Thursday, November 11, 2010

Celebrating GNB: (5) Santhathamu Ninne in Valaji

Ram writes...
I've been thinking for quite a while about what is unique about the song. Honestly, except for pointing out the 'Dvitiyakshara Prasam' I mentioned in earlier songs too, I couldn't come up with much. This is a typical Valaji. Of course, that doesn't mean this isn't a good composition. In fact, this is a great composition that completely relaxes a listener even before the pallavi is over. For all the GNB critics who think his music is nothing but speed, this composition is a fine example of his idea of melody. (And this point is reinforced by his other composition Mamakuleswaram in Thodi, a very slow piece)

There are two striking features in GNB's kriti rendition. One is Briga and the Other is Bigu. The two features are often juxtaposed one after another, creating a stunning effect. In the Pallavi of this Kriti, the 'Briga' at 'NinnE' and the cascasding 'Bigus' 'nIvEyani' is an example of this effect. I'm not sure if Sindhu's swarakshara usage at 'Ga dhA' in Anu Pallavi was conceived by GNB. It sounds fantastic and that is what matters. And I think 'Vanditha muni jana' is a wonderful place for neraval. If it is Valaji, I would any day swap the kalpana swarams for 'first speed' neraval.

Song: santhathamu ninne
Ragam: Valaji
Thalam: Adi
Composer: GNB

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Celebrating GNB: (4) Kamalacharane in Amritabehag

Here's the next in the ongoing GNB series.
Ram writes...

The Amritabehag kriti, "Kamala Charane", is another example of GNB's genius. This raga, like Sivashakti is a creation of GNB. The twisted arohanam goes like, "Sa Ma Ga Pa Ni Da Sa" and the avarohanam is "Sa Ni Da Ma Ga Sa" and the raga is classified as a Janyam of 65th Melakartha, Mechakalyani.

According to hearsay, GNB conceived this raga inspired by some vakra/varja phrases in Kalyani played by the legendary Rajaratnam Pillai. I feel that could have been true only if Ragas were just scales with Swaras. Many ragas, especially ones like Kalyani are much more than a scale. While the scale certainly forms the skeleton of the raga, the life of a raga is much more than a scale. While we can say Amruta Behag is derived from the Kalyani scale for all practical purposes, it has nothing to do with the Kalyani Raga (lakshana). In fact, it seems to have some resemblance to amrutavarshini (which in turn has little to do with Kalyani).

The composition "Kamala CharanE" set in Madhyama Kala is often sung as a brisk filler before than main piece in a concert. There is a genre (or shall we say sub-genre) of songs that are suited for rendering at a high speed and are good vehicles for projecting the capabilities of voice. (It is interesting to note many such Adi-tala songs have an eduppu after 1.5 beats). It is needless to say "Kamala CharanE" is among them. The song is a joyous outburst with several sangatis. Some sangatis revolving around the dhaivatam are very moving too.

The beautifully coined chitta swarams helps the listener get a proper understanding of the characteristics of the raga.

GNB's family say this is one rare song in which GNB has left a Mudra. The name "Vimarsanananda" in the Charanam is apparently GNB's "Diksha name".

Sindhu has done justice to this wonderful composition by rendering at a liesurely pace. This speed, unlike the often heard break-neck speed, helps the listener appreciate the beauty of the raga better.

Read in Tamil here.

Song: kamalacharane
Ragam: Amritabehag
Thalam: Adi
Composer: GNB

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Celebrating GNB: (3) Ni padame gathi in Nalinakanthi

As Octaves turns four this month, I present one of my favorite ragas today- Nalinakanthi. After a hiatus (Ram just had a baby girl- yay!), we return to the GNB series, and I'll let Ram do most of the talking (or writing!), but would just like to reiterate that I'm grateful to all the visitors here who've kept this blog going. I've turned my focus largely to Carnatic over the last one year or so and I'm totally enjoying this phase. I'm deeply indebted to my guru for this and I hope I constantly get better at it.
September is a very eventful month in our family- dad's, sister's and nephew's birthdays, and sister's anniversary- so this goes out to all of them! :) Hope I've done some justice to this piece...

Ram writes...

The kriti 'Ni PadamE' is probably the most famous composition of GNB. An article by BVK Sastri, written in the 1950s mentions that this song along with 'Sada Palaya' was very popular even then.

Despite being a popular raga, there aren't many compositions in Nalinakanthi. During GNB's time 'Manivanala' was probably the only composition known in this raga. Later compositions of GNB and Lalgudi Jayaraman are welcome additions to this wonderful raga.

While Tyagaraja's composition oozes with exuberance and brings out the briskness with its 'duritha kala' sangathis, GNB's "Ni PadamE' is set in 'reNdu kettAn' kaalapramaNam and that in my opinion adds more 'rakthi' to the raga without compromising on the briskness. The 'eduppu' or the starting phrase too is significantly different from 'Manavinala'.

GNB has embellished several famous kritis with new sangatis that contain beautiful swaraksharams. One stunning example is 'sa ma ni ga ma ga sudha' in the kriti 'Samaja Varagamana'. While all the 'aksharams' are right in front of our eyes, I still wonder why it takes such geniuses like GNB and Balamurali to unearth such swarakshara gems, while an ordinary mortal just reads the line and at the most appreciates the saahithya bhava.

GNB's compositions too are adorned with beautiful swaraksharams. Like in the Mohanam (Sada Palaya) and Khamas (Pada Bhajana) compositions, in the Nalinakanthi composition too, the kriti begins with a wonderful swarakshara phrase in 'Ni Pa'. Another attribute that elevates the composition is the 'dvitiyakshara prasam'(explained earlier in this series). While in the Sivasakthi composition, the lines in the anu-pallavi and charanam are adorned with 'Dvitiyakshara prAsam', in this composition along with those two parts even the pallavi contains DvitiyAkshara prAsam.

While usage of such rhyming words is common, occurance for such 'prAsam' in all the lines of a composition is rare. The greatness of this composition is that, at no place we feel that the 'rhyming word' is a forced fit. Like Dikshitar, GNB too has interweaved the raga name beautifully into the composition.

Despite several innovations and embellishments, the composition structure remains fairly simple and sounds uncontrived. Which, by the way, is not a simple task to come up with. (I'm sure Sindhu will vouch for that).

While Sindhu has rendered the composition nicely, probably for the first time in this series, I felt the 'absence' of Mridangam accompaniement. Also, the choice of the line 'nA pApamu' for swaraprastaram doesn't gel with the mood of the ragam. In my opinion, the pleading 'bhava' of the lyrics contradicts the raga bhava of Nalinakanti.

Song: ni paadame gathi
Ragam: Nalinakanthi
Thalam: Rupakam
Composer: GNB

Monday, September 13, 2010

RIP Swarnalatha

It still isn't sinking in. Swarnalatha is not with us any more. One of the most expressive, mellifluous voices, I'm sure she's been an inspiration to lots and lots of aspiring singers like myself. What I adore about her is the impeccable note precision while at the same time being so expressive! A sonorous tinge to her voice makes it all the more attractive. At the risk of sounding cliched, I say with all my heart that she continues to live with us through her songs. It's indeed a strange feeling when artists leave us with their works behind them- it brings to us lessons about permanence and impermanence at the same time...

ennuLLE ennuLLE pala minnal Ezhum nEram... RIP Swarnalatha. You shall be sorely and deeply missed.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Celebrating GNB: (2) Varnam in Andholika

Here is our second in the GNB series started here last month.

Ram writes...

Andolika, a Karaharapriya janyam, has an asymmetric structure to its scale, despite having the same number of swarams in the arohanam and avarohanam. Tyagaraja's 'Raga Sudha Rasa' is the most famous composition in this raga. While Tyagaraja beautifully brings out the essence of the raga in the very first phrase of the kriti, GNB's varnam builds on it and showcases several new facets.

Before getting into a discussion on the varnam, a few lines about GNB and Andholika:

It is interesting to note that several of GNB's favourites belong to the Karaharapriya family. GNB has handled ragas like Abhogi, Jayamanohari, Reethigowlai, Andholika elaborately. However, he has hardly sung Karaharapriya.

The modern day Andolika is based on the framework conceived by GNB. (Although Sri. S.Rajam once told me that Andolika was among the favourites of the legendary Naina Pillai and Muthiah Bhagavathar). On GNB's 81st birthday, Sri. T.M.Tyagarajan spoke at a function at Indian Fine Arts Society, Chennai; about GNB's first concert in Thanjavur. GNB was yet to establish himself at Thanjavur, the (then) Mecca of Carnatic Music. His appearance in movies had hampered his reputation as a Carnatic musician. While the Thanjavur audience were sceptical about the 'Talkie Vidwan', GNB launched into an alapanai in Andolika. Even as the experts were trying to identify the raga, GNB had delved into the depths of the raga through his brilliant brikas. (TMT's recount left such a deep impact on my mind that I used the same as the opening chapter of my book on GNB)

Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan was so impressed with GNB's delineation of Andolika that he started singing them in his concerts too. (While GNB started singing Gavathi due to the Ustad's influence. He even composed a varnam in Gavathi.)

Onto this varnam: There is a popular notion that Varnams are practice pieces - widely used for warming up. While it is true in the case of some elementary varnams, in many cases they turn out to be a brilliant medium to project both the composer's as well as the performer's innovative musical ideas. I would even go to the extent of saying that the Bhairavi varnam and the Nattakurunji varnam are each the most beautiful piece in the respective ragas. Such varnams give us deep insight into the various facets of the raga. One can also add this particular varnam in Andholika (along with the GNB varnams in Kadanakuthuhalam and Gavathi)- which is probably the most popular among the GNB varnams- to this list. While his other varnams are predominantly sung by the GNB school singers, this varnam is widely performed by musicians of other schools too. In my opinion, Sri. DK Jayaraman's rendition of this varnam is the best.

This brisk Adi Tala varnam is on GNB's Ishta Devatha 'Nadarupasundari'. Musicologist SAK Durga notes that, "The term 'Nadarupasundari' is very unique. Usually 'Naada Rupam' is associated with Lord Shiva. Tyagaraja says, "Nada Thanum anisham shankaram". GNB was probably the first person to concieve Shakthi as "Nadarupini".

Several interesting patterns can be noticed in the chitta-swarams of the varnam. Various porthams such as,

Ri Ma Pa Nadarupa
Ma Pa Ni Sa Nadarupa
Ri Ma Ri Sa Nadarupa

reflect GNB's style of singing Kalpanaswarams.

The phrase without Sa and Pa in the third chittaswaram (ririma niniri mamani ririma niririma) is rendered almost completely without gamakams. Such prayogams are truly ahead of his times. One can find such usages today in ragas like Madhyamavathi too.

Although GNB does not indulge in complex arithmetics, he uses several interesting patterns. One example would be the Gopucha Yati in the fourth Chitta Swaram (sanidhamari nidhamari dhamari mari..)

While Sindhuja does justice to this composition through her rendition, the listener is invariably left longing for more. GNB, when rendering varnams, usually compliments the chittaswarams with a few brisk rounds of kalpana swarams. Probably a few rounds of spontaneous swarams from Sindhuja would have served as the icing on the cake :-)

Lalitha Ram


Song: nee dayaradha (thana varnam)
Ragam: Andholika (S R2 M1 P N2 S, S N2 D2 M1 R2 S)
Thalam: Adi
Composer: GNB

Pallavi: nee dayaradha neerajaakshi naa taramerigi nanneluko
Anupallavi: kadhamba dhaNda sumachara paashaankusha, sitaamsu kalaadhariNi
Charanam: naadaroopasundari naaraayaNi

As always, feedback most welcome. We hope you continue to support our efforts in this series.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Celebrating GNB: (1) Sri chakra raja in Shivashakthi

As many of you would know, this year is being celebrated world over as G.N.Balasubramanyam's birth centenary year (He was born on Jan 6 1910). As a contribution to the celebrations, I wanted to do my own small bit in dedicating this year to GNB. Towards this effort is a GNB series on my blog starting today. I intend to sing some of his famous compositions once every 2-3 weeks and upload here. And I want to thank here my guru Smt. Lakshmi Raghavan (who belongs to the GNB school and was a student of Charumathi Ramachandran) who taught me all these songs.

I'm collaborating in this effort with a long time friend, Lalitha Ram (Ramachandran Mahadevan), the author of a popular Tamil book on GNB "isaiulaga iLavarasar" and GNB scholar. Ram also contributed extensively with research inputs to the making of a documentary and co-edited a commemorative volume on GNB (which was also featured this year at the Cleveland Thyagaraja Aradhana), both released for this centenary year.
In this series we plan to have a short write up by Ram about each song I present. Thanks to him, this series will also be parallely featured in the tamil e-zine, This being the very first in the series, Ram has for us a brief introduction to GNB's compositions, followed by the write up on the song.
I hope you enjoy the series and support our efforts till the end.
Ram writes...

First, I congratulate Sindhuja for coming up with this fitting tribute to GNB on his centenary year. I would also like to thank her for letting me be a part of it.

GNB's compositions - a brief introduction
GNB belongs to the elite list of top notch musicians who were composers too. Like GNB's concerts, his compositions too are amalgamations of intellect and aesthetics. Prof. Sambamurti writes, "His vast experience on the concert platform and his knowledge of the likes and dislikes of concert goers have provided a useful background for the shape of the compositions". It is usually thought that too much of an intellectual approach can kill the aesthetics. Highly technical attempts often sound contrived. GNB incorporated several technical aspects in his compositions like the swaraksharams, complex chittaswarams, unconventional eduppus, new musical scales etc. Yet, all his compositions sound pleasing and graceful.

To quote GNB, "Whenever I was in a contemplative mood, I used to get visions of musical forms. I desired to give them a permanent form by shaping them into kirtanas. But thereafter, I did not give them a second look. I left it to my disciples to make the best use of them." Although, GNB didn't give them a second look (S.Rajam termed GNB's decision to not sing his compositions as a great 'Sangita drOgam'), some of his compositions gained immense popularity even in his life time, thanks to his disciples TR Balasubramniyam and ML Vasanthakumari.

There are several references that mention that GNB composed more than 250 pieces. In a letter to 'Sudesa Mitran', written in 1948, GNB mentions that he composed more than 50 songs. MLV, in an interview, mentions that majority of his compositions were composed in the 1950s. In his foreword to Gana Baskara Manimalai (the first volume of GNB compositions), Mysore Vasudevacharya says, "GNB has composed hundreds of songs in praise of Rajarajeswari". The first volume, Gana Baskara Mani Malai, was published in 1956. Subsequently, two more volumes have been published in 1971 and 2005. In all, 7 varnams, 72 kritis and 1 thillana are available with complete notation. While we have lost more than 50% of his compositions, the available ones suffice to convey to us GNB's genius.

Many of GNB's compositions are in ragas that do not boast of a large number of kritis (for. example in Raga Kadanakuthuhalam, the only famous kriti is 'Raghuvamsa Sudha'. The structure of the Patnam Subramaniya Iyer composition is more suited for portraying an instrumentalist's virtuosity. On the other hand, GNB's two compositions in the raga (along with Muthiah Bagavathar's 'Giripriyam') bring out the melody in an aesthetic way. Malavi, Chenchu Kambodhi, Narayani, Veenadhari, Saranga Tarangini are other ragas that belong to this category.) The chittaswarams, especially in the rare ragas are of great use in understanding the essence of such ragams. Some of them have interesting swara patterns (for e.g. dAtu prayogam) and laya patterns (for. e.g. Gopucha Yati). Even his kritis in ragas that have a large number of composition (e.g. thodi) his usages are unique (e.g. G G RS eduppu in thodi for Mamakuleswaram or the eduppu at tAra shadjam for bahudari in the kriti 'unnadiyE').
GNB has composed in Tamil, Telugu and Sanskrit. In an article, GNB writes, "Dikshitar's kritis are detached, impersonal descriptions and sthotras of the hindu pantheon while those of Tyagaraja are records of his personal and emotional experience of God". One finds both approaches in GNB's compositions - although one cannot be sure if the compositions written in 'first person' do actually reflect GNB's personal experience. More than the lyrical content, GNB's compositions are known for their musical beauty.

While majority of the kritis are set Adi or Rupaka tala, some kritis are set in talas like Misra Jampa and Kanda Triputa. Many of the compositions are simple in structure reflecting the composing style of Tyagaraja. Some compositions have madhyama kala sahithyam and inter-weaving of raga mudra like that of a Dikshitar composition. The other musician-composer who was of great inspiration to GNB was Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavathar. Muthiah Bhagavathar was one of the few composers to have come up with new ragas. GNB followed his foot steps in creating new ragas viz. Sivasakthi and Amruta Behag. Although many of his compositions reflect his singing style, it must be noted that his songs are sung widely by musicians belonging to other schools (e.g. OST, N.Ramani, Sowmya, TNS) too. It is said that GNB did not have any mudra in his compositions. (His family says 'vimarsana nanda' in the kriti 'Kamala CharanE' is said to be his 'Diksha Namam'). On a keener look, as beautifully pointed out in a seminar by musicologist SAK Durga, one will realise that the entire composition is his mudra. His compositions stand out unique and do not require a 'verbal mudra' for identification.

Srichakraraja nilaye

With the above general introduction to GNB's compositions, let us take a deeper look at the first composition featured in this series.
Sivasakthi, a GNB creation, is a janya raga of Karaharapriya. The scale is interesting as it is not traditional. Traditional ragas would compulsorily have at least five swaras in the arohanam and avarohanam. Siva Sakthi has just four swaras, 'Sa Ga Ma and Dha' in the arOhanam and has 'Ni' in addition to the aforementioned swarams. When Balamuralikrishna came up with ragas like Mahathi, there were several criticisms for not following the 'five swara' principle. It is interesting to note that GNB didn't face any such criticism. The reason is probably the way he dealt with the raga. Upon listening to the composition, it is difficult to associate the raga with an unconventional or non-traditional scale- the raga is easy on the ears and sounds perfectly "natural".
Veena Maestro S.Balachander once described the concept behind the scale: the 9 swaras (four in the arohanam and five the avarohanam) depict the nine faces of the 'Sri chakram' (widely used in Devi upasana). Of the nine faces, four represent Siva and five represent his female counterpart Shakthi. Appropriately the arOhanam has four swarams representing the faces of siva and the avarOhanam has five faces representing shakthi's five faces. The phrases, 'Sri chakra Raja nilayE' and 'Sivashakthi aikya rUpini' are consistent with the above described concept.

Although a madhyama kala composition, I've heard this song being sung as a filler between two heavy pieces. The composition, especially in the anupallavi has ample scope for duritha kala sangatis. I've also heard this composition rendered in a elaborate manner. The moving 'hindholam-ish' phrases in the pUrvagam and the more ebullient 'abhogi-ish' phrases on the utrAngam makes this raga (and varamu, a close cousin) a unique blend of swaras.

Another notable feature in this kriti is the 'dvitIyAkshara prAsam' , i.e. is the rhyming syllable on the second letter. (e.g. Ethavunara and Seetha gowri in Tyagaraja's kalyani kriti). Each of the lines in anu-pallavi and charanam are adorned with 'dvitIyAkshara prAsam'. According to Prof. TRS says, "It is uncommon to find a composer using 'dvitIyAkshara prAsam' on all lines of a compositions. In the case of GNB, it is a regular feature".

This song was a part of the popular gramaphone record of MLV, 'Guru Vandanam' , and is now regularly sung by Sudha Ragunathan. GNB has composed one more composition in this ragam, 'Vinuthapalini". Hopefully, in the coming years, this composition too will attain the popularity level of 'Sri Chakra Raja".

Lalitha Ram

Here's the song. Tried an aalapana, followed by the song and then some swaras. As always, feedback much appreciated!

Song: Sri chakra raja nilaye
Raga: Shivashakthi (S G2 M1 D2 S; S N2 D2 M1 G2 S)
Thalam: Adi
Composer: GNB

Profuse apologies for some mistakes in the lyrics. I will definitely be more careful in future. Below are the *correct* lyrics:

Pallavi: sri chakra raja nilaye shivashakthi aikya rUpiNi

Anupallavi: pAshAnkusha bANEkshudhaNda bEsakalAdhari pAhi pAhi

Charanam: asurakula nAshini sreesha kEshava sahajAmini
IshaguNa gAnathOshini kOshAnthara sthithapOshini

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


I recently came to a realization- it seems to me like I'm not an artiste in the true sense of the word at all. Here's why: I think a key characteristic for an artiste is to be spontaneous. And I'm the least spontaneous person with respect to almost everything. I don't talk spontaneously, I don't write spontaneously and I don't SING spontaneously. I don't do anything on impulse. Everything needs to be reasoned and planned out. I never surprise myself or anyone around me. When I think about it, it's such an irony that I'm into as spontaneous an art as music. I sat down to think one day, why I love composing Carnatic songs. And it dawned on me that that has to do with my lack of spontaneity as well! May be if I were a natural talent, I would tend to do alaapanais with ease and rattle away kalpana swaras. Why compose? Coz it involves careful thought, construction and coming up with a concrete form. It's so much easier than doing an aalaapanai or singing swaras.... for the simple reason that it doesn't require spontaneity and is not extempore!

I've always firmly believed that with singing, Carnatic is much tougher than film songs, but with composing, it's exactly the other way round. Why? coz true singing in Carnatic involves manodharma- or imagination (in the form of aalaapanai, neraval, swaram etc), and if you want to be good, it better not be "pre-meditated imagination"! And composing Carnatic I believe is easy since SO much of it comes ready made in the form of ragas. So if you pick a raga in which to compose, it has its standard usages and nuances and you just go with the flow. There are boundaries. There are rules. And with limited pieces to move around in the game, its not too hard to come up with a standard classical composition. (There's at least a small challenge only if you pick rare ragas, but that's not all too tough either) Where as with "filmi" songs, a whole new range of possibilites arise. Chords. Harmonies. Overlays. Variety of instruments. There's lesser rules, so it's that much tougher to produce a good piece with not much to follow.

Anyway, coming back to me- if art means spontaneity, then I must admit I'm hardly an artiste. I'm so regimented in my thoughts... Sometimes, the thought that I'm fundamentally wired this way scares me. But many times, I feel good as well. I find immense pleasure in analyzing a piece of music philosophically. So if this is what is "natural" to me, then is this art as well? I don't know.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

endha mugam with Lalitharam

I have a lot to thank tfmpage for. Back in the day, that was my point of entry into the online world of musically like minded people. The Raga-Of-Song page (or ROS) was like home for a good 2-3 years and that's where I made some of my best musical associations. The song I'm presenting here today is the result of one such association- with Ram. Ram wrote the lyrics for which I composed the tune. This was one of my first compositions , and my very first experience with online collaboration (back then, Ram was in the US and me in India), which has become the order of the day today. Needless to say, it was a lot of fun! Although the song made its rounds within part of the ROS community and was quite well received, I think people were just being nice to me- probably because I was this kid just out of high school :P I now think the song was such an immature composition- half baked and cliched in a lot of ways despite some moving lines by Ram... (Not that I'm great now...!) Nevertheless, wanted to post it just for records- and to revisit those old ROS days... I can't believe it's been 9 years!!

Today, Ram is a noted music critic in the Chennai circles and the author of a book on the Carnatic music stalwart, G.N.Balasubramanyam titled "isaiulaga iLavarasar". I can only say I'm so pleased and proud! Way to go, Ram :)

This song goes out to my three good friends from ROS - Ram, Murali and Sheela. Glad to have met you all.

And dear blog visitor, will be glad to know what you thought of this piece!

Song: endha mugam
Ragam: Ragamalika (Darbari Kanada, Sahana, Ranjani, Charukeshi, Behag)
Thalam: Rupakam
Lyrics: Ramachandran Mahadevan (Lalitaram)
Tune: Self

And here are the lyrics:

entha mugam nOkkinaalum unthan mugam thOnRuvathEn
enthan manam thudippathaiyE unthan manam uNarnthidumO?
thanthai thaay thamakkai muthal entha mugam kaNda pOthum
chinthai ellaam silirkkachcheiyyum vinthai mugam therigiRathE!!!

munnam pala piRavigaLil kaLiththu kaziththu magizhnthathupOl
innum pala eNNam en agththil vazivathu En?
pongum un karuNai veLLam pagarndhidumE naan maRaiyum
Engum en mananilaiayi nee paarthaalthaanE thuyar maRaiyum

thEdum en manam kaNdum irangaamal oLivathEnO
naadum nOkkaththudan naanirukkum thavam veeNO
pathiyenRu koNdEn unnai,sathi seithu thaviRkkalaamO
mathimayakkum maayavanE,vithi maaRRa thayakkamEnO

nithamunnai piriyEnena muththamittuth thazhuvi ennai
eththanayO kURiyathu aththanaiyum poiyaachchuthO?
meththamaiyal koNda intha kuRRamaRra pEthathanai
saththaminRi neengkiyathu uththamanuk-kazhagaagumO?

pannagaththil paduththurungum ennagaththu naayaganE
viNNavarum maNNavarum vaNangum anbar-kaavalanE
paNNisaiththu kathaRum intha pEthaithanai paaraayO
ennilaiayi uNarnthu enthan idarneekka vaaraayO

Download here.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

innum ennai - Singaravelan

If I were asked to use the word "grand" for any one Tamil film song, it would be for this one. True to the name of the raga of this song - Gambheera Nattai - that's what this song is: majestic. Of course, what else can we expect when all the pillars of Tamil film music come together - the maestro, SPB and S. Janaki...
One song whose prelude alone can give goosebumps, one song which is such a magnificent combination of intelligence and aesthetics, one song I can never tire listening to.

(If there's something I don't like about this song, its probably the lyrics and the visuals - but the music more than makes up for both of these!)

I've collaborated on this song - for the first time - with Vivek Mahadevan. I think he's done a beautiful job of this! It was a pleasure working with him. And as many of you may know, he's getting married very soon! So Vivek, here's wishing you and your wife-to-be a very happy married life and the best of everything! :)

A little about the mix: the k-track is something I created by a simple voice-removal from the original and I was pleasantly surprised to hear the result - I thought it wasn't bad at all, for a voice-cut track! However, it can never equal a properly made karaoke in quality, and that in turn has a bearing on the effects we use for the voices as well, so as to make them blend with the track. Vivek and me have tried our best in making this sound reasonably good. Let us know what you thought!

Song: innum ennai enna seyya pogiraai
Film: Singaravelan
Music: Ilaiyaraja
Lyrics: Vali
Singers: SPB, S. Janaki

Download here.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Japanese connection

Here's a non-Carnatic song from me after a while!

Ajay Chandran
passed on this absolutely beautiful Japanese song from Final Fantasy to me quite a while back, and told me he was writing alternate lyrics for it which he wanted me to sing. The idea really excited me- for one, the song was so beautiful and two, by past experience, working on Ajay's lyrics was always a pleasure... Like with many other projects in the past this too got stalled and stalled... but finally here it is!

Many many thanks to Meera who mixed this for us in no time and making me sound better than I actually do perhaps :P

Here's the original song:

It might be interesting for you to note that Ajay has tried to make many of the Hindi words rhyme or sound similar in some way, to the original Japanese lyrics! Great job Ajay, to come up with something completely on your own and make it fit in so beautifully with an existing tune, that too with some resemblance to the original words which were in a totally unrelated language! Enjoyed doing this :)

Here are Ajay's lyrics:


udti pirun main to aasmaan mein yoon
main chanchal, hawaa ki tarah
gum hai kahaan
teri aashiqui mein
kaash ye dil ko..hosh aaye

sajna main yoon
teri raah khadi
dekh zara..
kabhi to yahaan
hosh nahin.. mujhe.. tu jo mila..
tuu hi magar ye jaane naa..

dil kii aahen....kahe maahi thaamo baahen
aaa yoon, jiya na jalaaa
yahaan jaltii hoon
kahaan jaane aankhen teri
aise to.. naa jaa...

so jaaoon mai
kho jaaoon aaj mein
aaun phir aankhon mein
banke aansoon

kahin se sada
teri dil ne suni
aankh khuli.. kuch bhi nahiin
haqeekat kya.. jaane kyaa sapnaa
kaun se sach ko maanu mai

kehna kabhi
hoon mai kaun teri
khel nahiin ..
pyaar mera
umeed to hai.. jaane.. kyon dil mein..
laut ke tum phir aaoge..

dil kii aahen....kahe maahi thaamo baahen
aaa yoon, jiya na jalaaa
yahaan jaltii hoon
kahaan jaane aankhen teri
aise to.. naa jaa...

so jaaoon main
kho jaaoon aaj main
aaun phir aankhon mein
banke aansoo


So here it is, for you to appraise!

Song: udti phirun
Music: Masashi Hamauzu and Junya Nakano (for the original "Suteki da ne" in Final Fantasy X)
Lyrics: Ajay Chandran
Singer (lead and harmonies): Self
Mixing: Meera Manohar

Download here.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Thillana - Raagam Bindumalini

[UPDATE as of August 2018: Click here for a spunky recreation of this piece with an amazing team for IndianRaga.]

Here's a new composition from mom and me- a thillana in Bindumalini. Thillanas have always attracted me and needless to say, Lalgudi thillanas have been some of the most inspiring ones, as I'm sure any Lalgudi rasika would agree. I feel blessed and fortunate to have learned some of his pieces from his own sister.

I was under the impression that there was no thillana in Bindumalini- it was only after I finished this piece that I got to know (thanks to Jayanthi akka) that there were at least three more, one of them by the maestro Lalgudi himself! Still haven't had a chance to listen to any of them though, and I hope to do so sometime soon. (Links/ references in this regard most welcome!)

This piece was done a couple of months ago and I wasn't planning on blogging this anytime now, but the abundant, incessant rains in San Diego now prompted me to :) The lyrics by my mom are about rain- a tribute to the Rain God, if you will. As always, loved collaborating with amma :) This is my first attempt at composing a thillana - feedback with pointers/ critiques most welcome. Please do let us know your thoughts!

Special thanks to my Guru and Jayanthi akka for their constant encouragement for my compositions!

And rain on, San Diego!

Ragam: Bindumalini
Thalam: Adi
Tune (Jathis, swarms): Self
Lyrics: Vijayalakshmi Bhakthavatsalam

Charanam verse (with some edits over many iterations):

mAriyE nee vAri vazhangum vaLLal anRO un
aruL inRi ivvulagil uyirgaL uyvathuNDO
vAzha ulaginil peythiDAi kOdhai solpaDi
aLavAi pozhinthiDuvAi vaLamAi vAzhavaippAi
pORRi unai pADiDuvOm poitthiDAmal parinthu varuvAi

gumugumu venRu vAnam kumurudhe taDa taDa venRu mAri varugudhe
manamum thuLLudhE mazgizhchikkoLLudhE vaazhi

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Carnatic on Keyboard

Happy New Year people!

Its been a while since I updated this space with any music. Hopefully, I'll do so soon.
Couple of weeks ago when I was on vacation, I passed on a youtube link to Sathya's rendition of Kaapi on keyboard to my dad, in response to which he told me of T.M.Krishna's article in The Hindu against the use of keyboard and certain other instruments in Carnatic music. Thanks to a friend, I got the link to the article on The Hindu's website. Here it is:

Quite an interesting perspective sparking off a debate for this season, I thought.

I read it and my immediate reaction was complete disagreement. I started thinking about what it means to preserve a tradition, what purpose do labels serve (could Carnatic keyboardists for instance just get off the hook by saying "If your problem is that the keyboard cannot handle Carnatic, then just take it that what I play is not labeled "Carnatic"- its some new genre"??), what defines a tradition and so on. Soon enough, found Anil Srinivasan's reponse to TMK reflecting a lot of my views:

And then came TMK's rejoinder (this was getting more and more interesting!) :

The rejoinder made me revise some of my earlier thoughts. I found it to make a lot of sense. It seemed to me that TMK's main point was that the keyboard is not suited to handle *certain ragas* satisfactorily and NOT that it cannot play *any* raga satisfactorily:

"Let me give you an example. Let's say that certain ragas are not played in an instrument because the instrument cannot accommodate them. What do we then do? Just ignore them and let them become irrelevant over a period of time? This way we only narrow down the mural of Carnatic music. Carnatic music is not only about scales like Gamanashrama and Dharmavathi, it's also about Dhanyasi, Sahana, Ahiri, Anandabharavi, Devagandhari, Manji, Varali, Nayaki, Narayanagoula, Surutti and these are only samples. There are so many more ragas like these that every instrument should be able to express represent." - Words of TMK taken from The Hindu dated Dec 26 '09.

What was the difference between the former and latter sets of ragas? I think it is that the latter set of ragas are all gamakam-intensive, relying little on the arohanam avarohanam. That is, characteristic phrases involving certain very specific gamakams speak more for the raga than the arohanam avarohanam. Where as for the former, the arohanam avarohanam can bring out the essense of the raga reasonably well- and it is always easier to play the former on an instrument such as a keyboard since they are not gamakam-intensive and can be played reasonably well with just the use of phrases from the arohanam-avarohanam.

Since his references seemed indirect, I had to infer that he meant the keyboard/ saxophone cannot handle these ragas the way they should be. I may be wrong- I'm not sure if he exactly has keyboard in mind when he talks about these ragas. I then did a youtube search for Sahana by Sathya and sure enough, found one :) And to my ears, it sounded quite pleasant (may be not as good as some of his other renditions though, but I don't think that's because of the inability of the instrument- I see lot of potential for a better rendition). I'm yet to look for Carnatic keyboard renditions of the other ragas that TMK has mentioned, although I have heard (IMO) very good keyboard renditions of ragas like Bhairavi (Viriboni) and Nattakurunji (Chalamela) which are out and out gamakam based.

Throughout, I was left with this one nagging question: Why is TMK not talking about the modern keyboard with the pitch bender??? Like a friend said, "the idea that the keyboard is not suited to Carnatic is as old as the mountains"- for the simple reason that it can only produce straight notes and not gamakams. This having been the case for so many years, in my opinion the introduction of the pitch bender in the keyboard was a great revolution- one could now produce gamakams on the keyboard! And I imagine this to be the kind of keyboard that serious performing Carnatic keyboard artistes would use. If there are some who don't use a keyboard with a pitch bender and if TMK's arguments are only directed at them, then I have absolutely no problem with his views. And, if on the other hand there are some who do use a keyboard with a bender but don't use the bender well enough, then the issue is just about talent and not about an inherent shortcoming of the instrument (since to me, Sathya's instrument and playing are testimony to the possibility of superlative rendering of Carnatic music on keyboard). I'm pretty sure though, that the disagreement (between my and TMK's views) lies in the effectiveness of even the best pitch bender used by the best Carnatic keyboardist. I think TMK wants to say that even the best pitch bender cannot render the gamakas intrinsic to certain ragas. Then the issue really comes down to ignorance on my side with respect to authenticity and sufficiency of gamaka rendition.... All that said, I'm nevertheless curious about why TMK did not talk about the bender at all.

I don't mean to contest a stalwart such as TMK's views (I don't think I have the credentials to do that) and my sample space of Carnatic keyboard renditions is probably too small. I need to listen to more. So as always, comments, insights most, most welcome!

Anyway, lets just enjoy some music for now :) I find this kid Sathya- all of fourteen years- highly talented!!

Here's the Sahana I was talking about:

And here's a malika of five "SGMDNS" ragams- a duet with his uncle Embar Kannan:

This kid is amazing.

Oh, what a coincidence- today happens to be the birthday of one of the most brilliant composers we have today- who started off as an ace keyboardist! (not Carnatic, though :) ) Here's to all fellow Rahman fans: HAPPY RAHMAN'S BIRTHDAY!!


Last Edit: 01/22/2012