Fusion - 90s Music

How do you define Fusion music..? You compose a melody based on a Raaga and set its Rhythm with Drums instead of Mirudangam or tabla, will it become fusion..? For me the idea of fusion is all about ingenuity and creativity. Its NOT the art of leveraging the impending beauty of the merger of two genres of music to your advantage. Rather exploring new avenues on a given genre to see how it fits in or compliments the other genre. Thats how I like to define it. For instance, The essence of a raaga like Madhyamavathi which does not have the swara 'Ga' can still be captured by unusually beautiful sustained 4th chords of Western Classical Music (of Sa + Ri + Pa combination or Sa+Ma+Pa combination of its root note). Or a quality western music song can be set to some complex rhythm arragements borrowed (as Kanda Saappu (5/8) or Misra Saappu (7/8)) from its carnatic cousin.

The identity crisis that the Indian film music faced and faces - is largely due to the inefficiency of the composers who grapple with the chronic problem of deliberately "westernizing" the film songs. 9 out of 10 Indian film songs are seasonal with the sole goal of topping the short term charts and not the long term hearts. This is where a composer like Raaja makes his indellible marks. Right from the 'Chinna Kannan Azhaikiraan' (Kavi Kuyil) to 'Ninnu Vethiki vethiki' (Anumanaspadam) he has packaged Reethigowlai or Sindhu Bhairavi with such ease, that the art of fusion has been invisible and taken for granted. One moment the carnatic melody is in the foreground with a western arrangement providing some supporting techniques. Next moment the roles are reversed. It has always been upto the listener to judge..

Below you will find a list of Fusion songs that are hand picked. The melody of all this songs are so classical, that you can settled into a alap by picking up any of them, while the arrangement of all these songs are very Poppish and electro Jazzish. Absence of Tabla in all of these songs for the beat section is hard to ignore. The innovation of setting chords for these tunes are a highlight in all these songs.. Selection and Application of some of the raagas used here (Dharmavathi, Reethigowlai, Nalina Kanthi, Shanmuga Priya) shows Raaja's wizardry. There is a healthy balance of major and minor scale based songs and it shows Raaja's command of the musical notes while the time sequence of some of the songs (Meetadha oru veenai and Sithagathi Pookkale especially and also Naal Thorum) are highly scientific demonstrating his equal prowess over the rhythm. The whole package of all these songs are too hard to resist. These songs are like the movie - Titanic. If you see the love story, the ship Titanic is at the backdrop and if you see the Titanic the love story is at the backdrop.

Also another similarity that you will notice to the below virtual playlist is that, all of these songs are composed over a five year period... Between 1993 - 98 or so.. Personally an unforgettable time as I was undergoing one of the important transitions of my life .. From homely - school life to a more independent-intense-enjoyable college life.. These are the songs that were with me then.. While the benchmark songs of Raaja's fusion such as "Ninnukkori" or "Nee dhaane endhan pon vasantham" are irreplaceable, this list belongs to my time.. the same difference between watching a classic cricket match recorded few years earlier or watching it live.. Here I present, Raaja's Fusion from the 90's.

1. Endhan Nenjil (Kalaignan) - Nalina kaanthi.. If there is a book called "Vagra Raagas for Dummies", this song would be the first chapter..

2. Sithagathi Pookkale (Raaja Kumaran) - Ragam: Sudha Saveri.. Raaja says "Let it be.. Did you notice I shifted the samam to the fourth count where the electric snare falls and made it as the first count instead..?"; (personally It took me umpteen listenings to understand the rhythm pattern of this song)

3. Maharajanodu (Sathi Leelavathy) - Sarasaangi - The symphonic arrangment for the lines "Idhu Manmadha Saamrajyam" highlights the innovation on fusion that I am talking about..

4. Eem Debba (Ashwamedhagam) - Dharmavathy - Please forgive your mom if she thought you are upto some krithi if she heard you humming the melody (just the tune minus lyrics ofcourse..) from the bathroom.

5. Naal Dhoraum Endhan (Devadai) - Mohanam - Striclty the melody is not 100% Mohanam.. but some of the Sangathis do emphasize the shift of weight to the Dhaivatham in Mohanam.. Other choices I had in the same genre and timeline are Naan Thanga (Time) and Indha Poovukkoru (Poovarasan); But since this one is by Raaja himself, its more closer to me.. :-) Besides the Extended misra Chappu cycles add a great charm to the Fusion setting.

6. Shivamalli Poove (Friends) - Shanmugapriya - Probably the only Jazzish song set to the raaga thats otherwise said to be the favorite of Lord Muruga.. Chitra sizzles in this one... the finishing of stanza is so cryptic..

7. Chembaruthi Pennoruthin (Raman Abdulla) - Madhyamavathi - You should now be able to listen and identify those sustained 4th chords all over. And if you thought singing same lines in two octaves is a new craze patented to today's hip numbers, listen to the stanza of this song..

8. Tholmela Tholmela (Poomani) - Sindhubhairavi - A powerful sindhu bhairavi packed within a very casual and not so fussy arrangement.

9. Meetadha Oru Veenai (Poonthottam) - Composed in Reethigowlai raaga and Set to Kanta Saapu taala, these pointers become static references once the song starts and you realize its more an out of the box Jamming session... Did I say, Nalinakaanthi is the first chapter of dummy's book.. Neee.. should be this one actually...

10. Ennai Thaalatta Varuvalo (Kadhalukku Mariyadhai) - Keeravani - befitting the lyrics the anxiousness of the song is visible (I mean audible.. ) in the rhythm arrangement

11. Alli Sundaravalli (Kangalink Vaarthaigal) - Chakaravaagam - The counts by which the song is divided.. the unorthodox voice arrangements.. this is the kind of the song that strikes you when you least expect it.

12. Alai Meedhu (Kaadhal Kavithai) - Suddha Dhanyasi - Bhavadharini can claim this song as the best thing to have happened to her in life.. Though I had "Kaadhal vaanile" and "Vizhakku Veippom" as strong contenders in this raaga, Wonderful western strings for a Suddha Dhanyasi in Kanta Saappu has to take the cake.. Songs like this can be confidently defined as "only by Raaja".

With Love