Raga and Song – The Creative Genius
Just as each raga is for a specific time of day or night… in the same way when talking of ingenius songs, there are several that come to mind that have captured my heart… to name a few, alongside some of my favourite ragas… (this is by no means a definitive list, only a beginning)…
I have included audio links to the songs, you can listen to them as you read:
“Kannodu Kanbethelam” from film “Jeans”. Music: A.R.Rahman. Raga: Shuddha Dhanyasi (with Abheri)
The Shuddha Dhanyasi raga’s classical renditions can be heard here.
This will give a clear idea of the ragam itself, so that you can better appreciate the way in which A.R.Rahman has composed to this ragam. I have always respected the music where I was never able to second guess the proceeding melody, because I am constantly, subconsciously anticipating where the song can lead… and when the composer takes it to somewhere better than I expected, it makes me sit up and take real notice. In an article, Gulzar said about A.R.Rahman, “Working with Rahman is a challenge. He is a magician. He has broken down the format of the Indian film song. Earlier, songs followed a set pattern – the mukhra (music), antara (crossline – or linking line as we called it in earlier times) and asthayi (all in rhymes). But Rahman has broken that form. You don’t know where the asthayi would come; that makes his music delightful and unpredictable. This is where I feel his music turns a “geet” into a “kavita” or “nazm” (brings a song much closer to poetry).He is someone who keeps walking ahead. When you walk continuously, the horizon keeps expanding, so you keep growing.”
“Majaa Majaa” from film “Sillindru Oru Kathal”. Music: A.R.Rahman. Raga: Shuddha Dhanyasi.
This is a song totally unlike the previous, yet both set in the same ragam… this one particularly takes on a sensuality that’s tribal and simultaneously divine… and ultimately, a rousing of breath… the voices of the singers becoming just that… lovemaking with breath… (something that has hardly ever well accomplished). Once again, take a listen to the actual carnatic renditions of the Ragam… and you’ll understand the innovativeness of using the Raga for this sort of mood and feel. Moreover, S.P.Charan’s voice is simply majestic, and I wish they would use his voice more in tamil music… then there is Shreya Ghosal, who personally holds an indisputable spot for the best female singer in India at the moment. As for the very composition, how can I begin to describe it… it is uttely unpredictable, implicit in its transitions… a lingering mesh of hunger and contentment.
“Viliyil Vilunthu” from film “Alaihai Oivathilai”. Music: Illayaraja. Raga: Shuddha Dhanyasi.
A mesmerising composition by Illayaraja. First, a nod to the lyrics… “Viliyil vilunthu Idayam nulainthu uyiril kalantha urave”.. a brilliant description of falling in love. And the very melody, mood, everything about the composition captures that core emotion of the actual “falling” in love. The soft pangs of the heart, that electric butterfly, the golden elixir in the throat, the gleaming of the solar plexus… the entirity of the “fall” is captured in this composition.
The second thing I want to mention is that by listening to film songs composed to a particular raga, however diluted or faithful the film song may be to the raga itself… it is a wonderful way of understanding and identifying the raga, and perhaps learning to breathe new life into ragas in this rapidly fusing world of music… with the advent of technology new and newer means of exploring ragas must be embraced… I do not believe in limitations. And traditions are only so good as long as they allow one to expand their horizon. Once tradition becomes superstition, then it becomes a hangman’s noose. In the justification of “safeguarding one’s culture”, building walls around you also locks you inside… There is no culture that is stagnant. That is a fallacy. Allow the constant evolution to take place.
That being said, it is so that ragas have a geometric precision that is very much a sign of some divine intervention… But one must remember that such things are never lost… So there is no need to worry. Even if forgotten… They will re-emerge. What is essential, however, is to allow raga and technology to merge.
“Marghali Poove” from film “May Madham”. Music: A.R.Rahman. Raga: Hindolam.
Some information on Hindolam ragam… You can hear an aalap (a rendition of the core of the raga) on this page, then compare it to these two songs… Hindolam is one of my favourite raagas. Now consider how Rahman has composed to this Raga. These songs shook my world when they were first released… I sunk into an ocean of bliss, lost in the song of life.
“Innisai (Remix II)” from film “Godfather”. Music: A.R.Rahman. Raga: Hindolam.
An authentic classical interpretation of Hindolam raga.
“Kopama” from film “Varsham”. Music: Devi Sri Prasad. Raga. Hindolam.
Ingenius. What eloquent use of raga hindolam. This is a telugu song, and Devi Sri Prasad is quickly becoming a composer I respect. I find it difficult to describe the sharpness in transitions that makes this song such high calibre for me, just as a poem is best described only by the poem itself…
Robert Frost was conducting a poetry reading, and by the end of it, it was question time. A woman said to him, “I can’t understand that last poem. Can you explain it?”
He replied, “You mean you want me to say it again, only not as well?”
In the same way, I am at first lost for words in describing why I find these songs to be ingenius… But I will try to explain. It is very important in music to have a unique melody that works in parallel to the actual melody of the song… (sometimes it works when both these melodies are the same, but as a rule it is better to have two counterpoint melodies) – and then the selecting of that exact moment when both these melodies intersect – that… is the height of creativity.
The first step of a great composition is the melody itself… But what establishes its classic nature is the selecting of silence, of time and space… And how these melodies are going to intersect with each other.
Do not go for the “obvious” route. Go for what you yourself would not expect. Outthink yourself – or in in words of the great artists… “Step out of the way, and let intuition work through you”. I felt all these compositions accomplished this in some way or form. This is why great composers always credit God for their work, and not themselves. Time and again I have read interviews where nearly every one of my favourite composers related divine moments of creative revelations where suddenly the song “comes” to them. They do not compose… They do not create… It arrives.
You are dreaming the song, and the song is dreaming you.