Sri Rama Dootam - Ramesh Vinayakam

I haven’t heard many devotional albums. The very earlier ones that I could remember a L.R.Eswari songs on Goddess Maariyamman, which they use to play in our streets during Maariyamman festival time. “Karpura Naayakiye Kanaga Valli” was the most popular one that got even remade as a Kuthu song in a Tamil film. The other song I liked so much in my childhood was ‘Pullangulal Kodutha Moongilgalae” sung by T.M.Soundarraajan and composed by M.S.Vishwanathan. Is there anyone who hasn’t heard K.J. Yesudass’s Harivarasanam? I also like S.P.B’s devotional song ‘Namachivaya’ on Thiruvannamalai. Then there is Ilaiyaraaja’s magnum opus ‘Thiruvasakam’ in Symphony.

And most other devotional songs I liked are from films. However, from what little else I heard in Television, I felt that all the songs sounded same, with stock arrangements and similar lyrics. Devotion means selfless love, care, attachment, commitment, dedication, affection, fondness. The greatest things in this world are Loving and being loved. Love for God, which is supposed to the greatest of all forms of love, when expressed in music is surprisingly restricted to one form of music that has become a stock now. Our classical Carnatic music itself is born completely out of Bakthi Rasa, but it yielded so many different Raagas of different moods and emotions that emerged out of it. I don’t want them to invent any new Raaga, but they can change the template of the songs for sure. While I quibble, I do understand why the music remains the way it is. It is to cater to the lowest denominator; it is an attempt to make the songs simple and instantly hummable.

I remember Gangai Amaran saying in an interview that Ilaiyaraaja’s Thiruvasakam in Symphony is an unnecessary attempt because it is not being played in any Temples in any part of the world. He told that a devotional song should be easily comprehensible, and it attains its purpose only when it is sung by the people. Is it the only criteria? Is spiritualism and love for divine best expressed through Vocal singing? Isn’t divinity an experience and a feeling to be felt and may not have to be openly sung? But, am I confusing devotion with divinity here? Devotional album is to express your love for God but a divine music is to make us feel the pinnacle of that love within oneself. And that I how I chose to put the debate to rest within myself. For someone like me, for whom an “Aaromalae” is as divine as “Arziyan”, there is no need of a separate devotional album. I prefer feeling divine within to singing praises of it vocally.

Now, why am I suddenly blabbering about Devotional albums? Because, after ‘Thiruvasakam in Symphony’ by Ilaiyaraaja, I recently bought, heard and liked a devotional album called ‘Sri Rama Dootam’ composed by Ramesh Vinayakam.

Ramesh Vinayakam’s ‘Sri Rama Dootam’ comes off as a breath of fresh air amidst repetitiveness of such albums. Usually, the production and sound quality of such albums are of low standards but ‘Sri Rama Dootam’ has the best sound and production quality I have ever heard in such albums. Ramesh Vinayakam has found a perfect middle path and created songs that satisfy his creative urge and also cater to the lowest denominator.

We get the usual flaunting flutes, serene Santoor, Sitar and Veena strains, and Tabla rhythms in all the songs but the album also has a song with a western classical Waltz rhythm, electric guitars and jazz interludes glossing over a semi-classical melody singing praises on Hanuman, the strings of ballet leads to a folksy song on Anjaneya, a fire-cracker of a Sanskrit song with Nihyashree at her typical best with heavy synth bass and bass guitar lines bordering on blues, a Bhajan with sparkling Piano accompaniment throughout, a Bhajan without any such experimental ornaments but with arresting rhythm and melodic structure and shifts that end with a multi layered dissonance in the chorus uttering the name of the God. Need I say more? Even if we take all such instrumental embellishments on the songs out, the melodies are so serene; it will definitely engulf a listener with its devotion to divinity.

‘Sri Rama Dootam’ can be legally downloaded here or Audio CD can be ordered online here.


Vinnai Thaandi Varuvaaya Audio Release Function

Tamil film Audio release functions have become most boring events with loads of film personalities singing praises of popular faces of the cast and crew of the film – the audio of which is being released. “Kandasamy” audio release had Shriya shaking legs and “Aayirathil Oruvan” audio release had singers turning into actors who lip synced the songs on stage. The film makers were so sure about the dumbness of the audience that they made Vijay Yesudass lip sync the Telugu portions of a song, while what we could clearly hear Sri Krishna’s voice from the original song while Vijay was showing singing the lines. Then there is another type where the audio is released live on Sun Music or Isaiaruvi music channels where there would be a dumbest of the dumb anchor having conversations with cast and crew of the film. Long back, “Thiruttu Payalae” audio was released in Sun TV with director, composer and lyricist introducing each song followed by the video clips of the actual song. Then there are audio releases where music would be the last thing to be spoken about, example – Chandramukhi.

Amidst such release functions, it was heartening to watch an audio release function, where the spotlight is only on music and not on anything else, not even on the film. Probably it is because the composer is “Academy Award Winner” A.R.Rahman as Gautam Vasudev Menon welcomed him onstage. The singers performed unplugged versions of the songs that they originally sang in the film, with the Stephen Devassy accompanying them on an acoustic Piano. Singers did a brilliant job and it was a treat to watch. I wish that they release the unplugged versions of the songs in an audio CD.

I had goose bumps watching Alphonse sing “Aaromalae”. His performance got a thundering applause from the live audience. Karthik is one of the very few contemporary singers who sound as good in his live performances as that of the recording. Chinmayi, in her blog, always wondered why the singers are not being formally invited for audio release functions and now god has satisfied her by making her the only female singer in this group. To know how better a song would sound if Rahman doesn’t drown the voices in a sound machine - listen to Benny Dayal’s unplugged version of the song ‘Omana Penne’. Srinivas was effortless with ‘Hosanna’. The camaraderie of the singers, their synergy, coordination, harmony and the soul in their live singing made the songs sound better than it is in the CD. But why didn’t they perform ‘Mannippaya’ or did I miss it. Chinmayi could have easily filled in for Shreya Ghosal and Srinivas could have sung Rahman’s portions. Gautam Menon did a fine job as a no-nonsense anchor of the event. I want to see more such audio release functions. Not to mention that I like VTV music even more now.

Here is the video of the VTV audio release function. Vinnai Thandi Varuvaaya Music Review.


Vinnai Thaandi Varuvaaya Soundtrack

Gautam Menon and Harris Jeyaraj delivered some of the best Tamil film soundtracks of the last decade. Yet, Gautam Menon chose to move on to A.R.Rahman for ‘Vinnai Thandi Varuvaaya’. With Gautam admitting in all his interviews, that he has always been an ardent A.R.Rahman fan, his move is quite understandable. Who wouldn’t want to work with A.R.Rahman? Even A.R.Rahman needs to move beyond Maniratnam and Shankar, and work with more new Tamil film makers who could visually justify his music. The problem is that when such a combination happens, both sides will try to pull the other on their side and it is difficult to find a middle path. Will Gautam make A.R.Rahman to compose simple, instantly hummable romantic ballads that he has been extracting from Harris film after film or will A.R.Rahman drag Gautam to his ever experimental side?

After listening to the soundtrack 10 times, I am convinced that it is the latter that has happened. Rahman shatters every cliché of a Gautam Menon film soundtrack. It is so difficult to take it initially, and one can’t avoid a fleeting thought that Gautam should have stuck to Harris Jeyaraj. But these are concerns of nitpickers; these concerns are external to actual music. If we wither off such preoccupied thoughts, assumptions and expectations, it is easy to accept the soundtrack. While with some of the songs in this soundtrack Rahman tries to stretch and bend the rules of how the music for a simple romantic film should be, in some, he uses the experimental hat to gloss over the deficiencies.

It always annoys me when Rahman drowns the voices in a sound machine, even though the melody itself has all the needed pep and hip. Rahman still struggles with setting tunes to already written lyrics. The exquisite title track sung by Karthik is a classic example of how unpredictable a melody can be twisted to without losing the mood and flavor of the lines but the awful abruptness with which he rushes and squeezes the line ‘Kadhal Yendral Kaayamdhaan’ in an otherwise addictive number ‘Kannukkul ennai’ is puzzling. In the same song, the lines ‘Neeyum Naanum’ has an extremely convoluted solo-chorus interplay with lead vocal and chorus taking turns for singing the every next word of one single line of song. Yet all of this weird play settles down when the line ‘Anbae Ododi’ is set to a pleasing melody pushing us back to our comfort zone. This game that Rahman plays with listeners is so taxing and tiring initially, but once we understand the rules, we are sure to have fun.

‘Omana Penne’ suffers from both robotized voice and also fragmented melodic structures, punctuating a line at an unexpected word to fit it into a melody and rhythm. The sound play is so much so that we are not sure whether those peculiar vocal effects are of Benny Dayal or are that of Rahman’s music tweaking software. Rahman somehow covers all of this with that ubiquitous ‘Omana Penne’ hook and interesting Nadhaswaram bits.

‘Mannippaaya’ is a vintage 90s Rahman melody that overstays its welcome. Surprisingly, it is Rahman’s lines that drag the song and lessens the impact. The sympathetic strings, flute, piano and vocal harmony are layered in abundance to add depth to the melody but song works mainly because of Shreya Ghosal’s passionate singing. The way she curves the notes on the word ‘Mannippaaya’ with a sense of longing and desperation consummates the mood that the song wants to express in totality. The choir-orchestral version of Thirukkural verses sounds noble but it doesn’t sit comfortably within the template of this song.

‘Aaromalae’ is a kind of song that would set the stage in fire when performed live. It is also a song where we forget about the composer and start admiring the singer who instantly makes the song his own. While it is a revelation to listen to a Malayalam song set to a genre of a psychedelic rock (Is it?), Alphonse’s singing and expressions are beyond words. The song’s main melody is anything but hummable so Rahman packs in a hook line amidst those lines celebrating the hypnotism - which music from a liberated mind and soul, can achieve. For those who find songs like “Aaromalae” too alien, there are usual Rahman dance numbers to skip to. Rahman is at his playful best in the foot-tapping numbers “Kannukul Kannai” and “Anbil Avan”. While it is electric violin motif in the former, it is the unique rhythm pattern in “Anbil Avan” that Rahman nonchalantly keeps fabricating with e-beats and his favorite Thavil.

‘Hosanna’ is the most accessible song of the soundtrack with a definite structure, a simple hook line, typical synthpad beats and an elegant orchestration. The lyrics and the melody take twists and turns in this song too but they are not as sudden as it is in the other songs, so it flows like a clear river stream letting the listeners to easily dive and sail in its direction. The interludes with Suzzane’s silky ‘Hosanna’ slides, angelic choirs and soothing string section are so smooth and transcendental. Rahman ends the songs in his typical choir-orchestral way with subtle bell bangs and strings accelerating to a close as Vijay Prakash reprises what could be possible be the Pallavi with least number of lines and words in a Tamil song ever.

It seems in Chennai audio launch, Rahman told that he doesn’t know whether this album matches with high standards set by Gautam-Harris combination and that this soundtrack is a quirky one. Quirky – Yes, but without those aforementioned problems, the soundtrack might have been more satisfying.