Raaja Reggae

Reggae music is characterized by the 'Ska stroke' or the 'Skank' - where in the rhythm is emphasized on every alternating counts of 2 and 4. The off-beat Stacctto is a very distinctly recognizable musical pattern anywhere you hear it and can be easily tagged as a reggae. Or.. is it..? It is Ilaiyaraaja we are talking about here.

His specialty is to absorb the essence of any genre in world music but to apply it in own way. I explained this at length with a lecdem on his Jazz waltz application. This was followed up with the origianl article in Solvanam.

Reggae is another genre that has a strong influences on Raaja's music. Generally speaking, this genre of music symbolizes carefree, laid back, summer time music which celebrates life.

But in Raaja's reggae you will never get this Jamaican feel.. You will only feel Ilaiyaraaja.

"Vanakkuyile kuyil tharum Isaiye" is a popular song with a reggae arrangement. But the skank in that song is hidden in plain sight due to many factors. Firstly the scale (Raaga) he chose was Lalitha, a distinctly Indian scale with no space to give you a feel of relaxed vacation.. Moreover, Pa Varjya Raagas have their own challenges for composers of light music as they are hindered from using the root chord !. The situation is also intense, where the hero is smitten by the love bug for the first time and is head over heels. And yet, there is no denial it was set in reggae tempo.

Another blinder of a Reggae from Raaja is the song "Sollividu Velli Nilave" from the movie 'Amaidhi Padai'. I heard this song in the theater when I watched the movie. Those were the days of no cable TV or FM or MP3 or internet revolution. To listen to a song for the first time, getting possessed by it and having no opportunity to listen to it again must rank among the painful torchers. When you get to hear something only once, you tend to make the most of it and listen intently and so I did. I didn't remember much of this song but that guitar strum on the 1st interlude was stuck to my head. Then, I didn't know it was played in a guitar.. I didn't know it was a minor added 9th chord... I didn't know the progression that followed. But the collective sound of that phrase was somehow captured that when I started playing keyboard years later, I could get it straight out of my head the first time. I slept very peacefully that night !

The song is characterized by the skank pattern from start to finish. And is a great exercise for off beat staccato play for any of you. Just like Vanakkuyile, there is nothing in the situation to suggest that its reggae - Its yet again meant for seriously smitten first love puppies. The minor scale throws all its weight behind and makes the song anything but light.. Another unique, original, contrarian treatment of reggae which Bob Marley would be very proud of.

Its sung by Mano and Swarnalatha - another enchanting combination who gave very many memorable duets together on the first half of the 90s. There is no excuse for a life like Swarnalatha that is lost too soon. When I hear songs like this, I still refuse to believe she is not there anymore.

Raaja's intense minor scale songs of that era (such as Adi Poonguyile, Maniye Manikkuyile, Thendral Vanthu theendum podhu etc.,) keep oscillating between the root and relative major constantly and that gives you enough mood swings in the same song. One moment you see one color and seconds later its another. This song is no exception. You feel grey and gloom when the prelude starts (Am added 9th) which turns to lush green on the entry of relative major (C) which turns to red on the minor 4th and a giving you a near death experience of black through the E7th before bringing you back to life through the cool blue of G/ C

On that note, a Happy Holi friends and of course a Happy weekend !!

With Love

Preludium in F Major

When you can write a multi-part score at your will, you know you are in a league of your own.

The prelude of "Kannil enna Kaarkaalam" is one of my fascinations. Musically, there are so many layers in that song that every time I listen to it, it tells me how little I know and how much more I still need to go to appreciate this giant called Maestro Ilaiyaraaja.

If you look at each of the track in this multi-part harmony, its so simple. So perhaps its not such a big deal to find such a simple composition in Western classical tradition. But you look closer and you will see that the prelude operates in such a narrow range of notes of the major scale. If a composer is able to pack so many tracks with these notes and is still able to balance each of them and give them their place within the prelude without making a clutter out of it, it shows the mark of his genius.

And what is certainly a big deal is the seamless transition of ideas.. The composer thinks of a multi-part Western classical prelude for the first 30 seconds and then eases into an indian melody (With strong mohanam notes in the first few lines) set for a tisra nadai tabla rhythm without even you noticing it. Composing with such musical zeal song after song makes this man truly one of a kind!

This song is one of those comforting type that makes you slow down, take a deep breadth, close your eyes and listen to it. Melodywise the song is nothing special but SPB and Janaki take this to the next level due to only one factor.. The factor misused by every talent show judge nowadays - Singing with Soul, expression, feeling etc etc. Next time you listen to the song please pay attention to the emotion expressed by the singers and you will understand what truly "singing with feel" means.

The song's visuals for once do justice to music. That's because its picturized song by the master story teller Balu Mahendra. Its such a complete song, that even superstar Rajnikanth is not standing out in a song (like he usually does, even if its a sad song) but let the song be bigger than him. According to me, this song should be in the same league of best of Raaja - Balu Mahendra combinations but somehow didn't attain that cult status, which I hope posts like this will rectify.

I already mentioned the song is for a sorrow situation, but if you are a composer you know that its difficult to bring out that emotion in a major scale. But if you do handle it right, it sounds so soothing.. Especially that second chord of C#dim in strings ensemble towards the end of the prelude cuts me into two every time. A similar song of companionship that makes an equal impact is Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge over troubled waters". Finally, Coming back to the prelude, There are 5 or 6 melody parts in it which I can hear and I figured at least 4 out of it. I only have two hands with limited playing capabilities and I was wondering how to go about this. I was considering sequencing this in the keyboard when Vedanth walked by.. I asked him "Hey Ved, do you want to help me with my Friday video..?" His school vacations started from today and he was like "eh.... I was going to watch TV". Then I offered him if he helps me, he gets to watch an extra episode of Topgear (He is an Automobile freak). His eyes lightened up immediately and he sat with me "Show me, what have you got!". I showed him the sheet music I wrote and in less than 10 minutes he was ready.. He is watching his TopGear now while I am typing this.. 1 hour of returns for 10 minutes of effort.. Good bargain, don't you think !!??

Happy weekend..

With Love

PS: Send me a message or drop in a comment if you are interested in the sheet music.

A Dream Come True

In the past 100 years of Hindi film music or other regional film music in India there have been very many gifted composers.

But not many of them have composed original Western Classical instrumental music adopting the rich principles such as counterpoints, be it in film music or in any other sphere of music.

Maestro Ilaiyaraaja is a true exception and the only composer as far as I know who broke this barrier. Through the instrumental sections in the film songs, he applied original western classical techniques and yet gave it in a presentable form appreciable by the common man.

Yes, it is an audacious statement I am making. But you listen to this piece once and you will understand what I mean. The contrapuntal structure of this piece is really something special..

Its is all about the Western classical concept of Resolving..
Each bar finishes with such an anticipation and incompleteness that its almost like they are waiting to get their salvation through the resolution of next bar. The quality and depth of this 8 bars of music is unparalleled in Indian Film Music history.

There have been often misinterpreted and inaccurate illustrations of Maestro Ilaiyaraaja's counterpoint applications. Every Maestro fan who knows this term seem to use it freely and tag songs under this category.
Counterpoint is a technique where by there are two or more independent melodies that are played in parallel. Each melody should be complete on its own right and yet when played together it should still sound seamless.

The sheet music is available here.

As per my limited understanding, the first 8 bars of second interlude of Poonthalir Aada from the movie Paneer Pushpangal is an example of Counterpoint.

From the structure of those 2 lines, the way it looks so melodious, you can call them an invertible counterpoint.. If you further look closely, it starts around song's key signature of E minor. From here Raaja's ultimate goal is to arrive at E Major for the chorus section. The progression is: First it traverses on the Em/B domain.. (Suddenly there is an augmented fourth by way of Gm, but thats just his genius). From here the next 4 bars flies over to Am/ E territory.. These two sets are of same pattern (i.e., same pattern of root minor/ Dominant fifth combination) but in that later Am/E combination, he picks that E Major and lands there rather strongly.. i.e., not anymore as a sub-chord of Am but elevating it to the next root .. It is not easy to effortlessly switch emphasize like this at all in each bar.. Not easy at all !!

However, It is made possible because of the chord resolutions.. The entire melody line is constructed to merely accommodate these chord resolutions.. This is what I mean by the concept of resolution.

And thats not all. When the Chorus starts at E Major, everyone feels happy and elated purely because Raaja takes his feet of the minor dominion gas pedal. In other words, This chorus section completely owes its existence to those 8 bars preceding it. You simply cannot imagine that chorus starting on its own without such a pre-cursor. Try to sing it, you will feel it immediately.

And wait, there is still one more problem.. Now I am in E Major where as the Stanza starts in G.. How do I go from E to G is a million dollar question. But Maestro Ilaiyaraaja is musically a very rich man. A million dollars is small change..!

On the 5/ 6th bar of the chorus (i.e., 13/14th bar of the interlude) the arpeggios still hang on to that E Major..
On the last bar (i.e., 8th bar of that chorus or the 16th bar of the interlude), The arpeggios simply take a minor return to a melody (that almost gives a Gowri Manohari-ish feel, if you see) Pal of gloom suddenly descends announcing the arrival of Em. The anticipation of that gloom is so palpable in the 15th bar itself that every time I listen to it, it just kills me.. Chord resolutions all over again..

So with this simple stroke of genius, He steers the ship from E Major back to its home of Em..

On that Em, the strings take over the same theme of the interlude's beginning for 2 more bars.. And on the next 2 bars, he effortlessly switches from Em to G which he is so good at doing all the time in all the other songs.. i.e., its just the relative major of Em.. and from there he launches the stanza..

To summarize, the resolution is: Em/B (With a tinge of augmented 4th by way of Gmin perhaps) --> Am/ E --> E as a fresh start at chorus --> E minor (This is where the puzzle ends)--> G (Em to G is just a relative shift)

This round trip of 20 bars from Em to G must be the most scenic route ever taken in the history of Indian film music.. For a very long time I wanted to play this instrumental bit and with finally I managed, just about..

With Love

The Nice Song Who Finished First

In its opening chapter of biography of Rahu dravid called "The Nice Guy who Finished First" the author credits the great Indian cricketer of 1970s, Gundappa Viswanath. He says in any other team or if he played at another time, Viswanath would have been a mega star of the game. But just because he played alongside a even bigger star called Sunil Manohar Gavaskar, he never received his due credit.

Another unlucky peer is Gordon Greenidge who was a great opener, but could never come out of the shadow of another great opener, Desmond Haynes.

He explains how Rahul Dravid who, for most of his cricketing career played with a bigger icon, Sachin Tendulkar still managed to finish first in his own right.

There are lots of Ilaiyaraaja songs like the Viswanaths and Greenidges and the Dravids.

"Nee thaane endhan pon vasantham" is always the second best after "Panivizum malarvanam"...
A song like "Azhago Azhagu" can never be heard on top of "Andhimazhai Poligirathu"...
"Ilaiyanila" dominates you and stops "Thogai Ilamayil" from becoming one of the all time great songs.
"Poove Sempoove" overpowers all the other good songs in that movie (like "Thenmozhi"/ "Enadhu vizhi"/"Kuyilukkoru") and so on and so on...

Today's song is in the same category.

Not many people have look beyond "Ilamai enum Poongatru" from the movie "Pagalil Oru Iravu". There is an unbelievable Mohanam in that movie and that is this week's pick.

From the very first listening, the song "Thaamtha theemtha" has intrigued me.. Everything about the song - Its Rhythm and its jumbled usage of Mohanam, abundant usage of 12th note in a rather classical song etc., are unique and there is no other song till date from the Maestro with all these properties. If I have the authority, I would prescribe this song along with "Geetham Sangeetham" for the class of 'Thaatu varisai' in Carnatic music learning.

Apart from this, the hero(ine) of the song is of course S Janaki. If you are an aspiring (or even professional singer) out there, you should try this song and emulate her clean execution at the same pitch (F).. It would do you a world of good and that's the same reason why I attempted it in Piano though its far from perfect :-)

And a while ago, I wrote an article on Ilaiyaraaja's jazz waltz. I deliberately didn't talk about this song in that article, because this is biggest of them all and one of the early works of Raaja. So I wanted to give this song its due focus at a later time.
Just like Dravid, I want to ensure that this song also finishes first :-)
So here I am..

Happy weekend.

With Love

Timeless Music on a Timeless Instrument

The instrument I am playing here is older than Thyagabrahmam Or Beethoven. Its of the same age as Mozart...
When it was made, British rule was yet to start in India.
Pulithevar, the first chieftain in India to resist the British was ruling back home.
His junior peer Veerapandiya kattabomman was yet to be born and...
Tipu Sultan was a 6 year old boy...

"Orgel van de Grote Kerk in Nijkerk" Or the "Organ of the big church of Nijkerk" is a pipe organ made in the year 1756. Except for the wind mechanism (which was manual back then and has been since made electric) a great deal of its present state is still original and still produces the same divine, pristine sounds.

The Organ console from where the organist sits and plays, the manuals (Also known as a Keyboard nowadays), The stops and registers are all from the 18th century and are in supreme condition.

The "GREAT" section of the organ (also known as the "Hoofdwerk" Or the "main section" of the organ) comprises of the large set of pipes that you see towering sometimes all the way to the ceiling of a church.

The "Swell" section of the work (aka "Rug werk" or the "back work") thats usually visible as an ornamental balcony from the ground floor of the church covers a relatively smaller set pipes.

"Stops" are mechanical levers that can be pulled to control the wind flow into these registers (A set of pipes) and through this process of Registration (i.e., selecting one or more stops simultaneously) an organist can produce wonderful combination of sounds ranging from the timber of flutes to Brass.

Not to mention the pedal section of the Organ, where an organist plays with the foot, usually producing those warm, chamber filling, rich Bass effects that grips your heart.

And there is a mechanism by which its possible to control the manuals that are normally played by hand, by the foot pedal. (i.e., you press the foot pedal and it actually presses the keys on one of the keyboards on top automatically). That's pretty cool !

So apart from playing with both hands simultaneously, often on multiple keyboards AND playing with foot simultaneously (so basically you are on all fours, literally dancing) AND selecting a complex permutation of stops to pull all the time while playing AND not moving your eye away for one second from the notation in front, playing Organ got to be the most physically and intellectually demanding exercise in the planet.

This particular organ is rated among the top 3 best organs in Holland and it is still used for professional recordings.

This is the third time I had an opportunity to play this wonderful organ. But this time, I was also fortunate enough to have a full guided tour behind the scenes to understand how the simple goal of pressing a key with little effort creates music loud enough to fill a complete church hall that is sometimes half as big as a soccer field. So If playing the organ is such a great gift, the jaw dropping mechanical engineering behind the scenes dwarfs all that.

And for the records, //the pipe organ was the most complex man-made device before the industrial revolution, a distinction it retained until it was displaced by the telephone exchange in the late 19th century//

All these was weighing in my mind when I was offered the chance of playing something.. Many choices were shadowing before my head inside. But obviously I had to choose a music that's worthy of played on such an instrument.

Considering the western audience for the day who would appreciate the Indian sounds, I briefly considered 'Anandha Ragam Ketkum Kaalam' Or 'Poova eduthu". Finally I settled for the pentatonic Mohanam of Poovil Vandu.

So here is Maestro Ilaiyaraaja on an organ as timeless as his music !!

With Love