Bale A Cappella

A Cappella is a form of music that is performed by a group of singers without any musical accompaniment. A Cappella is one of the scarcely used genres in the ever progressive potpouri of global sounds and music styles that is Indian film music. Is the religious connotation that comes attached with a cappella stopping our composers from using this style of music in our films? Well, whatever.

A.R.Rahman’s ‘Please Sir’ from Boys, ‘Raasaathi’ from Thiruda Thiruda, ‘Namachivaaya Vazhgha’ from Ilaiyaraaja’s Thiruvasagam and ‘Mudhal Mazhaiyae’ from Devan Ekambaram’s pop album Mudhal Mazhai are the songs that immediately comes to my mind when I think of full length true-to-genre a cappella songs that I have heard. ‘Mudhal Mazhaiyae’ is a gem that stunned me when I first heard it and I wrote about the song and the whole album here.

The song ‘Happy’ in the latest ‘Bale Pandiya’ is an A Cappella. Devan’s a cappella in this song is not as intricate a cappella as it is in a Thiruvasagam; it is more sprightly and lighter, just as it was in his ‘Mudhal Mazhaiyae’, because the subject matter of the song is such. It would become heavy and deep, if there are too many accompanying layers of vocals singing contrapuntal melodies on varied octaves. This song is all about the happiness, the lightness and small pleasures of life. The song’s intention is to touch our senses like how a feather dancing all its way through a cool breeze gently falls on and sweetly pinches our skin. In this song, while the melody is like that feather, the accompanying vocal harmonies push the melody up and down, left and right to sail it throughout the song. This swinging and pushing in an uncertain direction by the breeze – the accompanying harmonies, is important because the feather – the melody, in itself doesn’t twist of turn throughout its journey and this could make the song sound long and monotonous.

Though we tag it as a cappella, this song is like any other typical film song that comes with a main lead vocal, a rhythm layer, a bass layer and accompanying orchestral instruments but the difference here is that a human voice sings the bass riff and bass line with vocal chords, fingers snapping sound layer instead of an acoustic percussion, the vocal to-to-toos substitute for additional rhythm loops and accompanying vocal harmonies pass in and out of the song, singing ooh-aah-taara version of melody lines – joining and supporting the lead solo voice, at carefully chosen sync points in the main melody.

The other highlight of the song is the array of singers that Devan managed to put together. Malaysia Vasudevan, Naresh Iyer, Devan, Suchitra Karthik, Haricharan, Srinivas, Malgudi Shubha, Manicka Vinayakam, Mukesh, Vijay Yesudass, Rahul Nambiar, Anuradha Sriram, Paravai Muniyamma and few others - each sings a part that best suits their voice in their unique style. And when the song slowly reaches a crescendo in the end, it gets dense, with a downpour of distinct alaaps being performed in multiple layers, by each of the lead voices. Despite its complexity, Devan pulls it off quite effectively without the song ever bordering on cacophony, which it could easily become, if such a thing is not done carefully.

In an age when every single song is packed densely with more and more layers of sounds and instruments, it is great relief to listen to a song like this, without any sound gimmicks or glaring instrumentation.

Devan Ekambaram – Happy! I am so Happy!


Pookal Pookum Tharunam

There was a period in film music, when all that mattered in a song was the melody – The Melody. Orchestration being a not so comfortable area of work for the composers from that era, they tried to convey all that they wanted to convey in a song through the main melody. Next to the melody, it is the vocal performance and the lyrics with which the song’s emotion was carried through further. These are melodies that never required any support or ornamentation in the name of orchestration.

These days the duty of conveying an emotion is quite equally distributed between the melody and the orchestration, and occasionally the vocal performance and lyrics too contribute. The song that I was gushing about in the previous post is a perfect example of that ideal balance struck between melody and orchestration, where they both are interdependent to convey the overall mood and emotion of the song. Take any one out; the other wouldn’t glitter as much on its own.

The song that I talk about now, ‘Pookal Pookum’ from Madharasapattinam (Composer – G.V. Prakash Kumar) is a song that belongs to that bygone era, where all that matters is the melody. Even if all those ornamental layer of instruments are cut off, the song would still stand on its own and make its point through its melody, vocal performance and the lyrics. These melodies don’t try to bend conventions or create new song structures; it’s only aim is to evoke an emotion, construct an aura, whip up a pre-determined mood in the listeners mind and that, this song does and how.

Well, while I tried to elaborate on each and every instrument and the way it is used in ‘Para Para Kili’, what can I possibly write about a melody - just the melody in ‘Pookal Pookum’? I lack knowledge in music or vocabulary in English to do that. With melodies like these, words fail. How I wish there is a device that can translate the emotions that I go through while listening to this song into words.

It is one of those fresh melodies that you feel you have heard zillion times before. It is a melody about two lovers singing about their state of mind, who are unable to decipher their emotions that they are going through while in love or understand the reasons for being hopelessly in love. It is a song that will instantly remind you, your other soul, in whose company you felt you are on top of the world, and with whom you shared moments when it didn’t matter whether you lived the next second or not.

The song does have all the fancy dressings of current film songs but with a lot of restraint and simplicity of that of old songs. The interludes have just one instrument playing a well defined melody. Typical of the songs of now, the song has a catchy refrain – a Tarana theme, which travels in and out of the song and it is for those who want a hook to hang on to, to follow the leisurely romance oozing out of every bar of the melody. But none of these disturb the pace, peace and pause in the song’s melody.

The moments of brilliance in this song are many. To speak about one - the close-mouthed Tarana that Roop Kumar Rathod lazily hums up without any instrumental disturbances around, immediately after Andrea’s meandering ballad, is a pristine, divine moment of absolutely lost-in-love mood that not many songs capture in these days. It is surprising that last time when I felt the same about a moment, it was the same Roop Kumar Rathod who picked up ‘Ennai Yenna Seithai pennae’ in ‘Oru Devathai’ song from Vaamanan. The expressions and modulations in Roop Kumar Rathod’s voice perfectly fits for the mood of this song. And Ah! Harini! Where was she? She solely lifts this song up with her rendition and nuanced gamakkams that never compromise the essence and expression of the melody.

Na.Muthukumar has become a master of weaving verses so simple, so familiar and yet that sounds so eternal and so fresh when it sits on a melody that it is written for.

If you have love in your life you can’t avoid falling hopelessly in love with this song.

Thaana dhom tha na na... Thaana dhom tha na na... Thaana dhom tha na na...


Para Para Kili

Yesterday, I finally got to listen to a soundtrack that I have been eagerly looking forward to listen to for quite sometime. First few songs of the soundtrack played easily on my ears and they were quite good but nothing prepared me for the stunner that was about to come. That song totally occupied my mind and enslaved my senses for next few hours. I guess I would have heard the song repeatedly for 20 times in one stretch. There are songs that we like, and that we don’t like and there are songs that overwhelm and possess us forever, this song is one such. I am talking about Karthik Raaja’s Rettai Suzhi soundtrack and the song is ‘Para Para Kili’.

Though we have heard such stuff many times before from Karthik Raaja himself, the precision, restraint and minimalism in the orchestration as it is in this song hits me like a thunder bolt every time. The light flight mood of the song in instantly expressed in the first line of the melody. How fitting it is that the song is devoid of any hard percussions, sound loops or rhythm layers - the usual elements in a song that add a hefty derma around to carry the melody. The bass celesta riff and the subtle ticking sound that kick starts the song keeps looping around to sustain the mood of float. And oh! Those double bass that is plucked in beat on every bar of the melody to add an infinite depth and gravity to the featherlike melody.

How a song on flight could be made without having the breezy registers of strings bowed. The string section does come in soon subtly swirling around its way into the song. The overwhelming gooseflesh moment of the song for me happened when a huge tide of cascading strings curl over each other behind those lines that go ‘Mazhaiyadikkuthu Veyyiladikuthu’. The other exhilarating moment in the song arrives just before the song shifts to first interlude when Karthik Raaja unhinges the melody of just the three words ‘Para Para Kili’ and sways it up and down in air like a feather would after it is let off in the air.

As expected, strings take the centre stage in the first interlude playing the waltz and settles down with the appearance of Santoor the strings of which are lightly hammered to pronounce the improved version of the subdued bass celesta riff that set the song in motion in the beginning.

And that was about 2 minutes of the song. For the rest of the beauty – go, figure it for yourself.

Every single note of the melody, the structuring and packaging of the song, the instruments chosen (celesta, vibraphone, strings, tubular bells, Santoor, quintessential Karthik Raaja Violin) and almost every single thought that has gone into making this song is to achieve one goal of making the listeners feel lightened, lifted and floated in space.

At the end when all layers die down with Deepa Mariam’s voice solely lingering on the melody to bring the curtains down, my heart started beating in ¾ and it continued in that rhythm for next few hours. Even the softest of the melodies are now being set to a foot-tapping beat but Karthik Raaja creates a song that doesn’t ask our foot to tap in the ground instead it asks our foot to flap in the air. I did.

Damn commercial success. Karthik Raaja – Go, take rest now. With ‘Para Para Kili’, you have done enough for this year.