Very few musicians in the world go on to become genres, all by themselves. By that I mean, they merely don’t influence a specific area of art; their names aren’t just synonymous with a specific style; their identities, by themselves, become genres of their own. And over time, they tend to develop an extremely unique technique that effortlessly stands the test of time.
The realisation that Raja is a genre happens over varying periods in a person’s life, which in turn depends on several factors like the age cohort to which they belong, and their degrees of exposure. But then, notwithstanding the time-frame of this epiphany, the feeling gets reiterated, over and again, at the most unexpected of instances.
Yes, it happens when you accidentally hear a line of an old Bollywood song, while changing channels on the FM, and then, go on to rack your brains on where you’ve heard the tune before, only to find out that the man had used it in one of his earliest interludes. It comes through that moment when you stumble upon this almost invisible Raja song that exactly reflects your fucked-up, spiralling emotions, and suddenly, you feel like you could cry on its shoulders. It dawns on you when your North Indian colleague plays you a Hindi version of Thumbi Vaa and calls it “out of the world.” And, it hits you like a bolt of lightning during a random hearing of Raja Rajathi Rajan Indha Raja, when you get that the entire song has just one note – one freakin’ musical note that’s repeated in different hues, at varying intervals of time, to create a jazzed-up atmosphere of style and passion.
Who would have imagined an entire track based only on percussions, without the slightest hint of the usual instruments that impart the much-needed tone-colours to the composition!?
The way the man opens this piece has to be heard to be believed. Even at the outset, Raja imbues his double-hued beats with a very-American electro sting, reminiscent of the many international bands that were storming the musical scene in the mid-80s. Dwell a little more on it, and you will see that the whole rhythm-pattern mimics the pulsing beats of a human heart. It’s damn addictive, on so many levels.
And when Raja’s delightfully-contrasting earthy vocals come into play, it adds an unconventional twist to the whole pattern.
ராஜா ராஜாதி ராஜன் இந்த ராஜா
கூஜா தூக்காதே வேறு எங்கும் கூஜா
A generation, in fact, woke up to the fact that electro-music could be aced with a throaty and folk-ish accent. This mishmash is one of the many things that makes the haunting track what it is.
நேற்று இல்லே நாளை இல்லே
எப்பவும் நான் ராஜா
அப்பவும் நான் ராஜா!
A huge part of the fun in consuming Vaali’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics comes from the poet’s not-so-subtle celebration of the musician, as you go on a spree of spot-the-references, along with the track. And believe me, if you are an ardent fan of Raja, this could be a very gratifying exercise.
The percussions, which had taken a slight backseat for Raja to throw out his voice, return with a unique kind of swagger for the first interlude, which unfolds as a no-holds-barred celebration of the 80’s electro-funk (1.07 to 1.30). The booming electronic beats, with some brilliant assistance from the electric bass, go on a frenzied dance of their own, even as the rhythm simultaneously spaces out into an intoxicating spiral.
And Raja, yet again, juts into the syncopated beats with a tone that reeks of heady nonchalance.
வரவும் செலவும் இரண்டும் இன்றி
வரவும் செலவும் உண்டு…
உறவும் பகையும் உலகில் இன்றி
உறவும் பகையும் உண்டு…
Meanwhile, PC Sreeram is having a party of his own, with some scintillating demonstration of light-play. The desolate Egmore railway station transforms into a groovy dance floor of sorts, with burnt-out shadows skilfully interlaced with the minimalistic choreography. Frame after frame, PC experiments with his techniques of back-lighting, angles, and shot composition, and in the process, gives the track its iconic trippy vibes.
நெஞ்சம் விளையாடுது நித்தம் இசைபாடுது
எங்கும் சுகமானது எங்கள் வசமானது
விழியில் தெரியும் அழகு எதுவும் இனிமேல் நமது
விடியும் வரையில் கொண்டாட்டம் தான்
And the man on the frame, Karthik, glowing with a boyish charm, makes the breakdance seem like a cakewalk. Well, the spotting of a thin, clean-shaven, almost-unrecognisable Prabhu Deva, as one of the back dancers, could be the icing on the cake.
நிலவும் மலரும் செடியும் கொடியும்
கடலும் நதியும் கவிதை சொல்லும்…
The second interlude is something else. It boasts of a sudden deluge of the scat singing technique – a component of classic jazz, where the chorus goes crazy with random wordless vocables and syllables, in a fluctuating melody (2.46 to 3.03). If you thought ARR’s Thee Thee is delectable fusion, this seamless transition from shades of electro-funk to peppy jazz is its undisputed ‘baap’.
இடையும் உடையும் இரண்டும் இன்றி
இடையும் உடையும் உண்டு
மானும் மீனும் இரண்டும் இன்றி
மானும் மீனும் உண்டு…
Raja comes in, again, to toy with your senses with his vocal antithesis of the arrangements.
உள்ளம் அலைபாயுது எண்ணம் அசைபோடுது
கண்கள் வலைவீசுது காதல் விலை பேசுது
விழியில் பொங்கும் அருவி மழலை கொஞ்சும் குருவி
தெருவில் சென்றால் தேரோட்டம் தான்!
And by the time you get around to the closing segment, you figure out why Raja’s music, in addition to being a genre, is an experience of its own – an experience that gives life its multitudinous shades – the absence of which is a painful thing, even to imagine.
PS: All specified time frames are in reference to this remastered audio version:
Here’s the video track: