Maestro Ilayaraaja's website The Boss of Bass
Raaja's idea of composing bass is nothing short of an experiment. Traditionally bass is played with a pattern, which is more suiting the rhythm of the song. Sort of playing a second fiddle.. A good example of his own is 'Maasi masam alana ponnu' song. There is nothing great about the bass track of this song. Bass is just played at full timing of every bar, giving a good grand 'dharrr….' effect. But a song like this (with ordinary bass tracks) is an exception in his music. 90% of his songs have extra ordinary bass patterns. A song like 'Vaan megam poopoovai thoovum' is benchmark for bass compositions in a song. The bass goes on in a world of its own, in its own rhythm pattern, gliding along the rhythm track, following the melody dutifully.. Numerous examples that I can think of are: 'Athadi ammadi then mottudhan', 'Putham pudu kalai', 'Raasathi unna.. kaanadha nenju', 'ivaloru ilanguruvi', 'Kanmani anbodu kadhalan', 'Anjali Anjali Anjali', 'Manram vandha thendralukku' etc.. Watch the bass tracks of these songs. They have their own pattern but still suiting themselves very well within the rhythm track. In short they are like 'Kuru nila mannargal' enjoying a space of their own under a big king (which is the song itself) and not taking a back seat. Many a times this unique pattern is complex enough to be considered a counterpoint in itself. Few examples of this are, Starting of 2nd interlude of 'Poonthalir aada', Finishing of 1st interlude in the song 'Anjali Anjali'(This is a Piano piece for only 2 bars, which goes in descending order with the notes of first half in an octave. Watch the bass, its composed with the notes of second half in an octave. Great counterpoint), the starting of 1st interlude of 'Meenamma'(During the trumpet) etc.,

Second thing, which is unique in Raaja's bass writings, are: the bass in his songs doesn't sound BASS!! (I mean not really low). They sound relatively at a higher level. The last two strings of bass guitar are more used than the lower two.. Songs like 'Vaanilae then nila', 'Vaan megam', 'Neer veezhchi thee mootudhae', 'Unnai naan paarthadhum' (Beautiful song from an unreleased movie called 'Kannukkoru vanna kizhi'- How many of such raaja's treasure are we missing ??!!), 'Devanin kovil moodiya neram', 'Malarae Malarae Ullasam', 'Oho Megam vandhadho' etc etc.. are good examples for this. This is a novelty which aids the bass to be clearly audible than sounding itself just loud and not clear !!

Third thing is the well-constructed chord progressions around his melody. This give the bass track a very good base to switch them along with the chord progression, making it sound very beautiful… There can't be a better example other than the great 'Kadhal oviyum'. The first two lines of the charanam are so complicated with almost one chord per word. And Bass switches quite nicely glued with the chord progression. Pallavi of 'ooru sanam' is another one. In general not even in one song can you notice a place where the bass is sounding out of scale…

Fourth thing is they are used as very well connection phrases between lines or as an answer to other tracks.. This is quite unique to Raaja.. Take for example, 'Raasavae.. Unnai vida mattane' from Aranmani kizhi.. The bass has a very un-orthodox pattern and fills the song even during the pause between two lines. More example for this can be 'Kannan vandhu paaduginraan', 'Ilampani thulir vidum kalam', 'Ilamai idho idho', 'Rojapoo aadi vandhadhu' … He also aptly makes the bass answer another melody track. You can notice this in the second interlude of 'Kadhal oviyum'. Bass answers chorus initially and Veena later. Prelude of 'engengo sellum' is another one here.

Fifth thing is, there are portions in his song given specific importance for bass. During this only bass guitar is played for few bars as a part of interlude or main melody. The beginning of the 2nd interlude of 'Enna satham indha neram' is a classic example. Beginning of Second interlude of 'sangeeta megam', prelude of 'idhu oru nila kalam', Beginning of Second interlude of 'valaiyosai kala kala', prelude of the song 'kalam kalamaga vaazhum' etc are few of those songs where Bass assumes the center stage and does a brief 'thani avarthanam'.

Sixth aspect I can think of is his usage of Bass in semi-classical songs. Everyone knows about Raaja's versatility in this area. Everyone also acclaims his way of music as a great fusion and giving the carnatic music with a western personification. But has anyone looked into how adept is he using the bass guitar in native songs of Indian classical origin. Take 'nee dhanae endhan pon vasantham' for instance. A beautiful song set in the Madhyamavadhi raga. The bass guitarist of this song can proudly feel he has achieved 'something' in his life. Such complicated is the bass pattern, but still in the Raaga: madhyamavathi. Take the song 'Oru pattam poochi' from kadhalukku mariyadhai. A great song in Jog. Especially in the second interlude of this song when KJ does a alapanai with 'Poovana en nenjam', the bass track just slides around. You can witness some 'arajagaman'-a bass tracks in naattai in the song 'Pani vizhum malar vanam'. 'Ninnukori varnum' is another one to follow. How is this possible for him? The answer in his own words is 'There may be rules in music. But even as Beethoven said, "Rules are my humble servants", you can break them if you have a valid excuse. Since I'm not aware of any existing rules, the new things that I do are not any violation, but innovation'. Take any song composed in a pakka raagam by Raaja, and analyze its bass track. The bass really seconds his thoughts.

Now days, the trend in Tamil music is catching on more with World music. Hip Hop, Rap and Technos are hot now. In all these styles there is a constant bass track played all thro' the song irrespective of any variations in the song. (I mean Songs like Ace of base and similar numbers in Tamil). I'm not here to debate if this style of music is good or bad. But versatile composer's like Raaja has shown us that the things other way around is possible. I mean Songs like 'Raaja kaiya vecha' where he has used two different bass tracks for the same main melody. The main pallavi is composed in good major. But whenever the pallavi is sung after 1st and 2nd charanams, he converts the movement of the song in to a total minor scale. He uses Bass as one of the powerful weapons for this transition. Also there are songs like 'Kanmani anbodu kadhalan' where for there are atleast 3 different bass tracks for the same pallavi. When Janaki first starts the song with a tune, there is a short and sweet Bass track played at regular intervals. Soon after when the song starts in full flow, bass beautifully fills up the all the blanks in the first track and makes it into one continuous track. Much later when the song ends and re-starts again (with la la la..) it's a 3rd different bass track. Another striking example is the song 'Megam kottatum'. If you see the melody of first line (Megam kottatum) and the second line (Minnal vettatum) of this song is same. But the bass tracks are totally different and jump almost half an octave lower between first and second line. Also in subsequent lines it's just mind-boggling.

Finally it's his competence to use synthetic bass in today's electronic world. Before anyone else could venture he used it as early as Punnagai mannan. (In the synth computer bit, 1 2 3 4…). Even 'Kalam kalamaga' has some excellent synth bass. Until recently even Songs like 'Arumbum thalirae' from chandralekha saw some wonderful synth bass. Unfortunately this song went unnoticed. But listen to bass in this song. There is no percussion track in the pallavi. The bass compensates for it..  Also all his new songs from movies like Time, Friends etc., also had good sensible use of synth bass.

The point is, many tamil music listeners doesn't even know something called bass guitar exist. Still why is he composing such superb bass tracks song after song. It's the same way that god has created so many beautiful landscapes, animals, plants and flowers in this universe which most of us are unaware of. Why did he create so many things that go unnoticed?

The answer I think is, that's the joy of creation...
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