Ilayaraja concert in Bay Area- A review

I wrote a 7 page (yep, no less and definitely longer than what got published here) review of the concert with the sequential listing of all 37 pieces featured. And then, as I was getting out of the place, I lost my notebook somewhere. The concert is still alive in my head. So at 1 in the night, I am typing away everything I remember. I am trying to crowdsource whatever song I dont remember to get a more complete listing for the reader. If you know of a song I missed in this review, please feel free to add it in the comments section. So onto the review.

My wonderfully understanding wife agreed to my D-day wish of going to the Raaja concert. I had decided not to go but I saw Facebook status updates of everyone who was going and was green with envy…So 6 hours before the show, I rushed to the box office to pick up tickets. I had heard stories of a really late start in Toronto and NJ and was expecting the worst. Thankfully, we got a 7:30 start as advertised. Due to my missing notes, the review is not going to be in order. Rather, it is my thoughts from hearing the various pieces in the show.

Raaja started the event with his wonderful hymn like song from “Thai Mookambikai”- the evergreen Janani Janani. I was surprised that the Maestro was able to hit all the right notes with the song without any pisiral. Commendable indeed. 

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Hariharan

Hariharan was very present during the first half of the show but pretty much completely out of the second half. Of the songs he sang, the Kadhalukku Mariyadhai piece, “Ennai thalatta varuvaalo” was a standout. The song has special significance to me as I had just met my now wife in college. So I was thrilled to hear it on stage by Hariharan. It was preceded by the Bavatharini version of the song -“Idhu Sangeetha thirunalo” which was OK. Bava does not have a strong voice to deliver on stage. Her voice with the right embellishments is OK for background vocals for specific actresses but on stage sounded weak. Hariharan also sang the Raaja composed Jayachandran sung classic “Maanjolai Kilidhano”. For such a complex piece, Hari did pretty decently. 

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Yuvan and Karthik

There were three Kamal Hassan pieces sung by Kamal in the movie but voiced by Yuvan Shankar Raja in the concert. Color me very disappointed. Yuvan as a music director has done some good work. I have all respect for him. But as a singer, he is suited for very niche songs and Kamal’s songs are not the right ones for him. In the great “Sigappu Rojakkal” song “Ninaivo oru paravai”, much of the words were not heard. Yuvan’s voice was definitely not doing the trick for me. He also sang “Raaja kaiya vecha” from “Apoorva Sagotharargal” that lacked the punch. Thankfully for the third Kamal piece, “Pottu vaitha kadhal thittam” from “Singaravelan”, he was awesomely supported by Karthik and some great accompanying percussion. It ended up being very popular with the audience. 

Speaking of Karthik, I have heard very little of his songs since I have tuned out tamil film music for the most part of the last decade. He sang about 4 songs today- the first was from Naan Kadavul, the “Om Shivoham” piece. The backing vocals and orchestra did a great job with this song. Karthik also did a wonderful job on the “Pottu Vaitha Kadhal thittam” piece. He also sang a more recent song with Bavadharini from Azhagi- “Oliyile Therivadhu”. They did a good job on that one.

Mano

I was expecting more pieces from Mano, specifically the brilliant “Nee oru kadhal sangeetham” from Nayakan. Instead we got a melange of songs- many of them telugu. The one standout tamil piece from Mano was the mega hit “Shenbagame” from Enga Ooru Pattukaran. 

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The Maestro’s voice

Raaja himself delivered a few pieces and I was extremely thrilled to see that the rawness of his voice had not lost its sheen. Age does things to great voices. Not this one. His much expected, “Sorgame Endralum” sung alongside the awesome Chitra was great. The two improvised on the lyrics to play to the audience but the gist of the song was all there. Probably the most popular tamil song amongst NRI audiences, it connected instantly. He also delivered in spades with “Naan thedum sevvanthi poo” from “Dharma Pathini”. Just two days ago, I had speculated and wished that this song would be featured and I was thrilled to say the least. 

The brilliant Chitra

I am officially out of praise words for the sheer joy and awesomeness that is Isaikuyil Chitra. The lady is sheer talent and a joy to watch performing her art to utter perfection. I had raved about her from her concert late last year with SPB and this time again, she was outstanding. Be it Ninnukori Varanam which I dedicated a post to sometime ago or “Thamthana thamthana” or working with Raaja on the perennial favorite “Sorgame Endralum” or subbing for S.Janaki in “Sundari Kannal” and the spectacular “Oh Priya Priya” with SPB, she was brilliant. 

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SPB, the genius

What can I say about SPB that hasn’t already been said. I was thrilled to meet him last fall during his concert with Chitra. He had enthralled the audience that evening.  The man can sing anything and everything and to perfection. In an era when singers are so restricted in terms of what they can do and how long they survive in the industry, SPB is a testament to longevity and sheer talent. He easily delivered the most songs of the evening and transported the audience to a different era. Be it the thrilling “Thakita Thathimi” or the gorgeous rendition of “Oh Priya Priya” he was just brilliant. 

SPB also made up much of the casual and the interesting banters of the evening with Ilayaraja. The two had nuggets of nostalgia to offer to the audience that was priceless. Their collaboration and working styles were very much to the fore and it was a joy to watch. Towards the end of the concert, the two worked on a couple of pieces from Nayakan that was just a sheer bliss to watch. SPB sang quite a few pieces like “Idhazhil Kadhai”, “Keeravani”, “Ilamayennum Poongatru” , “Maasi Masam”, “Naanaga naal illai”, “Mounamana neram” and of course, “Sundari Kannal”. More on the last one later. 

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The Orchestra and Backing vocals

For the first time in my life, I had the experience of seeing and hearing to such a large orchestra as the one that came for this concert. Ilayaraja is renowned for using large orchestras for his melodies and he brought a big one to this concert and what an effect they had. They were the life thread for the concert supporting the vocals extremely well and standing out when needed. The flute by renowned Raaja mainstay Arunmizhi was outstanding and the violin crew was spectacular.

The backing and occasionally supporting vocal team was also very good. Their attempt at doing an entire song- vocals and instrumental all with their voice was very nice. A great support team that went well above their roles and delivered a great performance. 

A responsive audience

Sometime during the concert, the audience started asking for their choice songs. This didnt go down very well with Ilayaraja who delivered a 5 minute long sermon on Indian culture and values and how that doesnt include shouting and whistling and the works. Here is my take on the whole deal. Some musicians dont take well to audience distractions but in the same token appreciate the audience lustily cheering their best pieces. You cant have it both ways. A good audience can and will get boisterous. I thought the audience was extremely polite, decent and engaged. So Ilayaraja definitely over reacted. In the same token, it takes a certain ego to power a genius. And the offset of such an ego is these sermons. I’d not make a big deal of it one way or the other.

Volume Issues

One gripe of mine which was very evident towards the early part of the concert but died down later was the relative volume between vocals and instruments. The first few songs were drowned by the orchestra volume. “Ninnukori” was a case to point. Thankfully the problem seemed to get resolved towards the latter part of the show. 

Bilingual audience was well addressed

So a lot was made of how the organizers and the artists would handle the demands of a bilingual audience. I thought they did a fantastic balancing act. Would I have preferred a 100% tamil concert- heck yeah. But so would a telugu listener have preferred a telugu concert. Given the sheer scale of the event, a bilingual audience was critical for its success. That meant a fine balancing act which was executed well. 

I would have liked to hear my personal favorites like “Ninnukori Varanam” and “Maasi Masam” in tamil instead of telugu. But that was a good thing since I was comfortable with everything about those pieces but for the actual lyrics. Not a bad situation at all. Better than a song I had never heard in my life. Given the above two songs and the songs from Botany class– Shiva/Udhayam, Mounamana Neram, Thakita Thathimi -Sagara Sangamam/Salangai Oli, Idhazhil Kadhai – Rudraveena/Unnal Mudiyum Thambi and Oh Priya Priya -Geethanjali/Idhayathai Thirudadhe I was pretty much listening to very familiar songs in Telugu. All in all, a very fairly balanced affair.

The best song of the show

Undoubtedly, the best song of the show was the epic “Sundari Kannal” by SPB and Chitra. The song, one of my favorites of all time was rendered to perfection. The multitude of violins, the flute and the other orchestra pieces set the stage for the grand song. And SPB and Chitra delivered by spades. Chitra filled the S.Janaki void more than admirably in this song but it was SPB who hit this one out of the part. I am still reveling in the joy that was this song. What a composition. What a performance. 

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An epic conclusion

The final piece of the concert was by the Maestro and SPB- Raaja first started off with the Nayakan classic, “Nila Adhu” but soon, SPB convinced him to render the same song as a lullaby. The casual improvisation and banter between the two masters was fantastic to watch. Soon they segued to an equally awesome piece from the same movie, “Thenpaandi seemayile” with SPB singing the song in parallel in Telugu. It was just sheer bliss- at 12 pm in the night. What a finish to a very good show. 

Final Word

For all the hype and mass booking rush the concert generated, it was well worth the price. Could it have been better- sure. Could it have had more hits we are so fond of – definitely. But given the framework and the composition of the audience, it was money very well spent. For someone who grew up listening to the wonderful compositions of Ilayaraja, this was a fantastic trip down memory lane. One that I would gladly take again, and again.

P.S: As always, the full Youtube playlist of all the songs from the concert is here. Enjoy. 

P.P.S: Full list of songs featured (courtesy a friend’s friend)

1) Janani Janani – IR
2) Om Sivoham – Karthik
3) Jagadananda Karaka – SPB (Telugu)

4) Isayil Thodangumamma – Hariharan
5) Idhu Sangeetha Thirunaalo – Bhavatharini
6) Ennai Thaalaatu Varuvaala – Hariharan & Priya Himesh
7) Ninukori Varnam – Chitra 
8 ) Shenbagame Shenbagame – Mano 
9) Mounamelanoyi – SPB & Chitra (Telugu)
10) Idhayam Oru Koil – IR
11) Enno Raatrulostayi – SPB & Priya Himesh (Telugu)
12) Ilamai Ennum Poongaatre – SPB
13) Maanjolai Kilithaano – Hariharan 
14) Nee Thoongum Nerathil – Hariharan 
15) Lalita Priya Kamalam – SPB & Chitra (Telugu)
16) Naan Thedum Sevvanthi Poo – IR & Chitra 
17) Azhagu Malar Aada – Hariharan & Priya Himesh 
18) Naanaga Naan Illai – SPB 
19) Ananda Then Kaatru – Sathyan 
20) Balapam Batti – SPB , Mano & Chitra (Telugu)
21) Raja Kaiya Vacha – Yuvan 
22) Naan Porandhu Vandhu – Priya , Anitha & Chorus 
23) Jagadi Jagadi Ja Botany – SPB , Mano & Geetha (Telugu)
24) Prati Dinam – Karthik (Telugu)
25) Adhe Neevu – SPB (Telugu) 
26) Chukkalu Temanna – Mano (Telugu)
27) Priya Priyathamaaa – Mano (Telugu)
28) Oliyilae therivathu – Karthik & Bhavatharini 
29) Priya Oh Priya – SPB & Chitra 
30) Sorgame Endralum – IR 
31) Ninaivo Oru Paravai – Yuvan & Ramya NSK 
32) Keeravani – SPB 
33) Katril Endhan Geetham – IR 
34) Thamthana Thamthana – Chitra & Anita 
35) Priya Priyathamma – SPB & Priya Himesh (Telugu)
36) Sundari Kannal – SPB & Chitra 
37) Pottu Vaitha Kadhal – Karthik , Yuvan & Sathyan 
38) Thakida Thadimi – SPB (Telugu) 
39) Oram Po – IR 
40) Nila Adhu Vanathu Mele – IR 
41) Thenpandi Seemaiyile – IR & SPB

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