When melody is lost...

July 25, 2013

Sanjay Subramaniam is one of the Carnatic vocalists I normally like to listen to, very much.

Why “normally”?

Because of the video above. This, to my mind, is a prime example of what can happen when melody and “nidAnam” depart from our music. The song is “unnaiyallAl vErE gathi illai ammA” in the rAgam kalyANi.

Up to past 9 minutes , everything is smooth sailing, the melodious notes flow well, and the mood of the phrase that he has taken up for neraval, the “title” line, which means, “I have no saviour other than you, Mother” is enunciated.

But then, at 10.00, melody and the sweetness is sacrificed for rhythm and “adukku”, and the whole mood of the song, to me at least, is lost.

This is why I listen much more to north Indian music, these days, in preference to Carnatic music. This rattling of the rhythm and need for speed leaves a contemplative mood far behind, and is jarring to my ears.

The burden of this song is beseeching; “I have been acting long enough on the stage of this world, grant me a boon, and let me stop!” Surely, these lyrics set a mood very different from the cacaphonic crash of jathi and tALam, and should not be treated thus.

This is not aimed at one artiste; most singers seem to forget about bhakti, or the majesty that comes with a particular song, and indulge in calisthenics that spoil that mood.And…it’s not just now; I’ve seen such butchering happening amongst singers of the 60’s, 70’s.. since I started listening to Carnatic music, in fact. Sanskrit, Telugu and other language lyrics broken into meaningless phrases…(eg. “kAma krOdhudu”, in “manasu nilpa shaktilEka” by Thyagaraja, truncated to “kAma krO” for kalpanAswaram!)

North Indian music also does have speed and virtuoso displays, but the melody does not seem sacrificed to speed and gymnastics.