The New Language of Music

Tindi or Hamil??? What would you call this language that’s been developed over the past few years? Well, I’m writing about it not because it offends me, but because I think it’s so interesting that we tolerate so much for the sake of music (at least the reason I do)! 

I was listening to this song Mayil iraghe composed by AR Rahman for the movie Ah Aah, sung by Madhushree & Naresh Iyer. The song is quite lovely, Naresh Iyer has a very distinct and great voice, sings beautifully and so does Madhushree. Having said all this, somehow when Madhshree butchers the words, every time she does, I flinch. It’s kind of a reflex! Its not like she doesn’t get just certain words, I don’t think she gets the whole Tamil thing. It takes away all the beauty of song for me just because it doesn’t sound right.  

Another great example would be Sadhana Sargam singing Snegithane from Alaipayuthey. There is no one word in that song I can point to, it’s just the whole Tamil thing that she doesn’t get. The song is so beautiful, so is every other aspect of the movie and video of the song. But somehow, yet again I flinch. Not just this one, every song sung by her. She is an amazing singer no doubt and I love when she sings in Hindi, but is she that absolutely indispensable, enough to sing a language she completely doesn’t get? Don’t we have enough talent in each state to sing their language that they can actually understand and emote?  

Somehow with Sadhana Sargam, Madhushree, Vasundhara Das, Udit Narayan, Kumar Sanu (Worst of the lot!), Sukwindher Singh (can there be a worse than worse?) and more who’re coming in don’t get it. Shreya goshal and Sonu Nigam are the new additions who are not as bad (yet) but time will tell! All of these people are great singers with beautiful voices, but just stick with what you can pronounce is what I say. 

I listen to songs in quite a few languages Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada. I understand all these languages except Kannada. There is lot of cross-pollination singing amongst many of these languages. The popular Telugu singers SPB, Janaki, Susheela, Mano and Swarnalatha and the malayalee ones Chitra, Unni menon, Unni Krishnan, KJ Yesudas, Madhu Balakrishnan, SreeKumar and many other singers from all over the place have been singing Tamil songs for decades. Why is it when all these artists sing, there isn’t this problem of language?

Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle are a seperate kind. Asha Bhosle sang Shenbagame, a genius compostion by Illaiyaraja and Konja Neram also a good song in Chandramukhi by Vidyasagar. Why aren’t there any flinching moments in Shenbagame and many bad pronunciations in Konja Neram?? The legendary Lata Mangeshkar sang Valai Osai in the movie Sathya composed by Illaiyaraja. The words are a tongue twister! She sings it as authentic as it gets!  A recent example would be the song Isayil Thodangudhamma sung by Ajay Chakraborthy, for the movie Hey Ram composed by the definition of genius, Illaiyaraja. If you haven’t heard the song, you’re missing out on just pure music. His voice is as unique as it can get and there are no words to describe the way he sings or what the song emotes. Its just pure divinity. 

This to me proves that the music directors these days don’t strive for enough perfection from the singers. It has become very ‘old school’ and just plain old to ask for perfection. The new trend for Music directors is to be ‘cool and hip’ by letting their singers improvise do things their way( unsupervised or unnoticed).  Or it could be just that these days the producers call all the shots and control the quality of music and want this kind of lackluster performance. Either way, we are getting the bad end of the bargain.  

These days I crave for the ideal song which has a beautiful tune and meaningful lyrics sung by singers who know, understand and emote what they are singing. This was not too rare even a decade ago. I think the last time I was satisfied by a great song was surely more than 5 years ago. I’m still waiting for the next ‘perfect’ song to come by……

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9 Responses

  1. The problem goes like this. Someone has to teach/extract something from you. If the person who does that is not master of the language – there is no way it will be the best. We can talk as much as we want about the death of tamil – but lets be honest – not even 15% of people in tamiZHnadu can pronounce la, La, zha correctly, same with na, Na – and so on. As much as we want to love and retain the tamil we know, it has to start with education ! – most teachers can’t pronounce it right !

    🙂 The post was so logical and coherent till the point you connected the free reign of ‘improvisation’ that singers get to pronounciation ! That is an unbelievable connection. Even SPB gets to improvise, so does Asha, so why is there no horrible pronounciation there 🙂 ?

    I think you meant to say, in the name of improvisation, the music directors are less attentive to detail, that’ll be more like it – even then, the MD oks what he likes.

  2. Well, frankly I dont care about how the people in Tamil nadu are now speaking, I dont speak with them or watch their TV. My passion is music and hence I wrote about it when I noticed this trend . But yes, I do agree the problem is bigger and that overall everywhere in TN it has become fashionable to speak bad tamil. Then again, Tamilians speaking bad tamil does not warrant these Music Directors to conciously bring in people who are Worst at pronouncing the words right.

    My problem is that pronouncing words right in a song has now become irrelevant and it does not count towards determining quality. And in my opinion it does. Thats all 🙂

    And Yes, I do agree with you that SPB and other famous ones improvise as well. But I know for a fact that the Improvisation was monitored closely by the music director(who wanted perfection) If the improv does not work for the MD, it was called off. These days I think that doesnt happen all that much because, most of the times the singers have much more experience/seniority than the Music Director himself/herself !!!!

  3. Also to add, reading this back, I realize it was just a wrong flow of words in this blog that connected improvisation to pronunciation. Will get that corrected…What I meant to say was Improvisation done badly and pronunciation done badly are both two mistakes being overlooked by MD’s these days that brings the quality down.

  4. not that am a jingoist…but the truth of the matter is, none of the blockbuster singers in tfm industry was a ‘tamilian’..

    be it TMS, Susheela, AMRaja, Jikki, Leela, PBS, SPB, Janaki, Chitra, Jesudos, Hariharan – now, may be Srini and Anuradha Sriram can be given that recognition i guess !

  5. “A recent example would be the song Isayil Thodangudhamma sung by Ajay Chakraborthy, for the movie Hey Ram composed by the definition of genius, Illaiyaraja. If you haven’t heard the song, you’re missing out on just pure music. His voice is as unique as it can get and there are no words to describe the way he sings or what the song emotes. Its just pure divinity. ”

    cannot agree more..perfectly said! and surprisingly not a lot of my friends like this song… maybe it is not too ‘hip’ and only totally drips of musical genius…

  6. Not a lot of people I know appreciate this song to the extent to which it needs to be recognized either. I always wonder why …

    They all like it, they think its a great song, but I say its not just great, it’s the absolute definition and textbook for phenomenal music.

    Glad you feel the same way too!

  7. great to see one more person who shares my frustration hearing such miserable pronounciation of the language. but I don’t quite agree to your point on Asha Bonsle’s pronounciation. She is also a butcher. Shenbagame, Engenge and Yamunai aatrile will have been even better renditions had a Janaki or Chitra handled those.

  8. I think tindi and hamil are going to be how things are in future, post-modern (were we ever modern?) , beloved India. Isnt it a reflection of times ? Bangy is full of hindi speaking folks. Delhi has areas just for tamil and telugu populations. And North Indian folks wince(correct spelling ?) when they hear southies speak Hindi.
    However in the movies quoted above I agree that the characters really were not cross cultural ones which demanded a cross-cultural accent. It would have been great if that was the case.(and the few cross cultural desi movies cud have used such pollination). I think Raja and Rehman (with all my due respects to both masters) at one point were so big that their songs demanded a separate identity within the films they did – did they consequently flip out instead of staying within the necessities of the movie ? and of course when a guy puts in like 20-150 crores into a movie he will pull out all stops to make it sell – including using irrelevant accents if need be…nice topic to think about ! well done SR…

  9. Roy, that was a well articulated comment. Thanks for that.

    I do agree that times have changed and tindi and hamil are now part of and a reflection of “mordern” India.

    I think for me, having gown up in a more “developing and upcoming” India and now looking back at the exponential change, it sometimes is hard to keep up to speed or wrap my head around all this change.

    To me music is all about the emotion, understanding and passion combined with the tune, lyric and other technicalities. I don’t hear the first three things in any songs these days.

    This new cross lingual, irrelevant and butchered accents which is now all the rage and money maker is one I’m still trying to understand. Not sure if I ever will, or most times I think I’m glad I don’t understand.

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