A.R.Rahman’s Maryan – Music Review

I finally got a chance to listen to the much anticipated album by A.R.Rahman for the upcoming movie “Maryan”. Maryan is Bharat Bala’s (of Vande Mataram fame) first full length feature. I have high expectations from the album given that the ARR-BB combo has made glorious music and visuals in the past. The trailer for Maryan shows a lot of promise. Here is my review of the album after a couple of listens. ARR purists note- I have not given it the AML (ARR Minimum Listen) of 5 times. If my opinion changes, I will update my post. With that said, here we go.

The album starts with Nenje Ezhu, a rousing motivational track by ARR himself. ARR’s voice by no means is perfect but when it comes to rousing and impactful  pieces that propel a movie forward, ARR’s voice is unparalleled. “Dil Se Re” from Dil Se,  ”Vellai Pookal” from Kannathil Muthamittal, “Jana Gana Mana” from Aayidha Ezhuthu, “Yeh Jo Des Hai Tera” from Swades, “Jaage Hain” from Guru, “Khwaja mera” from Jodhaa-Akbar and many more stand testament to the uniquely powerful nature of ARR’s voice. “Nenju Ezhu” fits that billing. The instrumentation is operatic at times and when it rises to a crescendo, ARR does full justice with his raw vocals. Great song.

The second song from the album is “Enge Pona Raasa”. This is sung by “Nejukkule” fame Shakthisree Gopalan. The song talks of a woman waiting for her loved one. The guitar strumming in this song is very well done as is the mellow humming-like take by Shakthisree Gopalan. The song is pretty short and is hummable without many ups and downs. Good song but Nenjukkule was better.

This is a very reggae/Afro-beat themed piece from ARR and Blazee. The beats are pretty engaging and addictive. There is a distinct local rhythm feel to it. The kids (Madras Youth Choir) vocals in the background and Blazee and ARR in the foreground and some African local artists contributing with their ramblings all make for a fun piece. 

Starts very much like “Nenjukkule”. There is a very Kadal-ish feel to the start of this song. Coming soon in the heels of Kadal, that feels a tad disappointing from ARR. I am sure they were composed at different points in time. Nevertheless. The song itself is different but the instrumentation very much feels like a melange of Kadal songs. Deja vu` for sure. Vijay Prakash and Swetha Menon sound great and their delivery on this song is very tantalizing. This is a nice melodious number without anything spectacular about it.

This song starts with some tepid lyrics – “Netru aval irundal. Naan avalodu irundhen”. Suffice to say this could have been conveyed better. The song aims for very simple lyrics but it is almost too simple that it comes across as hastily written. It also feels awkward at times. Coming from Vaali, this is disappointing. Vijay Prakash and Chinmayi do the vocal honors. Vijay does a good job with the words he has been given especially when he elevates the tempo with the “Agayathin…” section. Chinmayi has quite a bit of vocal support for the first part of the song and wherever she sings, her voice shines. Overall, the lyrics make it not too exciting.

Questionable lyrics plague this song’s start. I am sure “Sonapareeya” has context within the movie and in the song. It feels like an item like song – sonapareeya directly translated means gold angel. The song is interesting in terms of arrangement, voices and packaging. I could see this becoming popular. Some of the voices identified in the album for this song are Javed Ali, Haricharan and Nakash Aziz. I found it interesting but not captivating. 

This song is an interesting collaboration between A.R.Rahman and Yuvan Shankar Raja. Yuvan does the vocal honors for this song. I really liked the music composition here. Very addictive beats. Yuvan belts it lustily and his voice actually suits the piece. Just one exception. His pronunciation mars what is otherwise a fun song. It is jarring because if the voice is supposed to represent a rustic fisherman in the movie, the pronunciation is pretty bad. I am liking this piece very much. If only…

Overall album:

I would rate this a notch below Kadal in terms of overall music quality. It is still a good album- significantly better than most albums out there. But it could have been greater if some small things had been worked on. I found the lyrics a tad lacking in half the album. A bunch of lyricists contribute their words for the movie. Not much stood out. Some of them felt awkward.  The movie’s exotic locales and brilliant creative vision from Bharat Bala should ensure that the songs look great on screen. And to that effect, ARR’s music complements the movie. Time will tell how the movie and the album fare. But as a standalone piece, Maryan is not among ARR’s best works.

The voices of devotion – Part 1

I recently started a Facebook group dedicated to Tamizh Isai (tamil music) where members post interesting Tamil songs based on a specific theme every day. A few weeks ago, the theme was devotional music. That got me thinking. Some voices and artists are just brilliant as devotional singers. It is almost as if they were placed in this Earth to eloquently deliver God’s music. A few of these are equally adept at Carnatic music. Others not so much. But the thread that connects them is the sheer devotion their voices inspire in listeners. Here is the first of a two part series that looks at the small list of such artists with a sampling of their music. This is by no means a comprehensive list nor is it objective. If you the reader feels that more artists need to be featured here, feel free to drop me a line and I will do my best to profile them too. Music by nature is subjective and a topic like this is even more so. With that minor caveat, here we go.

M.S.Subbulakshmi:

Any devotional list has to start with MS amma. Many of us woke up to her Venkatesa Suprabhatam or Vishnu Sahasranamam and heard Bhaja Govindam following one or both of them. It was the staple morning piece in most houses in our neighborhood. If someone kept track of how many tapes of the Sahasranamam and Suprabhatam were sold, I am sure it would warrant a place in the record books. Many artists have tried to release tapes of  the aforementioned shlokas but M.S.S voice is the only one lodged firmly in our brains.

When it came to Bhajans, M.S amma was extraordinary. There are innumerable bhajan pieces – compositions of Tulsidas, Meera, and many others where her utter devotion elevated the listener’s experience. Some of the pieces that come to mind are Sri Rangapura Vihara in Brindavana Saranga, Annamacharya’s Dolayam and Srimannarayana, Meera Bai’s Giridhara Gopala in Mohanam, Meera Bai’s  More To Giridhara in Behaag, the spectacular Hari Tum Haro composed by Meera in Darbari Kanada, Rajaji’s tamil composition Kurai Ondrum Illai, Tulsi Das’s Shri Ramachandra Kripalu in Sindhu Bhairavi and Shri Kanchi Periyavar’s Maitreem Bhajata. There are countless others but this small list gives you an idea of the breadth of composers M.S amma covered.

M.L.Vasanthakumari

It would be unfair to compare MLV with MSS and there is a good reason for it. They were both incomparable peers who pioneered the way for classical music singing by women in the mid 20th century along with D.K.Pattammal. It can be argued that MLV had a wider carnatic repertoire compared to MSS amma but that doesnt take away the fact that MLV also did wonders with some devotional pieces. On top of that list is MLV’s definitive rendition of Sri Andal’s Thiruppavai. There is a Thiruppavai version by everybody today but none so that matches MLV’s version. Ariyakudi’s version is more elaborate and is less devotional and more carnatic music. MLV makes it more accessible to the common man and it is a joy to hear. It is my go-to version every Margazhi. Listen to the entire album here

She also had a wide repertoire of Purandaradasar Krithis and some of them standout for the depth and devotion they offer. Here is MLV singing the Dasar krithi “Venkatachala Nilayam” in Sindhu Bhairavi. Here is MLV using the same wondrous Sindhu Bhairavi on a Swathi Thirunal composition, “Vishweshwar Darshan Kar”. 

Here is a song on Murugan in Behag that a much older MLV sings with a young Sudha. And then there were the movies. MLV was the voice du jour for all the wonderful dance pieces in old tamil movies. They were steeped in Carnatic ethos with the lyrics praising the glory of the Gods. 

K.J.Yesudas:

K.J.Yesudas is best known for his contributions to Malayalam and Tamil cinema but his devotional songs should very much be a part of any conversation of great devotional singers. While he made his chops with Hindu and Christian religious music, his collection for Lord Ayyappa are quite special. And it all starts with “Harivarasanam”.

Harivarasanam is probably the most heard and most loved Ayyappan song and Yesudas’s voice is inextricably linked to it. I have heard a few other versions of the song but nothing comes even close. Here is another piece from the 1972 movie Chembaruthi – Saranamayyappa worth a good listen. Yesudas has sung a lot of Lord Ayyappa’s songs over the years and I remember hearing them every November and December as friends prepared to go to Sabarimala. The devotional fervor whipped up in the evenings at Ayyappan Puja Sangham in Coimbatore is something I will remember all my life. 

Outside of Ayyappan songs, KJY did very well with popular devotional songs in Sanskrit, Tamil and Malayalam. Here is a beautiful rendition of Venkata Kavi’s “Swagatham Krishna”. Youtube offers very many devotional songs of Yesudas that have moved devotees over the decades.

Mohd. Rafi

Here is my outside pick for voices of devotion. If you are a fan of Rafi saab, you know why he is here. We live in a world torn by religious conflict. But music has no barriers, no boundaries. A.R.Rahman is an excellent example of that. ARR has composed some wonderful Bhajans in the last few years. But Rafi saab was the first in that list to make music universal. And his bhajans are a testimony. Here is my small pick of Rafi songs that deliver a devotional punch unlike any other. 

1. Man Tarpat Hari dhar – Baiju Bawra. This song will move you. You have my word for it. The Malkauns/Hindolam is gorgeous and Rafi’s voice just wafts like a breeze at the temple. I am transported. Simple as that. And if you wanted more secularism in music- this gorgeous Hari bhajan was written by Shakeel Badayuni and set to tune by Naushad saab. 

2. O Duniya ke Rakhwale – Baiju Bawra. Another classic piece composed by Naushad for the same movie and Rafi saab makes you feel every word of it. The Darbari Kanada is phenomenal and the song makes a strong impact.

3. Madhuban mein radhika – Kohinoor. What a song. The listener is transported to Brindavan on Rafi saab’s voice, Naushad saab’s tune and the wonderful lyrics of Shakeel saab. The song is set in Hameer and how lovely it sounds 53 years later. 

4. Badi der bhai nanda lala– Khandaan. Rafi saab does this Krishna bhajan beautifully.

5. Mujhe Apni Sharan – Tulsidas. Rafi again does a wonderful rendering of this Ram bhajan set to tune by Chandragupt. 

I have a different set of artists lined up for the next part of this musical journey on the voices that inspire devotion in us. Until then, enjoy the wonderful songs in this post and here is the public Youtube playlist with most of the songs