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Remembering Mandolin U.Srinivas

A year ago, on September 19th, we lost a Carnatic music legend and prodigy in Mandolin U. Srinivas. I had written his obituary for a magazine in Coimbatore at that time. On his first death anniversary, I am sharing this with all of you.

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Mandolin U.Srinivas
Mandolin U.Srinivas

Mandolin Uppalapu Srinivas, the musical genius From Palakol, Andhra Pradesh died on the 19th of September, 2014. He was 45. The instrument he chose to express his talent, the mandolin, became eponymous with his name in the annals of Indian classical music. Mandolin Srinivas, as he was called, took a western plucked string instrument and weaved joyful notes in Kalyani and Atana and Mohanam and Kadhana Kuthoohalam.

U.Srinivas started young. He started playing the mandolin at the age of 6 at the encouragement of his father, U.Satyanarayana, a musician himself. With guidance from him father and his guru, Rudraraju Subbaraju, Srinivas started making dramatic strides in his mastery of the instrument. After his first public concert in 1978, he was thrust into the limelight as a true prodigy, a once in a lifetime talent. Srinivas, ever the humble and smiling performer focused on expanding his understanding of the instrument and convincing people that it could play all the complex nuances of Carnatic music.

Over the years, Srinivas collaborated with various artists across the world. He took the message of Carnatic music and spread it across the musical community. Some of the artists he collaborated with include Grammy Award winner Michael Brook, Grammy Award winner and Shakti alumni John McLaughlin, Michael Nyman, Hariprasad Chaurasia and Zakir Hussain. His work with the fusion group Remember Shakti came in for great praise. He explored the finer elements of classical music with his jugalbandis and international collaboration projects and this reflected in his global sensibilities with a local attitude towards music.

Mandolin Srinivas was well respected in the musical community. Upon his death, eulogies poured across the world and artists and fans mourned for the big loss to music. Oscar Award winning composer, A.R.Rahman remarked that he was “Emotionally shaken.” Frequent collaborator Zakir Hussain lamented, ““Today mother India cries, today a part of Indian music died and we are orphaned, RIP my dear brother Mandolin Srinivas.” Another Shakti collaborator and friend Shankar Mahadevan tweeted,”“A big part of my musical journey ended today with U Srinivas .. Devastated.”

Within the Carnatic music community, eulogies poured on the news of the sudden demise of Srinivas. Singer T.M.Krishna noted,”A little boy broke down imaginary and real barriers without uttering one word — his discourse was music and remained that right through his life.” Chitravina Ravikiran who was scheduled to perform with Srinivas in October across the world wrote in his eulogy, “Every superlative offered to him seemed redundant in almost no time — such was his mastery over the art. From the time he stormed into the Carnatic field around age 10, his innate musicality, razor-sharp mind, his command over speed and range, the effortlessness of expression and freshness of musical and mathematical patterns challenged minds, while his charismatic presence on-stage and cartoon-loving simplicity off it stole hearts.”

Over the years, Srinivas won every award available to an artist of his ilk. He was awarded the Padma Shri at the tender age of 19. He also won the Rajiv Gandhi National Integration Award, Chowdiah National Memorial Award, Sangeeth Natak Academy Award, and much more. At different points of time in his sparkling career, he was the Asthana Vidwan for the Government of Tamil Nadu and the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham.

To the fan of Carnatic music, what remains etched in memory is the smiling child who exploded onto the scene in the early eighties and demonstrated a complete mastery of the instrument and the medium. His humble smile and reverence to elders and the medium made him a darling of the critics and the audience. He leaves behind a rich legacy of remarkable achievements and glorious music that we will continue to cherish for years to come. Mandolin U.Srinivas left us too soon. But his music will live on.

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Here are a couple of classic Mandolin concert snippets worth listening to, on this day.

An old 1989 private concert featuring a young Srinivas. The Viribhoni is brilliant.


And here is a very recent concert held in the memory of the late Sri. Lalgudi Jayaraman.

The genius of Subramanya Bharathi

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(Image courtesy – The Hindu)

Growing up as a student of Tamizh, I was often flummoxed by the complexity of the language. The grammar was elaborate and took forever to figure out. And the classes thrust a ton of material on you. I was blessed to have a fantastic Tamizh teacher, Ms.Kausalya for whom I have the utmost respect even today. She loved the language in a way that was infectious. And she took great interest in her students- as rowdy as they were like me. And over time, she started winning us over on the sheer joy of appreciating the wonders of Tamizh. And no greater was it felt beyond her handling of the epic “Panchali Sabadham”.

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The brilliant rendition of the episode of the game of dice from Mahabharata where Draupadi (Panchali) is disrobed in the Royal Court and her brothers and her swear revenge by the immortal poet and freedom fighter, Subramanya Bharathi opened the flood gates for me. It made me realize what I had learned by rote but never forced myself to appreciate was a joy to behold. Today, December 11th is Bharathiar’s birthday. I wanted to take this brief moment to write a few words about his sheer body of work. It would take a dozen posts to truly cover the breadth of work that Bharathiyaar produced in his short life- from his call for freedom to a remarkable vision of the future to his championing of women’s rights and his devotional songs. His command of the language was peerless. Here is a very very small sampling of some of his work in musical form that has inspired me all these years. 

In absolutely no particular order:

1. Velli Panimalai (featured in Kappalottiya Tamizhan):

This song inspires me a lot. Bharathiyaar foresaw a future where communication lines were blurred and global trade was the norm. Today, it is easy for us to take all this for granted. But when it was written, this song was remarkably prescient. In the movie, it features an actor playing Bharathiar and singing the song. On a side note, this movie is truly worth a watch if you have not seen it. 

2. Nalladhor Veenai Seithe (featured in Varumayin Niram Sivappu):

The sheer depth in the words in this song blows me away to this day. It features an introspective and almost frustrated Bharathiyaar. The poet who was known to be a drug addict in his time almost begs Goddess Sakthi for help. Feels at once immediate and earnest. Set to tune by MSV and acted to perfection by KamalHassan and Sridevi in the movie, this song is a keeper.

3. Manadhil Urudhi Vendum (featured in Sindhu Bhairavi):

Bharathiyaar’s speciality was words of inspiration. And this song epitomizes that. Set to Thilang ragam by Ilayaraja for the movie Sindhu Bhairavi, this brief song packs a big punch. 

4. Theertha Karaiyinile (featured in Varumayin Niram Sirappu):

Bharathiyaar created an entire category of songs for women- titled “Kannamma” songs. These songs ranging from inspirational to romantic, they captured the writer’s emotions at various times in his life with respect to women. This song’s lyrics are complex and rich and powerful that you are pressed to hear it over and over again to get the full experience. 

5. Kakkai Siraginile (featured in Ezhavadhu Manidhan):

Yet another genre that Bharathiyaar enlivened was that of devotional music. He focused much of his pieces on his favorite Goddess Shakthi and on Krishna in the form of Nandalala. This song belongs to that category of Nandalala songs. The movie Ezhavadhu Manidhan features some fantastic Bharathiyaar pieces including this one, rendered wonderfully by Yesudas and set to tune by L.Vaidhyanathan. 

6. Sindhu Nadhi (featured in Kai Koduthu Deivam):

There are songs which brilliant as they are, get elevated by an equally fantastic screen performance and delivery. This is one such. A wonderful piece that features a prescient Bharathiyaar ruminating on a free and connected nation that brings people together through trade, music and culture. If only…

7. Aduvome (featured in Naam Iruvar):

D.K.Pattamal had a great run rendering some of Bharathiyaar’s classic pieces. One such was this song from Naam Iruvar, “Aduvome”. The original piece written by Bharathiyaar on the joy of being independent and free features simple lyrics that talks of a young nation that needs to get to work in becoming truly great. 

8. Aasai Mugham (sung by D.K.Jayaraman):

Romance was one of Bharathiyaar’s favorite genres. He wrote lyrics that made that special one, loved and appreciated. One such piece is this gorgeous piece “Aasai Mugham”. This version set to Ragam Jyonpuri and sung by the inimitable late D.K.Jayaraman is a sheer joy to listen to. 

9. Chinnanjiru Kiliye (sung by Maharajapuram Santhanam):

Another classic Kannamma piece by Bharathiyaar is Chinnanjiru Kiliye Kannamma. One of the most popular pieces rendered by many classical artists, this song has Bharatiyaar writing to a small child but with words suitable for every adult. This particular Raagamalika version by the late Maharajapuram Santhanam does great justice to the song.

10. Odi vilayadu Pappa (featured in Kappalottiya Thamizhan):

One of the most popular kid songs growing up, this was the song you refered to when you wanted your parents to allow you to play a little more. A great set of instructions to the child and to the parent, this song is why Bharathiyaar is so revered. He knew how to capture the right emotions and thoughts in the simplest and most impactful of words. In an age when most kids are hunched over smart devices, the poet asks kids to just go out and play with other kids. This particular rendition in gorgeous Sahana by TMS for the movie “Kappalottiya Thamizhan” is just the perfect vehicle for such a gorgeous piece.

11: Dhikku Theriyadha Kattil (sung by G.N.Balasubramaniam):

Bharathiyaar’s words in this song capture the feelings of a young and newly married girl in search of liberation from harmful distractions. The parallel context is of the poet looking for his own freedom of thought and from his inner demons. This particular rendition by the great GNB is a Ragamaalika which immensely pleases the listener. In this case, me. 

12. Theeradha Vilayattu Pillai (featured in Vedhala Ulagam):

I wanted to reserve something special for the final selection. This song has a special place in my heart. My mother used to be a Bharathnatyam dancer in her younger days and this was one of the songs I have seen her dance. And what a song. It captures everything about Lord Krishna that makes his appealing to one and all. Bharathiyaar teases, tantalizes and delivers in spades with this wonderful piece.  Featuring the voice of the one and only D.K.Pattamal and the wonderful Kamala Lakshman’s moves, this song is perfection. Bliss.

I will end this post with three lines that I strive to live to. I have not succeeded yet but someday hope to. To the great poet who has been a source of inspiration to millions, hats off.

Achamillai, achamillai, acham enpathu illaye,

Icckathulorellam yethirthu nindra  pothilum,

Achamillai, achamillai, acham enpathu illaye.

Youtube playlist of songs featured in this post.

Remembering Manna Dey

Growing up, I was fed a regular dose of old Hindi film music. My late uncle used to live in Delhi. Those were the days when an upstart music company called T-Series led by a daring entrepreneur, the late Gulshan Kumar was challenging established stalwart HMV. T-Series released compilations of old Hindi songs for Rs.18 and completely upset HMV’s applecart. T-Series tapes used to be sold on the streets at Nehru Place. My uncle used to pick up a whole lot of these and send it to us by mail. We listened to them over and over again until the tapes started getting worn out and eventually totally done. One of the artists who I did not get exposed to quite as much then was Manna Dey. 

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Years later, as I expanded my horizons listening to Hindi music on TV and with my old music crazy uncles and aunts, Manna Dey saab entered my world. And having missed out on his music all those years, I caught up with his music rapidly and came to admire his remarkable talent. This past week, on Oct 24th, Manna Dey saab passed away leaving us with his rich legacy of music. Here is my humble selection of a very small list of songs that I continue to  listen to this day. This is by no means a representation of his sheer breadth of talent but just a small sampler.

1. Jhanak Jhanak Tori

This song set to tune by Shankar-Jaikishan for the movie “Mere Huzoor” is a good starting point for Manna Da’s voice. The song set to the beautiful Raag Darbari Kanada (Darbari) showcases his classical side. 

2. Laaga Chunari mein daag

This song carries some wonderful lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi for the movie “Dil Hi To Hai”. Music is by Roshan. Another piece with a strong classical bent and set to Raag Bhairavi, the visuals and Manna da’s voice create wonderful symphony that has to truly be experienced. 

3. Ae mere zohra jabeen

This song from Waqt featuring the brilliant Balraj Sahni in a career defining role is remembered by the younger generation courtesy its reprisal in DDLJ by Amrish Puri. The original song is a sheer joy to watch and listen to and Manna Dey brings a playfulness to it that elevates the song to a different level.

4. Yaari hai imaan meri

This next song is an iconic ode to friendship featuring the versatile Pran and a young Amitabh Bachchan from the movie Zanjeer. Kalyanji-Anandji offer a complex tune with varying tempo that Manna Dey does full justice to. 

6. Yeh Dosti

In a remarkable coincidence, Manna Dey and Amitabh Bachchan feature in the other iconic Hindi film music piece on friendship that has withstood the test of time from “Sholay”. Kishore da voices for Dharmendra while Manna Dey offers an excellent counter balance for Amitabh Bachchan in this rollicking composition by Rahul Dev Burman.

7. Ae mere pyare watan

So this song is a personal favorite. Everything about this is so rich- the poignant lyrics by Prem Dhawan, the sensitive composition by Salil Chowdhary, spectacular acting by Balraj Sahni and of course the subtle rendition by Manna Dey. Every time I hear this song, it triggers this instinctive response that is indescribable.

8. Poocho Na Kaise

A remarkable composition in Ahir Bhairav that touches like no other. Ashok Kumar emotes to perfection as Manna Dey brings out the depth and pathos in the scene through this composition of Shailendra set to tune by Sachin Dev Burman.

9. Ek Chatur naar

As an excellent counterpoint to the pathos in Poocho na kaise, Manna Dey lets it all go with Kishore Kumar in the laugh riot, Ek Chatur naar from Padosan. Manna Dey offers his voice for Mehmood. The song starts off in classical Kalyani and then devolves into a creative oneupmanship piece in Brindavana Saranga. The singing battle is as awesome to hear as it is to see. 

10/ 11. Dil ka haal / Mud Mud ke

This entry formally kicks off the Raj Kapoor section of this list. Manna Dey gave his voice to some megahits for R.K. This song impresses with its sheer simplicity of composition and rendition. In the movie, it is symbolic of all things simple and pure just as “Mud mud ke” represents all things dark and powerful. Coincidentally, Manna Dey is the voice of simplicity in Dil Ka Haal and the transformed one in Mud Mud ke. And the transformation has to be seen to be believed. 

12. Jahaan main jati hoon

A playful number from Chori Chori featuring Raj Kapoor and Nargis in the background and a set of puppets in the front. In due course, Raj and Nargis become the puppets. Music is by Shankar-Jaikishan and features Manna Dey at his playful best with Lata.

13. Aaja sanam

No old film music collection is complete without a song featuring Raj Kapoor and Nargis. And Chori Chori is up there in the pantheon of musical albums that last a lifetime. Featuring unforgettable music by Shankar-Jaikishan, every song is worth a thousand listens. Here is one such- watch when Manna da first enters the piece with “Bheegi Bheegi raat mein” and you’ll fall in love with the piece.

14. Yeh Raat Bheegi Bheegi

This song is from the same movie, Chori Chori as the previous song. I thought hard about which song to finish with. This one was a close second. Lata and Manna Dey take the song to such heights that it deserves multiple hearings.

15.  Pyaar hua

There is Raj Kapoor and then there is Nargis. There is rain (in the sets atleast). That lone umbrella does its job pretty poorly as expected. But there is magic. Shankar-Jaikishan weave a song that represents romance to an entire generation. Indeed, love happened. In my case, with the voice of Manna Dey. 

Manna Da, you will be missed. 

Entire playlist featured on this blog can be found on youtube here

An evening with Shankar Tucker and group

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to hear Shankar Tucker and group, live in concert at Chabot College in Hayward, CA. For those who havent heard of Shankar, he is probably the first Internet musician of the Indian music genre. His claim to fame is covers and original compositions made popular on his YouTube channel, ShrutiBox over the past couple of years. Some of them have racked over a million views and going strong. From the response in the sold-out auditorium yesterday, it does seem like his star is on the rise.

The concert’s proceeds went to a pioneering charitable organization in the US, Association for India’s Development (AID). If you have not heard of them, please check out the stellar work their doing on their official website

What follows is not as much a concert review as much as my experiences at the concert. This genre of music is new to me. It is an experimental and occasionally western take on Indian music which stretches the boundaries of what is considered the traditional concepts of raga and tala. Nevertheless, the fundamental elements of any good musical performance namely shruti, voice and overall confidence in execution is worth inspection. So here goes.

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The evening started at 6:00 pm but I did not make it to the venue until 20 minutes later. I caught the end of the opening act by local music group, Eastern Brew. Of what I heard, the instruments were great especially the guitar and the group was very much in sync. Hope to hear more of them in the future.

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The First Half

Shortly after, Shankar and team took the stage. Shankar started with a clarinet solo which nicely set the stage for the evening. He exuded a calm but definitive command over the instrument and the medium. At once, he was at ease.

Shankar was accompanied by 4 singers- Rohan Kymal, Mugdha Hasabnis, and local Bay Area singers- Iyer Sisters (Vidya and Vandana). T

The first vocal piece was by Mugdha which is from Shankar and her new album. Unfortunately I didnt pick up on the title of the song, just that the repeating words were “Sawan aaya hai”. The song was good but it felt as if Mugdha was holding herself back.

The next vocal piece was the popular “Munbe Vaa” piece featuring local talent Iyer Sisters. The song is a cover of a popular A.R.Rahman song from “Sillunu Oru Kadhal” where Shreya Ghoshal did wonders with the original song. The song was well done but I wish there was more to it. It felt clean and executed without the magic of going live. Maybe that was the intention but it felt like opportunity lost with all the talent in place.

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This was followed by a nice clarinet solo by Shankar in what felt like Brindavana Saranga to me. Brought his mastery over the instrument to the fore and it was a pleasant experience.

The next vocal piece was another Youtube release “Caught in the Rain”, the first by crowd favorite Rohan Kymal. The song is a mellow Hindi-English composition that plays well. Rohan was a tad hesitant to hit the higher notes but showed a lot of promise.

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We went into a break after this piece. The first half felt like the singers were still not fully warmed up. They showed a lot of promise but didnt reach the capabilities that their fantastic voices offered them. Hopefully the second half would take care of it.

The Second Half


The first song after the break was another popular Youtube piece and Shankar’s first major claim to Youtube fame- “Nee ninaindhal” featuring the Iyer sisters. Set to beautiful Darbari Kanada, the song was well sung and well received. 

The next song-an original composition by Mugdha and Shankar was an ode to the women of India to stay strong and positive after the recent multiple incidences of rape. Mugdha started to flex her vocal chords with this one and it was a joy to hear her this time over. 

Mugdha was finally her true self with the next song- I caught the word “Banjaara” and thought to be the title of the song. She let it go and it was by far her best piece and the best song of the day in my opinion. Her full throated voice reverberated all over the auditorium to great applause.

The next song was probably one of the most anticipated of the evening- Rohan Kymal’s Youtube hit, “Ore Piya (rolling in the deep)”. Rohan who was relatively mellow in the first half turned things around and was fantastic this time around. It was almost as it Mugdha and Rohan needed the first half to settle down to their true selves.

The next song was a cover of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s song from “Luck by Chance” titled “Sapnon se bhare naina” rendered by Shankar Mahadevan himself. The song set to wonderful Sindhu Bhairavi was sung by Mugdha. The ShrutiBox Youtube cover features Rohini Ravada. Mugdha did good justice to the original.

The Iyer sisters came back in for an original composition celebrating Holi- “Rang Lo”. The song featured some nice beats with a distinct folksy nature to it. The song also brought the hardworking organizers for an extemporaneous dance. 

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The final piece of the day was something of a mish mash of Indian folksy tunes that had a nice uptempo feel to it. Particularly of interest was the singers (Mugdha, Iyer sisters) segueing to the traditional kummi tune towards the end of the piece. A fitting finish to an interesting musical night. 

I walked away convinced that Shankar was a real talent who brought in some interesting young artists to showcase that their great voices. His understanding of the medium and his audience at such a young age will surely take him places as will it for his singers.

If you liked the concert, here is a link to Shankar’s official website and to all his music.

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

A Balamurali Krishna concert through the eyes of a five year old

This post is not a review of a Sri. Balamurali Krishna concert at ICC, Milpitas, CA on April 13, 2013. It was an enjoyable 3 hours for us but I wanted to do this post differently. This concert happened to be the first Carnatic concert that my five year old son fully sat through. I wanted to frame his experience through this blog post. The rest of this post is my attempt at capturing my son’s thoughts, words and reaction to the whole concert.

Let me introduce myself

I am V, a five year old boy living in San Jose, CA. My parents and grand parents love music and they tell me I have been listening to it since I was in my mom’s tummy. How can I listen when I am in my mom’s tummy?. Dad’s kidding, right?. Anyway, appa makes me listen to carnatic music and Ummachi music every morning on the way to school. One day, he made me listen to this song “Ramachandraya Janaka” by this mama called Balamurali Krishna. I loved this song so much I made appa play the song every morning. I listened to it this morning also.

A few weeks ago, amma told me that Balamurali Krishna mama was going to give something called a “concert” and we were going to go. I was so excited. But two days later, appa told me, Balamurali mama was sick and could not come. I was so sad. Last week, appa told me Balamurali mama went to the doctor, got medicine and was feeling better and was coming to give the concert. I was excited again.

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The concert

It was a Saturday morning. I woke up late and didnt feel like brushing my teeth. Amma told me, if I didnt brush my teeth I couldnt go to the concert. The concert- I forgot all about it. I got ready and was waiting for 6:30 to arrive. I kept asking amma, “Is it 6:30 yet?.”. Amma said, soon.

Evening finally arrived and we left home for the concert. We parked the car and entered this nice building. There was a big room and there were lots of people coming in and sitting. We took our seat in the back and waited. Soon, Balamurali mama came in. It was so cool. Appa lifted me and showed me. He looked old, had a flat head- not round and was wearing a glittery dress.

The songs

The concert started with a song called “Naadha tanumanisam”. It was short and fun. I liked it. Appa told me that Balamurali mama sang it differently than others. I havent heard the song before so how would I know?. Silly appa.

Next he sang a song called “Omkara Pranava” in a ragam appa called Shanmugha Priya. Appa told me that Balamurali mama wrong the song himself. Wow!. I thought he only sangs songs. I didnt know he wrote them too. Cool! The third song was called “Sri Ramam Sada Bhajegam” and that was also written by Balamurali mama. It was in a ragam called Tanarupi that Appa said he had never heard before. Never ever. Really!.

Then Balamurali mama started singing this song Appa called “Nannupalimpa”. Appa said this song was in the same ragam Mohanam as a song he always sings to me- “Ninnukori”. The ragam was fun but Balamurali mama kept on singing it for a long time. I was starting to get bored. Amma gave me my animals book and I started looking at all the little animals. The song kept on going for so much time. I wanted to go peepee. Appa took me out and I said I need a break. Appa got me a samosa in the hall outside- it was so spicy but I ate the outer part of the samosa and appa ate what was inside. After some time, we went inside and the song was over. So long!

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A break and after

Everyone took a break after that long song. Amma and Appa had a chai and they didnt give me any. Unfair!. We went in and waited for Balamurali mama to come in. When they came in, I saw him up close. That was awesome. I told amma all about it.

Balamurali mama sang a song called “Hanuma Anuma” that he had written himself. He then sang a song called “Mamava Pattabhi” in Ragam Manirang- it was a nice song. Appa was very excited to hear it- he said that thatha sang the song as did all of thatha’s sisters. The next song was called “Ramudu” in Shankarabharanam. Appa said he was hearing that song for the first time. The next song was called “Pibhare Raamarasam”. I think a lot of people knew the song they were so happy when he started singing it.

After that, he picked a song I knew – “Seetha Kalyana”. Appa and Amma tell me that I used to hear this a lot when I was a teeny tiny kid. It was very nicely sung by Balamurali mama. I liked it a lot. Appa and Amma also liked it a lot.

The kids around me were all sleeping or playing “Angry Birds” on their parents phones. I asked Appa for his phone. He said no games. Only drawing. So I started doing some drawing. The next song was something Appa didnt know called “Rama Rama Janardhana” that was written by Balamurali mama’s grandfather.

Appa said the concert was going to end soon. The next song was a really fast one Appa called “Thillana” in the Ragam Brindavani. It was very fast and Balamurali mama sang it quickly. It was like an express train. So fast.

I was putting my shoes on to get ready to leave- then I heard my favorite song- “Ramachandraya”. I was thrilled. Appa told Amma I was speechless because it was so exciting for me. I started singing the song along with Balamurali mama. Everyone was clapping with the tune. It was so awesome. I was smiling so much.

The end

Appa was talking to Amma in the car about the concert. They said his voice was still so fantastic at this age. He forgot some words in the middle but his voice was still the same after all these years, said Appa.

I had a lot of fun at the concert. Appa asked me if it was ok, good, great or awesome. I said “Awesome!”. I want to go for another Balamurali Krishna concert soon. Appa said he will take me.