An enchanting evening with SPB, Chitra and group

I have lived out of India for the past twelve years and my ties to the country can be summarized in four words- family, friends, food and music. A wonderful family back home, some great friends (a few of which are in the US, not far from where I live), love for good Indian food (which gets taken care of by a wonderful cook at home and access to good Indian restaurants in the Bay Area) and finally love for Indian music. The music element is unique and triggers a sense of nostalgia like none other. Every song has a specific memory associated with it. I remember listening to All India Radio at 8 am in the morning with my parents and then Ceylon Radio with my mother. These slots were filled with memorable music composed by M.S.V and Ilayaraja and often times sung by one or more of the following four- SPB, K.J.Yesudas, Chitra and S. Janaki. So when my wife gifted me a third row ticket to a concert that featured two of the four- SPB and Chitra with S.P.Sailaja and S.P.B.Charan, I was thrilled. 

Before I delve into the songs sung and all, I wanted to give some shout outs. The auditorium at Chabot College in Hayward, CA had fantastic acoustics. I was in the third row and didn’t find the music too loud or jarring. The sound engineers involved in the show did a great job making sure every sound was heard right. The stage was simple and accesible. The organizers had done a good job keeping things simple. While the event started late, the artists made up by extending the finish time. The audience was extremely receptive to not just the main singers but also an extremely talented group of supporting musicians on stage. SPB’s group had 7 accompanying musicians that accounted for every intrument in Ilayaraja and ARR’s studio. They did a phenomenal job reproducing what was originally recorded with tens of instruments. Rarely if ever have I been so blown away by the accompanying artists. Hats off to them. 

The concert began with SPB belting his extremely popular number from Nizhalgal, Madai Thirandhu (who can forget Chandrashekar belting the song in the movie and Ilayaraja humming the “Thana na na na na”). It was followed by Chitra singing her hit piece from Mella Thirandadhu Kadhavu- Kuzhaloodum Kannanukku. Over the next 3 or so hours, the incredibly excited audience was treated to a bevy of hits ranging from Sailaja’s rendition of “Paartha Gnyabagam Illayo” to Charan and his dad delivering a nice duet of “Naan pogiren mele” from Charan produced Naanayam and Charan’s solo rendition of “Kadhal Sadugudu” from Alaipayuthey.. Every song was a standout. Charan was definitely a chip of the old block while Sailaja ably filled in for very many female voices from the actual soundtracks (as well as her own songs). Chitra was brilliant as was SPB. Their voices sound as splendid as they did the first time I heard them. In their rendition of A.R.R’s hit, “Anjali Anjali” from Duet, the artists scaled vocal peaks that completely belied their age. 

I walked in expecting and hoping to hear some of my favorite SPB and Chitra pieces. I got some of them and didnt get some others. But as SPB pointed out mid concert, he was specifically trying to give us a flavor of his and the troupe’s work. And rightfully so. Instead of the hugely popular “Agaram Ippo” from the SPB composed Sigaram, we were treated to a less popular but no less great “Idho Idho Yen Pallavi”. I was thrilled when I heard “Yen Jodi” from Vikram and “Manoothu Mandhayile” from Kizhakku Seemayile. And who can ignore “Sundari Kannal” from Dalapathi.

One of Raaja’s most beautiful compositions (and one that deserves its own blog post someday), it was enchantingly delivered by SPB and Sailaja (filling in for S. Janaki). Father son combo also delivered in spades with “Ennama Kannu”- the Sathyaraj-Rajini piece from Mr.Bharath (Malaysia Vasudevan R.I.P).  SPB, Chitra and the wonderful orchestra delivered a brilliant “Anjali Anjali” where it was hard to pick the best between Chitra, SPB and the musicians in the orchestra. 

The entire concert was peppered with some humorous banter between the artists and SPB regaling the audience with anecdotes and quips to the song requesting folks in the theater. His occasional two line renditions of audience requests was most appreciated. It made the audience feel all the more part of the show. It was only fitting that SPB wrapped the concert with the MSV megahit, “Engeyum Eppodhum” from Ninaithale Inikkum. 

Engeyum Eppodhum Sangeetham Sandhosham” – Music is always on and  everywhere as is happiness. 

Couldn’t have finished it better. There was music everywhere and it was simply breathtaking. 

Entire song list in order (with Youtube links):

Madaithirandhu – Nizhalgal

Kuzhaloodum kannanukku – Mella Thirandadhu Kadhavu

Kalakalamaga – Punnagai Mannan

Kadhal sadugudu – Alaipayudhey

En Jodi manja kuruvi – Vikram

Idho Idho yen pallavi – Sigaram

Kannamoochi – Kandukondain Kandukondain

Ayyayo Nenjam – Aadukalam

Singari Sarakku – Kakki Sattai

Sundari kannal oru – Dalapathi

Partha gnyabagam illayo – Pudhiya Paravai

Malayalam song

Adi vanmadhi – Siva

Mounamana neram – Salangai Oli

Kadhal Kadhal ding dong – Panakkaran

Manoothu mandhayile – Kizhakku Seemayile

Ennama kannu – Mr.Bharath

Ooru sanam – Mella Thirandhadhu Kadhavu

Naan pogiren mele – Naanayam

Anjali anjali – Duet

Oh Shanthi – Vaaranam Aayiram

Yamma Yamma kadhal – 7am Arivu

Senorita I love you – Johnny

Malargale malargale – Love Birds

Ragangal padhinaru – Thillu Mullu

Engeyum eppodhum – Ninaithale Inikkum

Celebrating 20 years of Colonial Cousins

About 20 years ago, Indian woke up to a new sound. That of the Colonial Cousins. The duo of popular Indian film and ghazal singer Hariharan and composer/singer Leslie “Lezz” Lewis formed Colonial Cousins to bring about a fusion of sounds.

The group launched their first album, Colonial Cousins in 1992 to the riff of the Leslie’s western guitar with Hari’s alaaps was soon the toast of the country. They won awards aplenty and signaled a new sound that was copied and replicated to death. Their debut album was followed by a second one titled “The Way we do it” which did well but not quite as big a blockbuster as the first one. The sounds were commonplace by then and people were looking for something more. By their third album, “Aatma” released in 2001, they were passe. This year, the group started their own Facebook page and announced that they were working on their fourth studio album, after a span of 11 years. In the years between they did a Coke Studio trip and a couple of forgettable movie scores. Maybe their new album will revive the genre again. With Coke Studio doing a stellar job in reviving classical and folk music big time in India and Pakistan, there may be a bigger audience for the Colonial Cousins this time.

A month or so ago, I wanted to introduce my 4 year old to Indian classical fusion music. While he gets his share of carnatic music and movie songs, I wanted him to get a feel for exploratory fusion music. Colonial Cousins seemed like a good bet. Thanks to Spotify, I had instantaneous access to their music. The first one I played for him was “Sa Ni Da Pa”. He knew the shloka prior to the song and it would be an enticement to get him to hear. Like expected, he took to the song like fish to water. We played it non-stop 4 times on the morning commute to school. The next day, we did the wonderful “Krishna Ne Begane” and he latched on it just as quick. As we did this over the entire album, I came to appreciate the album with a fresh pair of ears. Yes, Lezz’s English pronunciation doesn’t work as well you’d want it to. Hari’s rare English vocals are even worse. But when you listen to “Feel Alright” where simple folk tunes are given a refresh, you realize why the album works. “Its gonna be alright” which starts with Tyagaraaja’s Parulanu in Raga Balahamsa has Hari repeating the first line from the composition while Lezz goes through the motions of the rest of the English lyrics.  My personal favorite is “Let me see the love” which finally allows Hari to go full on with everything he can throw in 3 minutes on wonderful Hamsadwani. When the album gets done, it gives me a feeling of exhilaration. 

I was brought up as a carnatic music purist. I got to listen to music of all kinds – film and classical. Eastern and Western. As I grew older I noticed that Carnatic music was losing favor to so many other newer genres of music. Ironically some of it is rooted in classical music forms but it takes someone to convince you of the connection. So when I listen to such cross pollination efforts where classical music forms are blended with more popular genres and helps it reach a broader audience, it makes me feel good. And it makes my son feel good. If that isn’t awesome, what else is.