Released January 1 and inexplicably available for free download immediately all over the net,the soundtrack of Bala’s long awaited film Naan Kadavul (whose title translates to the upanishadic “Aham Brahmasmi…. I am the transcendent god-ness”) has six songs from the semi retired Illayaraja ( in the vanaprastham stage of his creative life) .
Illayaraja’s life work which has been prolific and then sparse, is a whole musical universe, as are the work of most south Indian film composers (A R Rahman, M S Vishvanathan, G K Venkatesh, S M Subbiah Naidu, Ghantasala) .
After redefining orchestration into a simpler, less assaulting version of the cello and base heavy tradition of the dominant south indian music of the day, in the seventies (Ilayaraja used more violins, base flutes and the voice , and his music sounded less classical fret-ty, and more pop voic-y) , Illayaraja dominated the south indian music scene for more than twenty years with his prolific (he produced more than a hundred film scores a year with an average of six songs per film, very few sounding like one another) . He seemed to work from a classical tradition of indian(the pre venkatamakin reforms schools of carnatic scales) and western music (baroque classical and pop orchestration) that was amenable to easy listening and complex imagining , simultaneously. Many of ilayaraja’s best songs were the most complex hummable songs one has ever heard.
As he grew older Ilayaraja’s children took to composing and singing. Yuvan, Kartik and (daughter) Bavatharini are all personalities in their own right and ilayaraja has produced few and far between classics (such as the Bharati soundtrack, the Moghamul soundtrack and Bala’s Pitamaghan soundtrack) full of complete melodies that remind one of the experimenter with tradition and original creator that Ilayaraja has been in the last thirty years.
The man is not without his flaws. he has been accused of singing flat and not thinking through his musical thoughts(which sometimes feel amateurish and a watered down patronizing when he’s really going for a pop sound. Much music produced by Raja has a maddenning lack of focus and directionlessness as if he’s making music during a creative block. Like any original creator(which he no doubt is,) Ilayaraja’s ennui(when it is ennui that drives his work) shows through in his creations. He also makes unplanned assaults on genres that sometimes can make his songs feel like simplistic re rendering of compositions from other genres, instead of engaging fusions of musical thoughts across sound arrangements in many traditions.
Still, a man that attracts so much passion about his music, like it or not, deserves the monolithic icon status Ilayaraja enjoys among his fans(numbering many englands big) that have been nourished, grown old, romanced and had babies on his accessible, memorable melodies. He has not have changed the world for the disempowered or replaced god with music ….or created an Illayaraja revolution in world music (he’s still young at 65) but it is the highest compliment to his creative idealism that you even want to want him to be all that in this jaded cynical world of Art. and Cinema.
Naan Kadavul(aham brahmasmi)
The soundtrack starts with a remix of the early ilayaraja s Janaki melody from acchani “matha un kovilil” .A rivetting focussed draft of elixir from Janaki’s first song efforts that established firmly raja’s genius and Janaki’s place as a replacement of Susheela as Southindia’s voice. as if to reiterate the fact that this is bala’s hommage to the maestro , there is also a madhumita cover of the older song. This Sadhana sargam version (amma un pillai naan) is a slightly sleepy one with a “live program” orchestration that doesn’t stand up well to the original.
Kannil Paarvai is sung by shreyas ghosal it’s a complex creation based on a south Indian classical tradition called sruthi bedam which involves shifting the base scale of the theme to different points in a natural scale. (while this , in the pop/ western classical tradition keeps the melodic theme intact, while letting the audience recognize a change of scales, in the indian classical tradition can be chaotic to the basic melody unless the resulting change in raga is handled carefully) . I counted two changes in scale, which puts this song in a certifiable genius category because it takes the bedam back to the period when the unsimplified raga schemes allowed carnatic musicians to do the pralayam, which involved starting at a sa and doing bedams back to a sa, if they had it in their creative ability to do the full chakram , going raga to raga and setting the vaadi samvaadis on the way. this is not something new to ilayaraja’s compositions. His particular brand of sruthi bedam involves changing the sruthi (ie changing the base Sa) and jumping ragas while not playing the “new notes ” in the changed raga until the accent(vaadi samvadi) of the new raga are established, and then adding the emphasis to the new raga by singing the complete refrain in the new raga. This song seems to be a showcase model, because he does an arohana, an avarohana <=> srutibedam<=> arohana, avarohana <=>srutibedam <arohana avarohana> original sa. the effect is a dazzling piece of gimmick which retains its melodic content and is quite un- hummable in its entirity, even though it gives the illusion that you can sing the song with practically any kattai sruthi you want to start in. Bravo maestro!
The showpiece of the soundtrack is Har har mahadeo(Om Siva om) sung by Vijay prakash. It is a bhajan set in hamsanandi (which always gets the religious front benchers going- merese merupulu murise nakanula sirisirinavvulu kaavolu…etc) to the sound of chanting of rudram( the chanting says” rudram ” a lot,), which is always a goose pimples experience. it also has a quiet chanda and cymbals, which in a shaivite musical context is the bringing out of the big guns for the tandava dance of mahasiva(made famous by the familiar dancing nataraja statues). It inexplicably has a closed mouthed tabla accompaniment to its damaru and cymbals, as if its not shiva dancing, but rather a well set bhajan set to imitate the divine kailash experience.It is thus, a composition of devotion, not of divinity.
Picchai paathiram is a punagavarali (raga) piece reflects ilayaraja’s nightime melodies from the nineties and late eighties. It also reminds you of the quiet (hindu) philosophy songs of Bharati(the movie). The album rounds off with Ilayaraja singing Oru kattil alayum siragu which is ilayaraja ‘s song of quiet despair,the now familiar language that is part lullaby and part dirge made more poignant from illayaraja’s slightly flat faux amateur tenor.
We now wait for Bala to wake the dead , or at least meditate on them in the burning ghats on the ganges.