May 4, 2014 By Venugopal

Why The Mozart Of Madras Does Not Fit Into The Savarna, Elitist Polemics

AR-Rahman_MusicIn article written as review of AR Rahman’s theme of the 2010 Commonwealth Games, Sadanand Menon unleashed an avalanche of criticism against the music maestro. A year earlier he had compared the Mozart of Madars with Ilayaraja, saying how greater musician the latter is than the former. Sadanand wrote: ‘While the similarities between the two are significant, it is their differences that should interest us. Ilaiyaraaja’s music creates itself around and inhabits culturally identifiable frames, whether classical, semi-classical or folk. His compositions are raga-based and even in western classical-inspired numbers, he acknowledges the sanctity of its original structures. Where he makes a departure is in the polyphonic interludes. A typical example would be his amazing foot-tapper, ‘Rakkamma, KaiyyeThattu…’ (Thalapathi, 1991), in which he moves with panache from a swiftly orchestrated popular folk tune to a serene, quiet solo classical with a deft, magical interlude of hummed bars.

Rahman, on the other hand, is a cleverer sound organiser and it is his artistry with the synthesizer that is the hallmark of his music. In fact, Rahman is perhaps the finest tuner of short jingles that we have, and his early career was built up composing advertisement jingles for coffee, sports shoes and such. This also included, for example, the catchy signature tune for Asianet, the first private regional language TV channel in India.’

Though analytical in its style, the article does not hide anything when it ends with posting the two great musicians on qualitatively different pedestals. He said: ‘It has to be said that serious musical work belongs to Illayaraja. Rahman’s forte is packaged marketing of jingles.’

For anyone who does not sing or produce songs, comparison might be convenient tool to attack whomsoever s/he thinks does not fit into his/her canvas. In fact, there is no greater, nor the greatest, musician in the firmament of music. There are only greats and musicians, worth their name, hardly compare themselves to others.

The pitfall of Rahman’s caricature in SadanandMenon’s article is that it restricts the genius to his oeuvre of electronic music, ignoring his contribution to other traditions, including the Sufi tradition. By ignoring the complexity of genius that Rahman is, one can fix one’s eyes one or other departments of his art and castigate selectively. Though Rahman we know today was launched by film industry, especially his countryman director Mani Ratnam, we should not miss the facts that Rahman has gone beyond the confines of film industry and that he has provided diversity and alternation to the genre itself.   Catching what is being aired is easy, especially in Rahman’s case. We have the ad jingle he has done for Airtel;We have ‘Jaiho’-an Indian catchword in the Oscars. We can say these are some mixes and patchworks synthetically made.

The problem is whether Sadanand thinks electronic music as being as nauseating as a gymnasium which churns out six packs, which is far away indeed from his imaginary landscape of strongly-built youngsters who are trained in a traditional kalari. We can’t close our eyes to the fact that those who celebrate their youth can’t put up with elitist formalities in the traditional kalari, and some of them might feel dejected to hear the monotony of the classical music. Now to make tones is to become eclectic and bring into your rhythm the tones forgotten and the tones negated. That is exactly what Rahman did for Ravan and for the song ‘KhajaGhareeb Nawaz’ in the film ‘Jodaa Akbar.’ In the latter, the whole Sufi tradition of spiritual enlightenment is elobartely visualized using the dance of the darvish. And Rahman’s tones did all it could to raise the scenario to heaven. Or listen to Mazaar in the album brought out by Niyaz. The whole religious imagery has been translated into the canvas of post-modern living whose mark is eclecticism.

For all critics of electronic music, including SadanandMenon, let me quote MercenDede: ‘when you put digital, electronic sounds together with hand-made, human ones, you can create universal language, capable of uniting old and young, ancient and modern, East and West….

And synthesis is what we all need..


Posted in: Blog