The raajangahm chronicle  




T.V. Gopalakrishnan (Carnatic Musician and Raja's Carnatic guru, India) 

He is one of my most hard working students ever. I still remember how he used to knock at my doors, as early as four o clock in the morning to learn (carnatic) music. He was very unique as a student. When you teach a particular phrase (in a raga), his mind would be busy anticipating/thinking about the next phrase. Sometimes it would make me wonder, if i am teaching music to someone who has already mastered it! And if he is not convinced by the way he has sung a particular line in a keerthanai, he would himself raise his hand and sing it again till he thinks it is perfect. I have seen him singing out tunes to playback singers and he would never be satisfied till they get it right. But when you listen to the finished song someday later, you feel that singers barely managed to get the effect that raja could conjure up through his voice.

He once called me in an an excited mood, and said,"I have composed one song in raga saramathi for a tamil film. And i find that the tune fits perfectly well with a krithi by Saint Thyagaraja (Mari Mari Ninnae). What do i do now?" The original krithi was composed in kambhodhi ragam. But I immediately replied "Please go ahead". When you sit in your house, and gaze through your windows, there is one type of view. Open the doors, there is another view and come outside, there is totally another view. Why get stuck with one view. Look at the possibilities of expansion. Raja is such a free spirit. 

The way ilaiyaraja has handled carnatic music (in film songs) is very unique. If he has done 30 kalyani raga songs, each has its own character and styling. He would have expanded on the various characteristic raga phrases in each of those songs. There are even examples where you would never realise that the underlying melody is kalyani, unless you listen to the meticulous decorations that he has built-in into the tune.  Even if it is not about carnatic music, or any other style of music, there would be something unique in each of his songs. The only song where i could never find anything unique was,"annae annae sippai annae". Just joking ! Well, even there, the song is sung in a coarse voice.

SADHANANDHAM (Senior Guitarist in Raja's Musicians Troupe

I am glad that i have been working with raja for the past 30 years. Any other musician, and i would have been playing the same style over and over again. Not the case with Raja. Each day is different for us musicians working under him. So many varieties, so many challenges. For example, 'aagaya vennilavae' sounds like it is set in one thaalam, while it is actually in an another thalam !

There are so many songs, where i have to move from one place to another place (within the studio), running around to play the various string instruments that raja would have included in just one song ! And he sometimes makes me play one instrument, while the effect he wants will be for another instrument ! The prelude in 'thendral vandhu ennai thodum' sounds like a veena, but is a guitar effect ! The percussion like BGM effect while karthik & prabhu bounce over each other was created using vibraphone. Once he asked me to play Xylaphone using my hands. Within minutes after the recording, both my hands/fingers were totally swollen. The first bit in the prelude that you hear in 'indha maan' from karagaatakaaran is a favourite bit i have played using a 12 strings guitar.

MAHENDRAN (Eminent Film Director, India) 

I always believed that songs are a major burden to my script. But Indian viewers need songs, and you need to play to their demands. But thank god, i had raja to fall back upon. Instead of obstructing the flow of the film, he ensured that his songs mesh synchronously with the script and in fact go on to add more power to overall punch that my script intended to deliver.  Same case with BGMs. I dont believe in creating talkative characters. The characters in my film talk what one can expect a person of that stature to talk. Nothing more, nothing less. When i screened "Mullum Malarum" to my producers, they were shocked and said it was like a silent movie. But later, after raja added his BGMs to it, we were all satisfied and convinced.

PURUSHOTHAMAN (Senior Percussionist in Raja's Musicians Troupe) 

If i start talking about the umpteen innovations that raja has brought into film music, this show will not be enough. Several people ask senior members like me (in raja's troupe),"Why dont you go and become a music director on your own." Well, we do know that several music directors today have come to the field after working under other senior music directors for couple of years. May be those people thought that they can create better music than the person with whom they were working. But as far as we are concerned, we dont think we will ever be able to give  music that is better than what raja can give.  So we are content to work as a musician under him, we dont have any other great ambitions.

'En Uyir Nee Thaanae' in Priya was a challenging number for all of our musicians in raja's troupe. The reason was, the tune which raja had composed seemed to run in a different thalam/meter, while the supporting orchestra had to follow a different thalam/meter ! Everyone of us were skeptical about how the end product was going to look like ! Well, knowing raja very well, we musicians just quit worrying about everything else, and just played as per raja's notations, without thinking about the tune that singers were singing. But it all fell into place when we heard the completed product, and the song went on to become such a lovely hit.

As far as BGMs are concerned, 'sigappu rojakkal' was a landmark effort in Indian film music industry. Instead of instrumental BGMs, voice/chorus works were predominantly used to suit the mood of the thriller movie.

BALUMAHENDRA (Eminent Film Director, India) 

When i was planning to use raja for my film, i told my decision to G.K.Venkatesh. He immediately replied,"Give him a chance, he will dissolve and digest the entire world with his music." From my first film with raja, till the latest - Adhu Oru Kana Kaalam, all my films have been crowned by his glorious music. We infact have a healthy competition between us. While he tries to overtake my visuals, i try to race ahead of his tunes with my picturisations.

His BGMs totally add a different dimension to my films. All my films have extraordinary background scores by raja. During one of those earlier years , i once asked raja,"what is background music?". Raja put back the question to me. I replied, " Take the rainwater - once it has reached the earth, it takes so many forms - small pools, streams, rivers, falls etc. However, it is not the water that takes the decision about its forms, but the surrounding geography that decides the various forms (like stream, river or falls). So is the case with background music. It should take the form as is natural to the specific mood/atmosphere of the moment at any stage of the film." Raja applauded with loud claps and said," Exactly! That is my perception too!". I immediately knew that we shared the same wavelength.

Only me and raja will be present during the tune creation process. Oh it would be so much fun. Both of us would sing some older songs created by Raja and chat a lot about films and music. After i had a stroke a few years back, i am now unable to sing at all. I feel so sad as any typical raja fan  would be, because i am no longer able to sing his golden melodies that are close to my heart !

SUJATHA (leading singer, South India) 

Some people ask me, if singers have any freedom to experiment or extrapolate to the tune that raja sir has composed. But i dont think there is any need to do that. The tune that he gives is already whole, and complete. What more can you add to it? What is there that you can improvise? Take the song "Meendum Meendum Vaa" from Vikram. You dont need to even look at the visuals. The eroticism just oozes out in the tune and orchestration. As a singer, all you have to do is follow what he has to say, just follow his instructions. For example, in 'konji pesu kobam enna' song from kaadhal kavidhai, he told me to sing as if i had just woken up in the morning, with a lazy tone.

Raja sir is very good at malayalam. Once a singer told me that he had sung something wrong, and raja sir immediately pointed to the lyrics and read it out aloud, pointing out that what the singer had sung was not what the lyricist had written - so not only can he speak malayalam, he can also read ! But he generally speakes in tamil to me, but at times, when he wants to pull my leg, he will use fluent malayalam !

There are an equal number of fans for ilaiyaraaja sir in kerala, when compared to tamilnadu. I have been gifted to sing some malayalam compositions by raja sir. Minnaram maanathu is a favourite composition, which was recorded at raja sir's residence and programmed by karthik raja. My all time favourite malayalam number is 'thumbi vaa' !

BHAVATHARINI (budding singer & composer, South India) 

Appa (daddy) has a unique style of playing the harmonium. For example, the harmonium bit that you hear in the song 'konji konji alaigal oda' is played by Appa. In olden days, especially in the black and white films era, music directors generally used classical music only for songs that featured the hero & heroines. Appa has used carnatic music across all song situations, irrespective of whether it was a hero-heroine sequence or comedian's or whether the story is unfolding in an urban or rural background. For instance, the 'madura mari kozhundhu vaasam' number is a folkish tune that Appa composed in Mayamalawagowlai ragam.

One of the fascinating things in Appa's music is the variations in style that is incorporated into one single song. 'Enadhu vizhi vazhi melae' from solla thudikudhu manasu has western drums, tabla, hindustani style bits, all rolled into one.   


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