hindu mythology). That is why, one is not surprised to read news items like ‘Music concert running to full house’ and ‘people throng sabhas early morning braving the cold to book tickets for the evening concert’. Carnatic Music has survived many onslaughts and will continue to last forever.

Now, the next logical question in the minds and lips of skeptics and believers is ‘Ok, this is fine as far as classical music goes. But tell me how can this apply to film music? Can this be a bench mark for a form of music which is light, purely commercial and composed for man-made sequences?’

Let me take you back again to the previous to previous paragraph where I have mentioned three factors that are inherent in Carnatic Music- Creativity, Innovation and Spontaneity. Any form of art which has these three features is bound to last long.  ILaiyaraaja’s music( I have straightaway come to him now since it is pertinent to our discussion here) has all these three. Most importantly, his music has that unmistakable classical flavour.

Take the rare gem of today ‘Paarththaen..’ from Agni Paarvai (1992) rendered by Janaki. It is based on Kalyani, uses traditional instruments, has beautiful innovative orchestration, has varied laya patterns, and as we all know everything is spontaneous.

The ‘akaaram’ in the beginning draws the sketch of the Pallavi while the brilliant use of the sympathetic strings creates the right atmosphere.

 The higher octave notes in the second line shows the colours of Kalyani and the ‘hoiyaa’ after the first line gives the tribal flavour.

The chatushram pattern in the Pallavi is played alternately by the rhythm pad and the drums. However, in the first interlude he switches over to the traditional table which continues in the CharaNam too. The chatushram played by the Tabla also undergoes a subtle change in the last few phrases of the CharNams. In the second interlude, the percussion is totally eschewed in the first part though the chatushram continues.

If the strings take us to a verdant valley in the first interlude, they take us to a beautiful stream in the second interlude. The western classical style in the latter is surely not to be missed. The Flute too is used differently in the two interludes. In the first one, there is a second flute which sounds feebly but sweetly backing the more dominant one while in the second, the flute(s) play along with the strings in the second part. The sympathetic strings that appear now and then so nonchalantly make the melodic experience complete.

Now, 100 years down the line, will this Kalyani still appeal to people? Rather than using the clich├ęd phrase ‘Time alone will tell’, I can reply in the affirmative with great  positivity.

Reasons?

Already mentioned and explained in the post!!

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Celebrating Life..


The concept of New Year is very interesting.

For some, it is an excuse for socializing. For some, it is an excuse for taking new resolutions (that last for 2-3 days or at the most a week). For some, it is an excuse for roaming around.

So, what is the big point in all the celebrations and wishes? Do these carry any meaning at all? After all, is Jan 1st not just another date? Is 2014(or for that matter any year) not just a number?

Long back, I had written in my blog regarding numbers and their significance. Just for a moment, imagine as to what would happen if there were no numbers in this world. How would we then measure anything then? How do we set time? How do we know what happened and when?

Is it possible to live without numbers even for a second?

Maybe,  that is why great poets like Thirumazhisai Aazhwar and AruNagirinatharcomposed a lot of songs that revolved around numbers.

Well..all this is fine..But why do we need to celebrate the birth of a New Year?

The question itself carries the answer..

‘Birth’.. ‘Jananam’..

This brings hope and therefore radiates positive energy. The energy gives us confidence. Confidence makes us achieve. Achievement gives us self-actualisation. Self-actualisation gives us positive energy…

It is a cycle (thankfully not a vicious cycle!).

364 days from now, we will be on the last day of 2014, getting ready to celebrate the birth of 2015!

If on that day, we feel happy and content with the way we have gone about accomplishing goals and targets, then that Unit of measurement called ‘Time’ was usefully spent.If we don’t, we then hope to do it in the New Year. After all, is it not Hope that keeps us going?

Today’s special song, ‘Happy New Year’ from ‘Maane Maane’(1984) celebrates New Year. In fact, it celebrates Life itself.
Raaja sir who is very familiar with the different forms of World Music has a special liking for Sri Lankan music. 

This genre called ‘Baila’(Ilangai oliparappu koottusthapanam used to call this as ‘Pop Isai paadalgaL’ is very interesting and unique. These songs have the prominent guitar (electric and distortion), trumpets and bass guitar. One also finds the clap sound now and then. Most importantly, the tunes have a very special ethnic flavour.

‘Happy New Year..’ is one such song.

Over a period of time, I shall take up some of his other compositions composed in this style.

The prelude makes us sway, get up, and dance..

The unique voice of Malaysia Vasudevan and a very funny but different voice of Sundarrajan (not TMS!) pep up the Pallavi.

The second part of the first interlude-with the western flute- is poignant but at the same time very melodious. The way it gathers momentum later is simply magical.

The first part with the guitar and the claps is vivacious.

The second interlude is graceful, fluid, luscious and brims with energy.

The CharaNams are resplendent with the voice of Janaki adding lustre.
The alien notes in the third and fourth lines give a kind of smugness to the entire composition.

Let us celebrate the New Year.. Let us celebrate Hope..