Raaja Hindustani III

Final post in my 3 part series and I must remind the readers of the focal points that I had in mind when I started these episodes. This post is about Raaja's ground breaking ideas on the use of Hindustani instruments and his adoption of other traditional concepts in routine film songs; These adoptions are so subtle that you will find no relevance to the songs specified and the original HCM (Hindustani Classical Music); We have already discussed his presentation of classical ideas in the first post; So this one is about just ideas (be it a concept or an instrument) that were hijacked from HCM and used in absolutely non-relevant patterns and situations as compared to the classical art. In my Comment Factory article, I had specified how Raaja understands the music from all genres at their atomic levels.. How he builds a musical compound of atoms and molecules from various categories that are deemed unfit to co-exist. This post is an epilogue to that statement by going a bit deeper and explaining how this compound is produced using the inspiration of HCM.

The musical Legacy that Raaja will leave when he eventually retires will be many. The most obvious ones would be the way in which he popularized Tabla as an integral part of South Indian Light music scene. Even before him, Tabla was the percussion instrument of choice in film music. But Raaja not only used it on an industrial scale(!) he also pioneered the movement of Tabla rhythm pattern in accordance with the meter of the words like no other. But a more unique legacy that he will leave behind is the way he brought another HCM instrument to the fore.

Shehnai, is certainly one instrument that he loved experimenting with and pushed it beyond it's limits. Thankfully in Pandit S Ballesh, he found an able performer who could deliver his ideas flawlessly and as a team they revolutionized Shehnai's usage in Film music. Although Shehnai has been always widely used in film music even before Raaja's arrival, its not an exaggeration to claim that it was Raaja who unlocked the hidden potential of the instrument as explained below.

Greatness of Raaja should always be evaluated in the context of how he sticks to the tradition and breaks the rules at once.

Shehnai is traditionally used in auspicious and happy occasions such as weddings. Here is a Traditional Application of Shehnai by Raaja. But sensing its obvious connection to Nadaswaram, he also used the shehnai in a Carnatic Classical arrangement to play this authentic melody in Maya Malava Gowlai. And probably Raaja is the only composer to have arranged Western Classical strings for a Shehnai solo. Besides, Shehnai being an instrument of masses, he has promptly used the instrument in a both North Indian as well as South Indian Folk setting.

And he had the audacity of using the Shehnai as Jazz instrument in this bread and butter 8 Beat Acoustic Drum Arrangement while at the same time also used it frequently in jest in his Lighthearted Songs .

I am not sure if there is any another composer who gave such multiple dimensions to one instrument... An instrument that does not even belong in his native culture. So in order to achieve such versatility he need to have a thorough understanding of its timber and range.

Not confining to traditional genres, Raaja also invented unique arrangements such as a combination of Shehnai with Rhythm Guitar Strums (with no percussion) as well as employing Shehnai on dual tracks (usually with Flute but also occasionally with Nadaswarams and Clarinets). The most prevalent application of Shehnai and flute together is unique to Raaja and can be noted in the last part of the ensuing track (as well as in many other popular songs such as Maanguyile, Adi Athadi, Poovoma oorgolam, Rakkama Kaiya Thattu etc.)

In fact Raaja has been so mesmerized by Shehnai that he repeatedly gave the instrument the task of Spear Heading the prelude in many a songs. Besides being an accompaniment in the background, he also wrote lot of Challenging Shehnai Solos to give the instrument its due 15 seconds of fame. These phrases are demanding ones for the artist to play while leaving the listeners spell bound.

And his obsession with the instrument continues till date as can be heard from tracks that are released as latest as A Week Ago.

The most important aspect to note here is that, Shehnai is not an exception with Raaja but an illustration. Almost the same can be proven comprehensively and objectively by analyzing the way he has employed any instrument as the subject. For instance, the same can be said of his usage of Sarangi as can be noted from these Myriad Of Arrangements.
Raaja's Saarangi & Dilruba

He regularly uses Santoor and Sarod as well. (Infact Raaja used a lot of Keyboard Santoor in between 88 - 93, especially in all folk songs; But this one is a real Santoor as exposed by its bass notes). Sitar has been an integral part of Raaja's arrangements from the day one as well(Such as in the songs Ellorum Paadungal, Hey Paadal Ondru etc.,). While music just naturally occurs to him, he is as much a hardworker in learning new genres of music properly. For instance Saarangi Maestro Ustad Sultan Khan works with him as required while its a well known fact that Dr. BalamuraliKrishna collaborates with him where Carnatic classical related references are required.

And talking of experiments, Raaja is probably a rare species to have conducted a unlikely Q&A session between Tabla and Piano as seen in this clip. The stanza is a joy to here as well. So I let it run :-)

The idea of this blog post is neither to highlight the mere usage of these North Indian instruments in his songs (Many before did it) nor to identify the sound of these instruments when they appear in interludes. The point I am trying to get across is the variety of ways in which they are used. For this reason I stop boring you further with posting multiple clips specific to an instrument and proceed to a different dimension.

One particular song that I would like to single out in terms of relatively complete adoption of HCM is "Nadham En Jeevane" from Kaadhal Oviyam. With its Sarangi, santoor and a carrying Tabla, the song is a complete HCM package that is delivered by Raaja Express.

Qawwali is another genre in Hindustani Classical Music which borders around the territory of traditional classical realm on one side and rugged beauty required to cross them over to the masses on the other. As rigorously religious as it is, its also a great genre to relish because of its alluring rhythm arrangements supplemented by the clapping of the "party" who accompany the Ustad. Though some sufi classics are being re-arranged in today's bollywood, Raaja was way ahead in experimenting with Qawwali in his own way. He considerably deviated from the tradition in arranging the melodies with western concepts alien to Qawwali such as complex chords and instruments from popular art forms such as jazz and rock (eg: Saxophone, Electric guitar).
If you go a bit behind the skin to illustrate better, this is how a Traditional Qawwali would sound like. (That was Shahenshah of Qawwali, Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Saahab) But Raaja's qawwalis sound no where close to the original in toto except for the underlying rhythmic current. For example, listen to this Interlude. Now just listen to the Interlude's Beginning . The phrase starts with a Major 7th chord and proceeds further with a plethora of M7th chords. If you are hearing with a headphone, you can carefully hear the following specific chords in your right ear. The piece starts with AM7th followed by AM7th C#m7th F#m7th followed by DM7th E7th.
The chords during the Finishing Piece of this interlude are: During the first bar, it starts in A Major and the root note keep diminishing one semitone; The second bar follows the same pattern with the chord B Minor. i.e., The 8 chords that you listened are: A C#m A7th F#m7th| Bm BbAug Bm7th Bm6th ||. (You need to listen hard and focus on your right ear to hear these crystal clear chords)
My idea of presenting you with these chords were: If you consider the chords alone, its not possible to imagine they are accompanied by such a Qawwali rhythm. On the other hand, if you take the Qawwali rhythm from this track alone, you cannot imagine that it can have such a jazzish saxophone lead melody arranged with such intricate chords. I don't even dare to talk about the Bass riffs there which is another complex topic altogether. And yet, there they are sounding as ONE COMPLETE BIT as if they were born and brought up together. Listen to the whole piece Once Again. That's what I am trying to tell you !! :-) In fact, the choice of this interlude was random and nondescript. I just picked it up to illustrate that, pick any song and you can find such symbiotic relationships.

I can further illustrate Raaja's qawwali adoptions through the following tracks. You will not only realize how well he understood the original concepts but also appreciate the multilayered exhibition of various genres of music demonstrating their capabilities silently but powerfully.
Raaja's Qawwali
Colorful Qawwalis

Whenever a south Indian appeared in a Hindi movie, he was ridiculed most likely as a Madarasi chewing betal leaves speaking with an accent of 'commu' and 'Goo's (for Come and Go); While a North Indian appearing in a Tamil movie was invariably a "Sate" or "Pattani" chewing the 'Paan Parag' (he is supposed to be a 'Pathan' by the way) speaking in a non-existent language of "Nimbal Ki" and "Numbal Ki"; The fact is both these stereotypes are highly exaggerated or even fictitious. While the film industries across the poles of India were always busy inventing concepts to exhibit each other in poor taste, there has been very little creative efforts made to learn from each other. So in areas like this, Raaja's work has been often taken for granted.

I finish with this final track. Listen to this Song from Pattu Padava. (The Funny lyrics of the track can be easily explained if you know that the characters pictured on the song are from a mental asylum :-) !!). With in a span of 2 minutes you are treated to a Qawwali and then a Carnatic Kalyani and then a Synthetic Rock.

It exhibits at least one fact. Raaja's brand of Hindustani fusion is much like Hindustan itself...

Harmonious existence of genres that have little in common..

With Love

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