WITH MUSIC

Music bends the course of civilizations. Music moves perceptions and changes the course of language. Music starts conversations. With yourself. It reaches deep through your futile sense of understanding and tugs at your heart. And somewhere at the back of your head, the streams of music from your earphones converge, and release clouds of ‘wonder’. And as it grows on you, for those few minutes, your eyes see you. Over the sound of the music, runs a montage of your most vivid imaginations, a roll-out of ‘what-if’s, ‘should have’s, ‘if-only’s and ‘who-am-I’s.

Music stays. Sometimes as silence after the song. Music brings ecstatic rushes of memory to some of those who thought they had lost all of it to age.

Music inspires appreciation – one of the few differentiating features of humanity left.

Music inspires belief, or suspension of belief.

To some, it causes the choreography of a dream, to others; a revision of forgotten ones. You look so beautiful, staring into oblivion, your oblivion – which overflows with wonder, satisfaction and the nonchalant attitude, that the world wouldn’t end if we didn’t pay attention to it for a few minutes, plugged in the earphones and let ourselves loose on a 3-minute trip of freedom.

Baby, you make me sing!

It is amazing how a little human being with tiny feet, pink cheeks and hair like strands of silk, can make a singer out of anyone.

The beauty of singing for a child is in its spontaneity. You have no idea whatsoever of what you’re singing; you just start ‘la-la’ing off to make the baby stop crying. And when it seems to work, when the frown is gone, and the eyes shift focus on to you, or close peacefully in slumber, you suddenly realize that the gibberish you sang was really a tune. And you sing it again and in loop. Right then, at that point, you become a singer. No matter how harsh a voice you think you have, when the baby in your palms will start to cry, you will sing. And that song will be the most beautiful, because you will have no idea of where the song came from, and you will want to sing it again and again, just to re-experience the joy of having relieved the divine little being of its restlessness.

Madhumathiye: When my voice spoke to me

I heard this song from the movie Sakhavu months before it got its final form – and right then, I knew that this was going to be a challenging, but heartfelt song that savors a simple, timeless love story.

What I did not know, was that I had 7 lines to depict all those emotions in. 7 beautiful lines, penned by the brilliant Shabareesh – the lyricist behind the warm and embracing album – Anuraga Karikkin Vellam.

7 lines to depict the elation, the deep admiration and the unbreakable promise that a young revolutionary woman made to her husband, the leader of the revolution.

This was to be the song that, if you looked deep inside, beyond the struggle, the determination, the patriotism, you would find at the bottom of her heart.

And so, I considered this song to be another incredible opportunity to express – little did I know that it would also stir a realization within me.

This song was to be more challenging, because my dear brother wasn’t going to be there to record me. So, of course, there wouldn’t be retakes in 10 different styles, and I wouldn’t know which ones would sound good to his ears.

The first recording was thus, a very nervous and overwhelmed attempt – and my friend and chocolate flavour-enthusiast Shreekumar was the live navigation system for the session. And Prashun was there to remind me to breathe and smile.

We recorded for about 5 hours – with a lunch break and some soul-searching debate around the studio’s snooker table.

Through that session, I learnt that this was something more than a melodious song – it needed more vibrance than that. And a wider vocal range.

But well, as it turned out, it did not fit in with the vision my brother had for this song. And realizing that I probably needed his supervision, he asked if I wanted to come to Kochi to do the re-recording with him.

And there it was – the tough decision. Should I give in to this need for comfort? Or should I go ahead and risk it again, do it without him around?

I stayed and took the risk. A few days later, I was back at the studio, and this time, my recordist was Rahul, the same guy who recorded me for Poyi Maranjo. We had quite a laugh at that time, but that story is for another blog post! This time, it was him and me, no Shreekumar, no Prashun, no Kannetan around.

The session began – and I gave in to my instinctive melody, picturing the love story in my head the whole time. The 7 lines were recorded time and again, since I was my own critic there.

When the lines went higher, my voice spoke to me. Breathe, it said. Don’t be conscious of the note, be conscious of the words and their meaning. Don’t focus on the result of this recording, just let it out and sing!

We recorded for about 2 hours, and at the end, I was really hoping this had worked.

And, as it turns out, it did!

My voice had spoken to me in this song: it had told me secretly to explore my voice more, to forgive myself for all the songs that I won’t end up singing because they are too high or too low, to focus on building with what I have. To spend more time realizing the depths my own craft. And to take a step out of the comforting sun and test the rains for a little while.

This exceptionally beautiful song comes with one great lesson – that vulnerabililty and struggle is not be feared, but to be embraced, and eventually, something beautiful and self-affirming comes out of it! Much like the story that this song depicts. Thank you, Shabareesh, Shreekumar, Prashun, Rahul, Praful and Kannoto for getting those beautiful lines out of me!

And hope all of you, my listeners, enjoy the song!

And the roots danced..

I rode to work in a vintage Indian chariot today.
Or at least, that’s how royal I felt in the cab.

The old cabbie was no extraordinary driver, the cab wasn’t a luxurious sedan, nor was the weather any better than yesterday. Continue reading “And the roots danced..”

The thing about being an artist..

When a bird sings, it doesn’t sing for the advancement of music.

~ Alan Watts

 

Art is pure when it is created to express, rather than impress.

If we can train ourselves to find satisfaction in expression itself, then art is born out of peace of mind, and the sense of wonderment and freedom is never lost.

The Song of the Sufi

A huge, wide center-stage. The faint smell of jasmine and incense wafting in the silent air.
Men dressed in white, wearing white laced-caps, seated in a wide semi-circle.
Each one of them has their eyes closed, and the men in the centre
are seated with instruments before them; a tabla, a harmonium,
and then a couple of singers who hold their heads high and gaze within themselves with closed eyes;
breathing deep, before the first song of prayer and celebration is sung out from the depth of their hearts. Continue reading “The Song of the Sufi”

In 50 words: Post 3: The dripping

An artist struggles all his life to empty himself. To die dry of every trickle of art.

He wastes his many years in synchronizing his feet and heartbeat with the world’s.

The stagnant pool of  art rises, chin-deep, eye-deep, then blinds him and he sees. Inside. And he starts dripping.

This and that, and that

It is good to want less, I’ve heard. Is it also good to want less from yourself?

 

To want to be one thing less, to struggle toward one dream less, to desire to excel in one thing less?

The inner well of self-belief once discovered, is surprisingly deep and unrealistically wide. We make ourselves want to be extraordinary, we make ourselves believe we have purposes to fulfil. In this world of reckless contest, even more so. We want to learn more, be more, do more. We want to get rid of what we have because we believe we want something else.

We burden ourselves with expectations, then push ourselves, often half-heartedly, the other half filled with pressure and uncertainty.

We push ourselves, yet can never be satisfied by the extent of our push, and we push more. And we exhaust before we achieve.

We feel powerless, and think lesser and lesser of ourselves and our life. We start wishing more. And stop appreciating whatever little or much we have.

At the end of the day, no matter what we have done, or how close we have gotten to our goals, we are still dissatisfied. Unhappy with the extent of our achievement. Because it is nothing when compared to what we fancy ourselves achieving.

Why do this to ourselves? Why think lesser and lesser of our life? Why not cut loose a couple of aspirations, why not ease out the pressure we carry day in and day out?

Why not be just a great something, rather than struggle to be a good everything?

Why not hold on to one thing with both arms, rather than spreading ten fingers ten ways, trying to hold ten things?

Why can’t we get rid of the whip of comparison and expectation?

Why can’t we just do one thing at a time, focus on one thing at a time?

Why do we have to think about a car, a home and a bank balance, when we can just choose one of them to start with?

Most of us spend one-third of our day at work. Some of us even two-thirds. Why can’t we just plain focus on the job, and not on some clout of aspirations that you want to fulfil with the money that it will bring you in the next x years? If not, why can’t we just leave the job, and take the plunge into doing the thing we know would be right and best for us?

Why always this and that? Why not just this or just that? At least for now?

My answer to the puzzle

You can either keep doing what you’re good at doing, or you can pick up something you aren’t very good at, and start learning.

Either way, you need to hold your head up high and believe that what you’ve chosen is best for you.

The world around me looks puzzled at my endeavour and asks me, “What are you doing? Why this job, when you should be performing and getting swooned into fame by fans?”

I say, “I’m doing it because I want to stay stable at something. I cannot be a beginner at everything at the same time. And as far as getting famous, or rather, getting swooned into fame is concerned, I don’t want to get ‘swooned’ into anything. I want to walk myself into it, knowing that its the right time and opportunity, knowing who I am and who I want to be, and that nothing or nobody can change that.”

Music without music is still music

My best song, till date, is ‘Solomon Shoshanna’ from the Malayalam film that is making waves all over India, Amen.

For artists of most kinds, it is usually the flaws that they notice in their own performance. And I’m no exception. I used to hear Solomon Shoshanna, and think- well, its just OKAY- I could’ve done this here, maybe sung this way here, and so on.

Weeks later, I heard the final mix along with the teaser video. The music composer had decided to keep it without any music, just the vocals singing the melodic tune, and the background sounds of the sloshing lake water and the singing night insects. Continue reading “Music without music is still music”