Friday, December 22, 2006

Madras Music And Me

Madras is music. And the music can strike you anytime, anywhere. Such as one in the night, on your bed: you are sleeping and suddenly someone is beating the drums on the street. Or, you are going for your morning walk, and accompanying you are the strains of nadaswaram emanating from a neighbourhood temple.

In fact, this is one thing about Chennai that continues to fascinate me, even though I am going to complete six years here (another being the huge, bright hoardings). It makes me feel I’ve just woken up in a new city, opening my eyes to a new culture. And then, of course, there’s the music that’s made in the studios of Kollywood.

When I first landed here, in January 2001, the songs of Minnale were a rage. I was, however, not new to Tamil film music. Thanks to the popularity of A R Rahman and cable television, I had heard and seen many a popular Tamil song – my favourite being Kalluri saalai from Kaadhal Desam. Sitting in Delhi, I was swept off my feet by the pulsating energy in the song and the choreography.

But Minnale songs were a class apart. They played just about everywhere, and still haven’t lost their appeal. Perhaps I am partial to Minnale songs because they were the first to catch my ear when I set foot in Chennai. I immediately went a bought a CD, sorry, cassette. Then came 12B. And sometime later, the super hit O podu, from Vikram-starrer Gemini.

At the same time, I also began a backward journey: picking up old hits of Illayaraja. My fondness for this genius was tinged with the fact that I live on the same street as him, and every time I pass his house, one of his racy tunes automatically starts playing on my mind.

Even as I dipped my feet on this side of the river called Music, I did not fail to notice those taking holy dips on the other side – the Carnatic crowd. I have always run away from classical music – be it Hindustani or Carnatic. In the North, there is no need to run away because Hindustani music is the preserve of a select few, but in the South, Carnatic music is weaved into daily life. And the media coverage of Carnatic musicians or their concerts hardly helps. They are always presented as a staid, boring lot: a picture of two look-alike sisters holding violins and lifelessly looking at the camera, a jargon-laden report of a mridangam player’s concert, the same old Bharatanatyam pose – you can’t even tell whether the performance took place today or ten years before.

Perhaps the media treats the Carnatic musicians as too hallowed – so hallowed that it chases away fence-sitters and possible converts like me. Something even the musicians might not like: they too, I am sure, would like to see more converts in their audience than ‘enthrall’ the same crowd year after year. And they key to this is openness and flexibility – on their part as well as the media’s.

My first brush with Carnatic music was at Music World in Spencer Plaza. They were playing a catchy, new-age composition on saxophone which gripped me so strongly that I went to the counter and enquired about the player. Kadri Gopalnath, they said. I bought the cassette right away.

If Kadri Gopalnath plays the same kind of stuff during Margazhi, I would be the first one queuing for a seat. But I am still scared of going anywhere near the sabhas. According to me, they are out of bounds for lesser mortals like me – people who tap their foot to film music.

As a journalist, however, I am aware what goes on during Margazhi – it is the climax for dozens of dreams, the culmination point of months of hard work, the playground for rivalries, the hotbed of petty politics and what not. But the most amazing part is the spirit that makes Margazhi happen year after year – a solid, self-renewing monument to a culture that defines Madras.

And what a time for the music season to take place! One moment, you are in a sabha, alternately slapping your palm and the back of it on the thigh; and the next moment you are in a shopping mall or a hotel, where you are welcomed with, “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way…” And back home, you’ve the latest film music – Kollywood or Bollywood – on TV. How much more music can you ask for?


Visithra said...

love the post - indeed chennai is the home of music from all genres - probably why im always coming back ;)

Merry Christmas and have a safe holiday ;)

dharmabum said...

the musical culture that u have spoken of - in terms of the beating drums on the street or the music from temples during the month of margazhi, extends to the whole of TN, not just madras.

imho, the music of rahman and other contemporaries does not even come close to that of ilayaraja, MSV or some of the older counterparts. when i think of the reason, one thing that strikes me immediately is the importance given to the lyrics in the yesteryears - it made some songs quite unforgettable. in most songs today, the lyrics make lil sense. at times, one is not able to appreciate the lyrics coz the music gets to jarring. also, the contept of an orchestra - with a hundred or so musicians, each playing his lil role, hardly exists with the advent of the synthesiser and it makes it a lot less exciting.

if u do appreciate music, then, i see no reason why u shud stay away from carnatic music, due to some baseless prejudice. don't mistake me here, but i am saying this coz it is a lot you would be missing out on :)

what is most exciting is the live concerts - the kind of energy generated by the musicians, the encouragement of the audience and cascading effect that follows - the musicians and members of the audience each complementing and heightening each others' energy levels and enthusiasm. in this connection, i would request two things of u -

1) go for a kutcheri, today!

2) read this link - (it appeared in the Hindu, but am not sure if u wud have already read it)

thank you!

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. Though I'm a non-tamilian I have always had a liking for Tamil. Madras and Music go together. Most of the Tamilians are trained in Classical/Carnatic or in playing an instrument. Also most number of Bharatnatyam dancers are from Tamil Nadu.
No doubt Tamil has a rich culture.

- Kavitha

Anonymous said...

Am a non-Tamilian, non south India, who loves Carnatic music and Tam film music. Just go to the sabhas. I envy you being in Chennai during the music season while I waste time in freezing London!

Anonymous said...

I feel the same way. My father LOVES carnatic music and has recordings of concerts dating back many decades and has amassed a vast collection. It seems as if nothing has changed and that they are singing the same way (and perhaps the same thing) over and over again. I've tried to take an interest, but so far it's been futile.

Ironically, Kadhri Gopalnath's saxaphone composition is what's gotten the most attention out of me. Perhaps I'll try listening to it again.

Zeppelin said...

since '01, every year all I can do is listen to kutcheri reports from my dad and mom as to who sung what and how, etc.. I am a big fan of music, especially carnatic music.. and every year I sit and sulk here not being able to attend all the concerts there in madras.. I think you should just try to sit in one of the concerts.. in my opinion I think it is a little difficult to really "like" carnatic music all of a sudden but since you already like music you shouldn't have much of a problem there.. :)