Monday, November 14, 2016

Post concert reflections

This weekend I performed a Carnatic concert after a very long time - 4.5 years to be precise. Let me get straight to the point of this post. It was a fiasco in my opinion: I'm still reeling from the disappointment and had to vent. I've always been a reluctant performer. Especially lately, I've struggled with my identity as a singer - I identify myself much more easily as a rasika/ connoisseur, and theorist (and more recently, a teacher). Performing is something I've always had to push myself to do - there isn't much of a natural drive. But you know, having a good voice and having trained ever since I can remember, the right thing to do is to sing more, right? Immanuel Kant also contributed to my guilt: according to him it's immoral to not put one's talent to use/ practice. So while singing and performing don't give me the high that listening to, discussing and analyzing music does, I've tried to do it off and on. Sometimes it does make me feel very good, no doubt - but that doesn't happen as frequently as one might hope. Not that my earlier performances were great - I've never been happy after performing a concert - but this time it was nothing like before. I don't know what happened - I was simply not in the right headspace. I faltered big when singing kalpana swaras in one of the pieces in the middle of the concert and from there on it was only downhill. I've been pretty withdrawn and angry and disappointed in myself. I've been going through many phases. First I decided that I should stop performing and stick to what I know best: writing about music (and doing the little teaching that I do). Then I thought I need to perform at least once more to undo the damage, at least for myself. I'm back to shutting down now though. I'm pretty bad at coping with failure. But then again, when I think back, I feel this was bound to happen: what else can I expect after lack of practice (partly because of a very busy work schedule lately, and partly because of a personal lack of motivation to practice), and being completely out of touch with performing? I realize full well that actual singing is far from punditry and philosophizing about music, but sadly don't do much about it. Anyway, you don't have an option but to move on, and that's what I should do. But it's going to take a while.


Saturday, October 08, 2016

Neelayadakshi

In the ten years that this blog has existed it's a shame that I haven't yet dedicated a post to my awesome maternal grandma, (late) Smt. Komala Parthasarathy. Ammamma/ Komalamma as her grandkids would call her, was a devoted connoisseur of Carnatic music who composed songs and also played the Veena. She was a big influence and I owe a lot of my musical sensibilities to her. Having grown up in Andhra, she was proficient in Telugu and that was her language of choice for most of her compositions. She was of course also well-versed in Tamil, and not to mention, English - she would religiously read The Hindu from top to bottom every single day. In fact as a kid I added quite a few words to my English vocabulary thanks to her. (One of them, I distinctly remember was "imp" - she thought I was one.) This trilingual composer-and-vainika of a grandma was also really fun to hang out with. One topic I would often discuss with her (not surprisingly) was ragas of film songs. I remember one summer vacation in Madras when we were having this heated discussion on the raga(s) of the song ottagattha kattiko(!!) Another thing I remember is how adorably annoyed she would get when Colonial Cousins' song sa ni dha pa ma ga ma ga ri sa would play on TV - not even one note in that line matched what the singers were mouthing - and whenever this would play she'd get really agitated irrespective of whether she was in the kitchen, or with her head buried in the paper, or taking a nap.

She composed several songs in a span of 10-15 years. On this occasion of Navaratri, here's one of her earliest compositions - Neelayadakshi in the ragam Neelambari. Thanks Hari, for working on this with me. (Hopefully there's more to come eventually.) Ammamma, can't believe it's been more than a decade since you left us - we all miss you dearly.

Ammamma playing the Veena sometime in the 90s at the yearly aradhana at one of my earliest Gurus - Smt. Ranganayaki Sridharan's place in Bangalore.

I hope y'all enjoy the song.





Friday, September 02, 2016

Rethinking Ragas in Film Music

Or, How I learned to stop worrying about ragas and just love film music.

Some 16 years ago when I was just starting life on the internet, one of my entry points was this lovely page called 'Raga of Songs' on tfmpage.com. It was a discussion forum where day in and day out, enthusiastic folks (some, over-enthusiastic like myself) would pore over the use of ragas in film songs. We would get down to the minutest of details, unearthing (now in my view some of the most insignificant) 'anya' swaras in the chords of a particular interlude that made the song deviate from its 'main' raga. The whole exercise was a mad obsession for me. It remained a mad obsession for quite a while. And this was of course not just me or the few people on tfmpage.com. 'Ragas in film songs' has forever been a pet topic for several rasikas as well as musicians. My own interest in this in fact comes from several people in my immediate and extended family. I still fondly remember a G.S.Mani tape on the topic my dad used to play decades ago. Many practicing Carnatic musicians have also often discussed this with great interest. For instance, here is the legend T.N. Seshagopalan praising Ilaiyaraja's use of Hamsanandi, here is Sikkil Gurucharan talking about Ilaiyaraja deftly alternating between Kalyani and Kosalam in Sundari Kannal, and then of course there are the many lec-dem videos by Charulatha Mani on the topic.

Over the last few years though, I've begun to question this whole idea of associating film songs with ragas for many reasons. Not all of these reasons are objective (in the sense of being removed from personal judgment). I'll admit that these are a combination of (what I think are) some principled reasons based on certain fundamental aspects of the Carnatic tradition, and some purely personal and idiosyncratic factors that have to do with my general propensities moving in a different direction over the years. Let me say at the outset that I don't claim to break any ground here. Probably by the end of it some of you will have found all of this entirely obvious but still find intellectual and entertainment value in figuring out ragas of film songs. I have no qualms with that :)

So why am I less enthusiastic about ragas in film songs today?

1. (Mis)appropriation of the idea of 'Raga' in Carnatic music: It might probably help by starting with what a raga is not. A raga is not a set of notes or swaras. Scholars and musicians have time and again reminded us that a raga has a form and life that goes beyond its constituent notes. And therefore - and more to the point here - a raga is not a scale, i.e. a raga cannot be reduced to its arohana and avarohana. A raga comprises phraseologies, pidis, gamakas, and prayogas that go well beyond its basic notes. This is a classic instance of the whole being more than the sum of its parts. Sure, some ragas are closer to the scales formed by their notes than others, and have fewer of typical prayogas etc., but no raga is just a scale. My biggest beef with associating film songs with ragas, saying "Song X is in a Raga Y" is that more often than not the song is not in that raga, but just has the swaras of that raga in their most basic form. In essence then, when claiming that a film song is in a particular raga, what we are doing (often if not always) is appropriating a classical term into a non-classical context: and that is problem # 1. When we claim that Sundari kannal is in the raga Kalyani, we are appropriating the term 'raga', as well as the idea of 'Kalyani' itself from a classical into a non-classical context, and I think to avoid misunderstanding, we need to be very clear about this if we want to make this claim. In my view, Sundari kannal is not Kalyani, and the charanams don't go into Kosalam. Why? Because the song has none of the characteristic phraseologies or prayogas of Kalyani. What it does have, are the basic notes of Kalyani. So I think the song is really in the Kalyani scale, stripped of all the lakshanas of Kalyani. (Thanks to my awesome student, I learned that this is called the Lydian Mode in Western classical, so that's probably what this song is closer to, than Kalyani.) To my ears, there isn't an iota of similarity between Sundari kannal and say, Nidhi chala sukhama. And for similar but slightly different reasons I don't think there's Kosalam in it (in the charanams and interludes) either. Sure, the Kalyani scale, with the Ri2 replaced by Ri3 yields the Kosalam scale, but some 45 odd seconds of some subsets of Kosalam notes - and rendered pretty plain without any gamakas - don't maketh a Kosalam. Kosalam is definitely a much more "scalar" raga than Kalyani, so I would be relatively more sympathetic to the Kosalam claim about this song than the Kalyani claim, but I'd still have reservations in saying that the charanams are in full-blown Kosalam. (Of course, I'm sure Gurucharan knows exactly what he's talking about and that he would be able to pull off a fabulous RTP in Kosalam - as he in fact briefly does in the video - that will sound almost nothing like Sundari kannal - but I still think it's important to remind ourselves of this difference between raga and scale.)

For similar reasons, Ennavaley is not Kedaram - not even just the first lines of the pallavi (and no, one occurrence of Ri3 doesn't make it Kedaram + Nattai), Sundari neeyum is not Kedaram, and Pon maalai pozhudhu isn't Kedaram. (For starters, none of these songs has the typical S-M-G-M phrase of Kedaram, let alone the pidis, gamakas etc..) Puducheri kacheri is SO NOT Shankarabharanam and sadly, even Omkara nadanu is not really Shankarabharanam. You get the idea. As I said, the problem is less acute when it comes to the more scalar ragas - ragas without many typical prayogas or phraseologies - but I still think it's a long stretch to say Kaali perungaya dabba is in Rishabhapriya or Ooru vittu ooru vandhu is in Shanmugapriya - even though these are both relatively scalar ragas. These songs are so un-Carnatic in nature that we simply cannot associate them with ragas. We might say they use the scales of these ragas.

Needless to say by the way, none of this is about making any value judgments about the compositions. I think many of these are fantastic songs.

"But of course!", you might say: "A "filmi" Kalyani is not going to sound the same as a Carnatic Kalyani, and don't we know that very well? We just use the name 'Kalyani' more loosely/ broadly in the film context and we're very aware of that." Well, if there is always this understanding of the distinction, the problem - at least at the level of comprehension of the 'Carnatic Kalyani' - is probably not as big. But there's a problem nevertheless - at the level of categorization and nomenclature. I think it's not just an approximation to say that Sundari kannal is in Kalyani. I think it's plain false - for reasons explained above. And such raga associations with film songs could cause a misunderstanding for people not familiar with the Carnatic paradigm.

"Ilaiyaraja does not know Carnatic music." thunders T.M. Krishna, here: https://youtu.be/9zVVy62EtHg?t=33m33s

(I wonder how this hasn't made headlines and gone viral on social media yet - clearly, not many people (particularly Ilaiyaraja fans) have watched this yet which is probably good ;) )

As much as I didn't quite appreciate the confrontational tone he takes (here and at various points throughout the lecture series) - despite making the purportedly humble claim that he doesn't know any film music (and I trust that was earnest) - I really recommend these lectures to anyone looking to learn anything about Carnatic music. It's quite an educative series, and the man makes several important and interesting points, particularly about the history and evolution of Raga in Carnatic music. I personally learned quite a bit from them and many points he makes here reinforced my understanding of the idea of Raga in Carnatic music and influenced much of what I'm saying here. (I'm not completely on board with him on the "scales vs. ragas" issue though - and this musical fiction I wrote sometime ago talks about why: http://srutimag.blogspot.com/2016/01/ragaland-romance-of-many-anubhavas.html) Coming back to the Ilaiyaraja comment: Raja claiming that Maand is a Carnatic raga - even if that's wrong - doesn't necessarily mean he doesn't know Carnatic music. (By the way a Hindustani musician once told me - contrary to what T.M.Krishna says - that Maand is not even of Hindustani origin, but comes from the Rajasthani folk tradition. Now I don't know which one of these is true.) The most charitable way I can think of to interpret that remark about Ilaiyaraja is to situate it in the current context of ragas in film songs. All we can probably say is that the bulk of Ilaiyaraja's songs are not in Carnatic ragas. (There are definitely quite a few exceptions like Poo maalai vaangi vandhaan.) This still doesn't mean that Ilaiyaraja "does not know Carnatic music" - all it means is that he doesn't operate in the Carnatic paradigm. But moving on...

2. Songs that are not really in any raga OR scale getting put in a box: I don't think "What raga or scale is this song in?" is a valid question for any and every song. A song might even sound very classical and still not be in any raga or scale - for instance Ennavaley or Manam Virumbuthey or Sippi irukkudhu... These are some of my favorite songs, but I often see songs such as these getting boxed into some raga. I think these (and several thousand others) don't fall into any raga or even a (existing) scale. Each of these is just a (really well-done) melange of different scales and ragas (as the case may be).

3. A personal decline of appetite for figuring out ragas in film songs: Gradually over the years, I've become much less interested in finding out ragas of songs - except of course cases where the raga of the song is so obvious it leaps out at you. Involuntarily, my focus has shifted to the overall aesthetic and emotional appeal of the song irrespective of what raga it is (or is not) in. This is in (large) part due to the above reasons, but it also just has to do with an idiosyncratic move away from the obsessive need to break down a song to bits and analyze it. This in fact also happens when I listen to Carnatic songs in a new raga, but to a lesser extent.

[While I find myself moving away from putting raga names to film songs and generally (over) analyzing songs, one phenomenon I still can't resist is gruhabhedam: both in the Carnatic and film contexts. I'm still a sucker for really intriguing theoretical ideas being aesthetically executed. If you think about it though, recognizing/ appreciating gruhabhedam has nothing to do with ragas. As long as we have in place our fundamental concepts of shruthi, tonic, shadja, swara, and swarasthana, we can talk about gruhabhedam without reference to raga. I've written on this topic many times on this blog, the most recent one is here.]

Having said all that though, I think there are many situations where it does make sense to talk about the raga of a film song:
1. When the song is actually classical in nature and is true to the raga (even if only in parts) and doesn't just make use of the notes of the scale: several old classics come to mind: Paarthen siritthen (Sahana), Mounathil Vilayadum (Sama), Poo maalai vaangi vandhan ((Darbaari) Kaanada) to name a few.
2. When the song is not really classical in nature, but in a scale that is not too far from the raga: As I mentioned earlier, some ragas are much closer to the scale formed by their notes than others. In such cases, since the difference between scale and raga is not too huge, it might be more acceptable to say that a song is in a certain raga. Lots of ragas fall under this category: Hamsanandi, Panthuvarali, Hamsadhwani, Mohanam to a good extent, Simhendramadhyamam, Dharmavati to name a few. Even in these cases, we're still misappropriating the term 'raga' into a non-classical context, but the misappropriation may not be as grave. This is the reason I think why a Sundari kannal sounds nothing like a Nidhi chala sukhama, whereas a Vellarikka pinju vellarikka sounds quite related to a Mohana Rama or Evarura. An interesting case in point is the assoication of Hindustani ragas to (mostly older) Hindi film songs. To the best of my knowledge Hindustani music is not as "hung up" or hardcore about prayogas and phraseologies as Carnatic is, and so lots of the ragas there are quite similar to the scales. So I think it's easier and less problematic to make this association of raga with song in the Hindustani-Hindi film music context. (Of course, even here I'm sure there are exceptions.)
3. For pure intellectual gratification derived from figuring out a scale and putting a name to it: This is great, but to be exercised with caution :)

In a nutshell then, "ragafication" of film songs doesn't work a lot of the time, and if we still want to do it, we should be very careful about it.

Okay, that was a LOT of rambling, and I'll stop at that. Thanks for reading!


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Dream

I'm in NYC visiting a dear friend, Diya, and I had the most incredible dream this morning - and for that I'm for once so thankful for jet lag and my general holiday laziness and reluctance to get out of bed well into the morning. A very concrete musical tune came to me out of nowhere and I haven't felt this blissed in a long time. The setting for the dream was basically (surprise!) my Facebook news feed, but what popped up in it was this beautiful video from a (imaginary) page I'd "liked": of Bombay Jayashree singing with her (Carnatic) orchestra on the beach, in front of a gorgeous South Indian temple. Oddly enough she was singing in Bengali - which was probably the result of recently attending a wonderful concert by Kaushiki Chakrabarty in which she sang a Bengali piece and/or the fact that Diya - whom I'm visiting now - is Bengali and/or the fact that I've lately been watching a Netflix series on Tagore's short stories. The highlight of the dream was the tune. What I heard - although it was just one line - was very intriguingly, a really well-defined and "distilled-out" tune with quite a unique meter and rhythm. (It was in khandam/ 5-beat cycle.) This has never happened to me before. Or it probably has a couple times but I've never woken up remembering the tune. This time I did, and it was an incredible feeling. I like the tune although it isn't very unique. I think it's nice - and sounds something like Pancham se Gara/ a Bihag-ish Khamaj, which has been quite a common Raga in film songs though. And I think I like it because I really had nothing to do with it. The tune isn't really mine. But what I'm feeling more than anything - pride/ happiness etc. - is a sense of intrigue. I'm fascinated by this experience and wonder if there have been other such Kekule's-Benzene-ring kind of moments of serendipity in music. (I'm sure there have, and much more grandiose ones.) I've always been a very deliberate - as opposed to a spontaneous - musician, and always felt inadequate because of that. That makes this dream even more fascinating. Right now I'm torn between developing this tune into a full-fledged composition and Googling on music and dreams. It's a good place to be :)

Sadly no amount of Google image search yielded a picture of Bombay Jayashree singing on the beach, but this post wouldn't be complete without her face, so here goes:



Friday, July 01, 2016

Sahana

A clip from today's practice.



Saturday, April 16, 2016

malargaL kEttEn - Cover

Here's a cover after a while: malargaL kEttEn from the film OK Kanmani. A beautiful melody by AR, it was rendered inimitably as always, by the one and only Chitra. I've tried to "Behag-ize" it a bit more than the original. Disclaimers: no karaoke track here, just a drone; and this was recorded on an iPhone (and enhanced a bit with GarageBand).



Sunday, April 03, 2016

Har Tajurbe Ko released

Here we go. (Click here for some background on this song.) Please share and spread the word and if you like it please buy the track from iTunes and support the artists!

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/har-tajurbe-ko-feat.-ravichandra/id1097597195



Vocals: Subhamita Bannerjee
Composition: Sindhuja Bhakthavatsalam
Lyrics: Ajay Chandran
Flute: Ravichandra Kulur
Arrangement, Music Production, Mix and Master: Vijay Kannan

Thanks to Kaushik Sen of Rainbow Digital Studio, Kolkata, India; and Armando Cepeda's studio, Carlsbad, USA.

Artwork: "The Dive" by Sumithra Bhakthavatsalam (42hues.com)

Youtube link: www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOQ4xzGGTNU

Lyrics and translation:

har tajurbe ko taraazuu mein rakhaa
hisaabon mein uljha rahaa

Why weigh every experience? Why be ensnared in calculating every move?

zindagii saamne aayi
to ehtraam bhii na kiyaa

Life appeared in all its glory but alas, wasn't heeded to.

ik samandar peegayaa, phirbhi.. pyaas vohii pyaas rahii
mere andar koii bagaavat si.. aag vohiii aag rahii

Drinking the ocean in its entirety didn't quench the thirst...
Inside me is a rebellious fire that doesn't abate...


Sunday, March 13, 2016

Har Tajurbe Ko - original composition feat. Subhamita Bannerjee coming soon

TEN years since I started this blog. (Well, almost.) Amidst some philosophizing and soul-searching that've resulted in a few write-ups on music, the last decade has been filled with some wonderful (though not very frequent) musical collaborations both online and offline. In September of 2009 I had what's easily been the single most life-changing musical experience for me so far: I got to perform with Pt. Ravi Shankar's ensemble in Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles. As rewarding as the experience itself was, it also gave me the opportunity to build some invaluable musical connections. In particular, I've been very fortunate to have collaborated with two amazing musicians I met there: Ravichandra Kulur and Subhamita Bannerjee. Brindavani - a flute-centric piece I composed a couple years ago and played impeccably by Kulur-ji was the first of these collaborations. But in fact, although we managed to finish and release that piece first (in 2013), what I had originally thought of requesting Kulur-ji to play for was a ghazal-esque song that I had composed. Play he did - and gorgeously of course - but the song never saw the light of the day.

The genesis of the song started with Ajay Chandran's lovely lyrics. One day back in grad school I caught myself humming a tune that was a mishmash of the ragas Varamu and Hindolam. The two ragas differ in just one note: the dhaivatham, and I thought a raga that combined the two sounded really beautiful and I wanted to come up with something. I felt the mood of the raga would best suit something ghazal-like. I immediately went to Ajay Chandran's blog and found a poem that I liked a lot: har tajurbe. I came up with a basic tune for it and soon decided that it had to be sung by someone else. Although it was me who'd come up with the tune, execution was another ball game altogether and I was unhappy with my own rendition since I felt I was totally "Carnaticizing" it. I then approached Subhamita-di to sing it and she graciously obliged. She's brought so much life into this song with her mellifluous rendering and I will be eternally grateful to her.

The next big question of course was, who'd arrange it?! After keeping the song hibernating for years I finally approached Vijay Kannan - an extremely talented and popular flautist and arranger. He immediately agreed to work on it and I think he's done a fabulous job. After composing the song in 2012, and having Kulur-ji play for it the same year, and having Subhamita-di sing it the following year, I tried unsuccessfully to resurrect this song multiple times in the years that followed. It's finally done now - and for being able to revive and complete it, a BIG shoutout to Vijay. And sorry Vijay, for being a pain through the process ;)

There's a certain unparalleled joy in conceiving of something and then completely letting it go out of your hands and just watching others realize it. One part of me thinks that's euphemism for plain laziness, but what good is a PhD if your super power is not intellectualizing the mundane as a means to escapism: so I'm just going to say, distributed cognition for the win. (No but seriously, I mean it.)

The song is all done and will be out soon - watch out for it! And thanks in advance for listening ;)




Thursday, January 14, 2016

Gruhabhedam and Ilaiyaraja - again

Gruhabhedam as a musical phenomenon can never cease to amaze. Gayathri's (of Ranjani-Gayathri duo) brilliant, awe-inspiring Music Academy lec-dem on the topic has recently generated a lot of interesting discussion in the Carnatic music circles, and prompted me to write this long-pending post.

But this post is not about Gruhabhedam in Carnatic music. It is about Ilaiyaraja. Again. (Here and here are articles I've written on Raja and Gruhabhedam in the past.) In my view, just like in Carnatic music, there are good and bad ways of doing Gruhabhedam in film music. I'll get to the bad at the end, but here's the good - or rather, the really, really good. The song I have in mind is aasai adhigam vechu from the film Marupadiyum: http://mio.to/album/Marupadiyum+%281993%29

Gruhabhedam in Sindhubhairavi has been handled exquisitely by stalwarts in Carnatic music - check out this piece by Tanjore S. Kalyanaraman for instance, and then there's of course Lalgudi's legendary swarajathi. But this song - aasai adhigam - is a brilliant case of gruhabhedam from Sindhubhairavi in the film music context. It seems like an innocuous song at first glance but on closer listening you see the beast unleashed in the first interlude and go on to wreak havoc till the end. What a masterpiece! Let me say at the outset that this is not a traditional gruhabhedam involving two "ragas" per se. The song is predominantly in Sindhubhairavi but what it morphs into via gruhabhedam is not really a raga: it's more a scale, or rather parts of a scale - the major scale, roughly speaking.

It starts out in straightforward Sindhubhairavi and continues to be so until half of the first interlude. Then at 1:35 you see it happening. There's a departure from Sindhubhairavi and you hear a more fun and upbeat few seconds there from 1:35 to about 1:42. For a long time I didn't think it was anything special - it just seemed to be a normal change of notes/ modes/ moods. But on closer inspection I found that those notes should really still just sound like Sindhubharivai - 1:35 - 1:43 the notes should be nnnn rr rsss... Why do they sound different? Because there are background chords there that have changed the shruthi! If you listen closely you'll hear a pa-sa bass in the background that makes the nnnn rr rsss sound like rrrr mm mggg. And that's where it starts - taking the Sa of Sindhubhairavi as Ga. And then there's a superbly seamless transition back to Sindhubhairavi around 1:43. And then back to major scale (ish) again in the charanam from 1:53 - 2:09. And then back to Sindhubhairavi at 2:09. What's this man made of?

The charanam beginning ("chinna poNNu naa...") sounds like gpgss... ns rr npp... Why? Again, because he's made us subconsciously move the shadjam. The corresponding Sindhubhairavi notes for that line would be sgsdd... pd nn pgg. But we don't hear it as Sindhubhairavi because of the way Janaki sings it - long, plain notes, and a landing on the da of Sindhubhairavi on the word "naa" making it feel like sa. Here's a short demo I did, singing these lines as in the original, and in a slightly different way if we want to retain Sindhubhairavi. With some very slight modification to the rendering, the feel can be changed back to Sindhubhairavi: with some small gamakas and highlighting the pa. (The singing isn't great - Janaki's shruthi is insanely high for me and the corresponding lower pitch too low.)





So it looks like by simply highlighting the pa and not fixating on da, you get a Sindhubhairavi feel rather than the "fun-n-frolicky" major scale feel. But why remain in plain old Sindhubhairavi when you can come up with genius stuff like this? The second interlude again goes back and forth between major scale (ish) in the instruments and Sindhubhairavi in Janaki's humming. I think for me this song will go down as one of the most incredible gruhabhedams done in film music.

There's of course a lot more the song has to boast about: the tune, the singing, and the instruments all brilliantly capture the state of mind of the woman singing it in the movie and the context couldn't have asked for a better song.

That was about the brilliant stuff. And as promised, here's the bad stuff:
Ilaiyaraja fans, please forgive me but I think nanna neenu gellalare - the 80s Kannada song - is a particularly mundane way of doing Gruhabhedam: 2nd song here. It could serve well to initiate someone into the very basics of Gruhabhedam but beyond that I find it quite shallow and in-your-face. It is too overt and the mood doesn't change along with change of ragas and I find the song to have little musical value. In fact I think the ragas don't change really - all that's happening is that the singers are mouthing different swaras.

Edit: While I think the song is musically flippant objectively speaking, friends have made me realize that it is unfair to evaluate it in a vacuum, stripping it of its context - I acknowledge that the song is set in a particular milieu and reflects the image of the iconic "Dr. Raj" of the 80s. And the context/ film in which this song occurs was probably flippant to begin with. Hat tip to Chaya Rao and Madhusudhan Rao.

Anyway - this was just an e.g. to illustrate a specific point. Needless to say there's simply way too much awesomeness to take from Raja's music - and that's that.


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Ragaland - A Romance of Many Anubhavas

Here's an article I wrote for Sruti magazine: http://srutimag.blogspot.com/2016/01/ragaland-romance-of-many-anubhavas.html


Monday, September 07, 2015

yaaradhu sollamal nenjalli povadhu

9 years of Octaves! Despite the overwhelming presence and influence of social media, microblogging, and social music sharing platforms like Soundcloud, good old blogging still feels like home. Shame that I haven't been able to devote much time to it lately, but hope to update this space more regularly in the coming months.

Here's a cover song after a while - the evergreen and lilting yaaradhu sollamal composed by Shankar-Ganesh from the 1983 film Nenjamellam Neeye. The original is by none other than the formidable Vani Jayaram and of course, this doesn't come even close. I'd learnt and recorded this over a decade ago for a few friends, and got reminded of it today when Youtube suggested the video for me. Thankfully I couldn't find my old recording (I don't know if I can bear to revisit it now - it was probably one of my silliest renditions) but decided to put myself through the bitter-sweet experience of attempting it again. Part of me kept wondering if I could do any justice at all to Vaniji's impeccable voice and masterly rendition. Anyway, greed got the better of me and here's the result.



Monday, May 25, 2015

Udayaravichandrika/ Shrotaswini with a Nattai twist

(Dear blog, you've been abandoned for too long now :( Hopefully more posts coming soon.)

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I'd always found an uncanny similarity between Shuddha Dhanyasi and Nattai. The sadharana gandharam in the former, when rendered in certain ways sounded to me like the shatshruthi rishabham of Nattai. Totally unrelatedly (or so I thought), some 10 years ago I discovered this lovely raga called Shrothaswini, thanks to a film song. I learnt that it was Shuddha Dhanyasi, but with kakali nishadham instead of the kaishiki. And then sometime last year I found this absolute gem: www.youtube.com/watch?v=KpUJtEgBS6k Prof SR Janakiraman explains so wonderfully the connection between Shuddha Dhanyasi, Shrotaswini, and Nattai. (And the way he holds the kakali nishadham - "nishcahlam" - is something to die for.) Shrothaswini is even more similar to Nattai than is Shuddha Dhanyasi coz of the former's kakali nishadham! And I also learnt from this video that Shrotaswini is probably just a fancy, new name for an old raga - Dikshitar's own - Udayaravichandrika. (Prof SRJ does not use the name Shrotaswini at all.) Up until this I'd thought that Udayaravichandrika was the same as Shuddha Dhanyasi. I think this is in fact the popular opinion, which Prof SRJ challenges.

Anyway, I was obsessing about this Udayaravichandrika/ Shrothaswini - Nattai connection over the last few days and couldn't help but record this small piece. Hope you like it.



Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Feature on my guru Lalgudi Rajalakshmi in Sruti magazine

Here's an article I wrote on my guru for Sruti. Many thanks as always to the editor, Mr. Ramnarayan.

Lalgudi Rajalakshmi




Saturday, May 24, 2014

Mini concert recording

Here's a short Ragam Thanam Pallavi in Simhendramadhyamam I recorded for Swaralahari.

http://www.swaralahari.org/site/playvideo.php?concertid=313


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Anumane

After a long hiatus, here's something thanks to my mom: a composition by her. She composed this several years ago but I never got around to learning it until now. It's a ragamalika in Tamil that's musically pretty simple, with focus on the words: what's lyrically interesting and special is that most of the words as you'll see are in alphabetical order.
We look forward to hearing what you have to say!

"anumane"
Composer: Vijayalakshmi Bhakthavatsalam
Ragas: Kapi, Hindolam, Mohanam, Tilang, Ahir Bhairav



Lyrics:

anumane anjanai maindane
aNNal raamanin aaruyir anbane
illALai pirindhu idaruRRa eeshanai
udanirundhu kaathu ookkam aLithanai
eththanai idargaL ellaam kadandhanai
Evalpurindhu ERRam peRRanai
aiyyan raamanudan aikkiyam aayinai
oppuvamai illaa Oridam sErndhanai
audadham peranee sylam peyarthanai
akdhinai koNandhu iLavalai kaathanai

kavinoru kaanagaththE kishkinthaiadhanil
keerti peRRa kaviarasan vaali vadham adaya
kurangarasan avan thambi sugreeva rAjan unnai
koovi azhaikka thaavichendru kadal kadanthaai
kedudhikku kEdizhaiththu kamalaikku kai koduththai
kokkariththu kObiththu kottam ellaam muriyadiththaai
kaushikan sangadam sadudhiyil theerthavanai
saamaanyamaanavanaai saadhikka vandhavanai
sindhaiyil poottivaiththu sheelathhtil nee uyarndhaai
siru piLLai paruvaththil sudum enRu aRiyaadhu
sooriya pazham pidikka seeri parandhanai
selvamE, sEdanE
sainiyaththudan Eezhathai veezhthinayE

sokkanE sOrvinai pOkkidum soundarya roopane
nyAlam pORRum nyAniyE
thalaivan thAL paNindhu thinmaikku thee vaiththAi
thunbam thudaiththu thooyOnai kAththittAi
thenilangai kOmAnai thEsu izhakkachedhAi
thaiyyalai kAththu thollayai thOrkacheidhaai
thauvvaithanai naliyavittu nANiyOda cheidhiduvaai
nilam neer engilum nuNugi nee nooru seivaai
nekkurugi nErthi seidhaal naindhurugi nalam tharuvaai
nondhuvandha uLLamadhil nOvinai neekkiduvAi

paraman aruginil paangudan nee irundhaai
piranmanai kavarndhOnai peezhaiyil veezhacheidhaai
pundhiyil sirandhu nindraai poovayai kandu vandhaai
pemmAn rAmanai pEsuvOrai nee chendru
paiyyavE pAliththu pozhivaai ninnaruLai
pOrkaLathil pourushaththaal polindhu nee nindraai
manginaar maandaar maaruthi unaikkandu
migundhilar meendilar munvinai payanaal
moodaravar madhikkettu meimayai kandilarE
mEnmai nee kondaai maiyyal tharum ezhilkondaai
moikkindraar maandhar un mOhana rUpam kandu
mounamai maram kaatti mannavarai malaikkavaiththaai

yaman yaandum thuNivu koLLAn chiranjeevi unaikkoLLa
yukti ilan yoogithilan yOgi unnai edhirkoLLa
youvvana raajan nee vanjagarai vagirndhadhellaam
vaan pugazh vil veeran vegundu unnai vEndiyadharkE
vaiyyam vandha deivamadhai vouvvi neeyum uyarvadaindhaai
vaanaramaai vandha vaayumaindhane pORRi
agaramudhala ezhuththellaam hanumanukkarpaNikka
arivili aasai kondEn aazham ariyaamale
eengeendu iyambivittEn ichchaikondu ivvaNNam
vaayumagan pizhai poruththu vinai theerthu aruLattum



Saturday, September 28, 2013

Thooli Adidudho

"Thooli Adidudho" is a beautiful lullaby for baby Krishna, composed by Vijay. It was in 2009 that we first started work on this. After many a roadblock over 4 long years, I finally decided to publish this here. The orchestration couldn't be finished, nevertheless, just the simple backing track that Vijay Narayanan has created carries the song through so very gracefully. Thanks Vijay, for trusting me with this lovely melody. Hope I've done some justice. Thanks Vijay. N for the track, and thanks Karthik Nagarajan for rendering it with me - you've done a beautiful job as always.

Oh, and Octaves completes 7 years! Thanks people, for visiting. Thanks for keeping this going.

Composer and lyricist: Vijay S. Aiyar
Backing track: Vijay Narayanan
Vocals: Karthik Nagarajan and Sindhuja Bhakthavatsalam



Lyrics:

thooLi AdidudhO, kaNNA thookkam dhaan varudhO
lAli pAdidudhO, mannA thAyin thaen manadhO
neela vaNNA, bAla kaNNA, neeyum thoongida thAyum aengida
thooLi AdidudhO...

pArkkum pArvai pARkadal, mazhalai mozhi pullAnkuzhal
kannam rendum kanirasam unthan uthattil vadivadhu madhurasam
ulagin seyalgaL unakku theriyum
uRangum pozhudhilum nadaththa theriyum
mAyavA, manadhu mayangida

nyAniyE nee thoongida thAlAttu geetham pAdinEn
nALaiyE un geethaiyai indha ulagum vizhiththida pAdu nee
nyAniYE nee thoongida thAlAttu geetham pAdum thAi
nALaiyE un geethaiyai indha ulagum vizhiththida pAduvAi
uRangum vizhikkuL ulagam suzhala
yugangaL siladhundhan kanavil malara
thooyavA, thazhaikkum thavamena

thooLi...


Monday, April 15, 2013

Brindavani

Here we go.
Now on iTunes! https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/brindavani-feat.-kirthana/id646554483




Sunday, April 14, 2013

Brindavani: a collaboration with Flautist Shri Ravichandra Kulur

It was around this time a year ago that this project took birth. Ravi Kulur ji - whom I'd met and performed with in Pt Ravi Shankar's ensemble in 2009 - was visiting San Diego and got in touch with me. He was going to be performing with Guruji and Anoushka. As I was just planning a casual meeting with him, it occurred to me out of the blue to ask him if he might be interested in recording something for me. Given his schedule and how big an artist he is, I really wasn't expecting him to agree, but thought of asking him anyway since I'd known him to be really nice. Ask I did, and to my absolute surprise and delight, he was more than willing. Amidst rehearsal schedules with Guruji and other artists, he was kind enough to entertain my request. At the time, what I had in mind was a ghazal I had composed - I wanted Kulur ji to play some aalaaps and interludes for it. But then I felt I needed to make more use of this unique opportunity and get him to play more. But everything other than the ghazal I had composed till then was proper Carnatic (especially structurally; and of course I didn't feel any of them was worth taking to Kulur ji). I was wondering how to create a flute-centric piece. I finally decided I had to write something new. I wanted to have a standalone flute piece with grand orchestration and may be add some vocals. With not much time left, I quickly came up a few lines in Brindavani in a thillana-esque style and decided to leave the rest to improvisation.

The day arrived and I had to meet him at the studio. Back then, neither did I have a car, nor did I drive. The studio was in Carlsbad and getting there from La Jolla was a two hour bus ride. It was probably the best bus ride I've had though - an oceanic route, combined with the excitement of my first composition to be performed by a renowned artist made it truly memorable. After the long hitchhike, I reached and Kulur ji who was already there greeted me. We began. What can I say - listening to him breeze away the flute from just a few feet away was exhilarating. We started with the Brindavani piece - his improvisations were transfixing. I felt extremely fortunate. We took about an hour and half and were done with whatever I had in mind. Thanked him, my stars, and most importantly Guruji Pt. Ravi Shankar - for it was because of him that I'd met Kulur ji.

Well, that was part one. Then began the orchestration woes. As I was worrying about whom to approach, Murali Venkataraman introduced me to Eshwar Ravishankar and I really need to thank him for that. Eshwar has worked tremendously for this song and his orchestration has truly elevated it to a level I hadn't imagined. I think his arrangement has added such grandeur to this song that it has come a long, long way from its genesis in what I wrote. Amidst the various challenges of power cuts, unreliable internet, an unstable computer, and exams and other deadlines, he has given his all to this. Through the last one year Eshwar and I have discussed, argued, fought, reconciled, and celebrated, thanks to gchat and whatsapp. It was all a lot of fun and I've learnt many things.

Many thanks to Sanath for playing the mridangam on short notice when he was on a vacation in India. Many thanks also to Armando Cepeda (who's also worked with Guruji) who kindly let us use his studio for Kulur ji's recording. Thanks to Kirthana for her sweet vocals in the interlude, and last but not least, thanks to Abin Pushpakaran for the very dedicated and tireless work with the mixing and mastering. Here's hoping you all like this piece. Coming soon!!



PS: Kulur ji did also record for the ghazal I mentioned. The vocals have also been done by another gorgeous singer. I hope to release that soon as well.


Sunday, March 31, 2013

Ilaiyaraja live in San Jose

I know this post comes very late - I just didn't have the time to sit and write about it, and moreover, for a while after it was over, I was in a stupor and was unable to put anything of what I felt in words. Nevertheless, I thought I should say something about the concert here for the record, since it was easily one of the most cherished musical experiences I have ever had. On March 1st I witnessed a dream concert: "Maestro" Ilaiyaraja was in San Jose with his entire team of amazing musicians. From Chitra to SPB to Hariharan to the no-name stars in the orchestra, the show was nothing short of magic. Four decades of musical brilliance came alive in the 5-or-so hours. The orchestra was impeccable, the singers masterly and fervent, and the man - Raja - himself, stood there truly like a king, bursting with all the years of well-earned and rightful pride and authority. It was an unforgettable evening and I was so emotionally charged - like all the other die-hard fans I'm sure - that I had a "hangover" for almost a week after the concert. I would be doing injustice to the concert if I start talking about any one or two songs, and it would be impossible for me to write in detail about every song. Still, I'll just go ahead and say that pottu vaiththa kadhal had me at the edge of my seat from start to end and sundari kannal and thenpandi chemmaiyile brought tears. If you closed your eyes, you'd think it was the original casette playing (but with the recording boosted up and digitized to modern standards). The rushing violins in sundari kannal were transfixing and the trumpets just so grandiose. Chitra, my idol was her usual adorable self, and SPB was giving us some glimpses of Raja's genius by narrating some anecdotes during composing and having the orchestra play for us some short, isolated bits to highlight the strength of those particular sections. Mano was jovial and entertaining and was a true sport when Raja pulled his leg about his Thamizh years ago when he was learning Shenbagame (although I wonder who *wouldn't* have been a sport with Raja), and Karthik had a great stage presence. The four women who were part of the chorus and also had some solos/ duets each were amazing too. Unfortunately I don't know their names - except for one of them, NSK Ramya. Overall, wonderful evening and the heart felt heavy as it came to an end. Some people were put off by Raja's quirks - they felt he was being too arrogant and not respectful of the people who had paid a lot to watch him. Well, some of his comments were indeed uncalled for - like when he asked "idhu dhaan neenga vaazhara latchanama" or something to that effect when people were whistling/ loudly cheering to some of the songs. But then he's extraordinary, and for all the years of joy he has given us, I don't think I have anything to grumble about and will take anything from him in return for his out-of-the-world music.
We've always known this man to be superhuman, but seeing him live, listening to him sing, pray, pour his heart out, love, cheer, and also admonish, scold, and rant was truly something else. An evening I'll remember for a long time to come.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Another playback song

Here's a glimpse of another song I sang a few lines for in a Telugu film "Chinna Cinema", composed by Praveen Lakkaraju with lead vocals by Srinivas Josyula.



I also sang a couple of lines for a montage song in the same film: https://soundcloud.com/plakkaraju/chinna-cinema-montage-song

Quite excited that I get to share credits with SPB on the same album! Probably the closest I can get to the legend.
Listen to all songs here:
https://soundcloud.com/jaya-venkata-pratap-lavu/sets/chinna-cinema-mp3