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