Friday, October 30, 2009

Ilayaraja Vs Rahman - and the debate continues

Traditionally, this post should have been about our Connecticut Show and the awesome response we received for it. But it isn't. We're in a world that boasts of some 'eminent personalities' who have carved a niche for themselves by treading the unknown territories. In keeping with that tradition, here is a view point about a topic that is often the subject heated debates across the world. When Venky sent this blog post to me, I was pleasantly surprised. Typically his articles are thought provoking and this one promises to be equally so.

Before you read on, JR had an 'as always' thumbs up response for its CTTS show. The show was special for many reasons - JR's 20th show, JR Juniors' debut performance and a double bonanze - A guided tour of the Yale University by none other Venky2.... With that said, read on to enjoy Venky's view point on the 'Clash of the Titans':

Chenthil sparked a train of thought when he asked me last weekend - "You must have grown up hearing and loving Illaiyaraja's music. When did you flip to Rahman?". First of all, yes I did grow up listening to Raja, but "enga generation" (a phrase made popular by a certain young JR-ite) has the additional joy of early childhood memories of MSV, also a legendary dude in his own right (not to speak of RDB, to look quickly northwards). To come back to Chenthils's q, on the spur of the moment I replied "when I first heard Chinna Chinna Asai". Upon further reflection, I must assert that I never "flipped", simply because I don't have to choose between these two titans. And, building on this thought, I have the perfect excuse to foist another "technical" treatise on you hapless souls, so get ready to grin and bear it...

Both Rahman and IR are masters of genre. Their interpretation of any particular genre is authentic and believable. Witness Rahman's take on the Jillendru Oru Kaadhal or IR's take on Shiva's favorite, Ae Unnaithane, as examples of hitting the cover off the Jazz ball. Or, hopping quickly over to the Carnatic bandwagon, take Kannodu Kaanbadellam or Chinna Kannan Azhaikiran - both examples of relatively pure expositions of a single genre. Likewise for tamil folk, rock'n'roll,western classical,hindustani....examples abound of compositions that demonstrate their mastery over these genres. Yet, what is most remarkable about these two gents is the ease with which they combine, juxtapose, transpose and amalgamate across genres to create unique blends that mock the term "fusion" as far too prosaic to accurately describe the magic that's happening underneath.

So, both these dudes can fuse like nobody's business...we've established that. But here's where the similarities end. The foundational pillars of Raja's music are melody and traditional chord structures - particularly, traditional south indian melody, whether raga or folk based, embellished with "strictly by the book" western chord progressions. Music of various genres are then woven around this fundamental core in ways that decorate and flesh it out into Raja's own unique brew. So when you listen to a Raja composition, you drift along on a tranquil journey as you let the melody seep into your conciousness, while the chords frame its pleasant contours. Rahman is equally adept at melody - but his modus operandi relies on imparting "shock" to a traditional melody or genre in way that renders it simultaneously familiar yet unrecognizable. He has a vast toolkit of shocks - and is continuously adding to it. Atonal progressions behind sweet simple melodies,
continuously varying subtleties of rhythms on an traditional 4/4 beat, unexpected counterpoints, vocal gymnastics, weird, even off-key tones, extreme bass, an assortment of synthetic whooshes and name it. The result - every song has something that almost everyone can identify with even as much of the arrangement is simply beyond most normal comprehension. You have to be alert during a Rahman song because a surprise is always around the corner.

This essential difference in approach is also responsible, I believe, for the difference in appeal - Rahman has a worldwide fan base, across different cultures, among laymen and scholars alike. Illaiyaraja, on the other hand, is revered as the supreme maestro in his native Tamil Nadu but has had great difficulty connecting with masses outside the south Indian constituency. In my own case, to simplify greatly - Illaiyaraja's music soothes as I slip easily into its cadence, while Rahman's music turns me into knots as I try to get a grip on what's really going on underneath. It's obviously a personal experience thing...but Illaiyaraja appeals to my heart, while Rahman plumbs the depths of my soul.

You don't have to be a scholar to appreciate the works of these masters. At its most sublime, a Rahman or Raja composition can help one transcend the barriers of space, time or body - however fleetingly - and connect with the essence of one's spirit. For this, "namma" generation must be thankful; and we JRites are especially privileged because we get to intepret and perform this music. In marching to the beats of their own drums, these dimunitive gentlemen have coaxed untold millions to accompany them on their individual musical adventures. Two modern day pied pipers.

Tailpiece: Casually Googling "Illaiyaraja vs Rahman" immediately throws up at least 10 pages of results, with the link lit up to tempt you with even more. And, if you yield to Google's urge to correct your spelling and click on "Did you mean to search for: Ilayaraja vs rahman", another plethora of results come crowding up, eager to be clicked. Clearly, the last thing the world needs is yet another contribution to the Debate of the Millennium. So why did I feel the urge to wade into these well-muddied waters? Put the blame squarely on Chenthil here; the pedantic beast was in blissful slumber until the prodding....


1 comment:

    - JAGAN