In this third part on exotic music instruments used in film music in India, we would see few more instruments in this write up.
An unique instrument you used to hear in some songs was ‘Clip Clop’ which essentially had a pair of coconut shells, racing horse-shoe sound when used against a wooden block. In many songs this provided rhythm to the song mimicking the sound by a galloping horse. Listen to ‘Azhagukkum Malarukkum’ from Nenjam Marappathillai in the composition of MSV-TKR.
Then we have the African Drum known as Conga, a tall standing single-headed drum from Cuba, traditionally used in Afro-Cuban genres & Latin music. The film music has routinely used this percussion, to give examples “Vellai pura onru” (Pudhu Kavithai), & “Paadava unthan padalai” (Naan paadum padal), both by Ilayaraja.
Double Bass, an uprightly held huge instrument resembling a giant violin, is played either with a bow or just by plucking the strings. In old Tamil songs these were routinely deployed providing backdrop rhythms as you get to hear in songs such as ‘Envazhvil pudu pathai’ (Bagyalakshmi), ‘Kannale pesi pesi’ (Adutha veettu Penn), ‘Rock n Roll’ (Pathi Bakthi), ‘Padatha pattellam’ (Veera Thirumagan). But you cant hear this instrument distinctly unless you have a quality speaker set to base amplification. However, Double Bass usage in Tamil film music became rare on the advent of the modern Base Guitar.
‘Ek Tara’ (literally meaning ‘Sole string’ is a rhythm instrument, that used to be carried by sadhus to accompany their renderings, but also used in film music. You can catch the plucking sounds of Ek Tara in ‘Pachai maram onru’ (Ramu), & ‘Kasikku pogum sanyasi’ (Chandrodayam), both by MSV-TKR.
Song book of Ramu with the page containing the song PACHAI MARAM ONRU PC: From the archives of TCRC
Harmonica (mouth organ) used to be in some songs like ‘Kalangalil aval vasantham’ (Pava Mannippu) & ‘Pirakkum pothum azhuginraay’ (Kavalai illatha manithan), by MSV-TKR.
Their ensemble had Mr. Sadhan who used to play harmonica.
Harp is a stringed musical instrument that has a number of individual strings running at an angle to its soundboard & the strings are plucked with the fingers. The instrument had great popularity in Europe. In terms of size, while there are smaller harps which can be played on the lap, the larger harps are quite huge & heavy and rest on the floor. The usage of Harp is subtle & is not a main instrument in Tamil songs. You can get the sound bites of a Harp in the opening BGM of ‘Kodi asainthathum’ (Parthal Pasi Theerum) by MSV-TKR . Similarly in A.R.Rahman’s ‘Pudhu Vellai mazhai’
Song book of Parthal Pasi Theerum with the pages containing the song KODI ASAINTHATHUM PC: From the archives of TCRC
‘Gangai nadhi oram’ (Varaprasadam) is another example of Harp usage by Govardhanam.
The young Maegan Pandian is a classical Pedal Harp player & here is a video to get an idea of the instrument.
Kanjira is a hand held percussion instrument used in Carnatic Music & played with the palm and fingers of the right hand, while the left hand supports the drum. The fingertips of the left hand is used to bend the pitch by applying pressure near the outer rim.
There are very few film songs, which have used Kanjira. Two songs come to my mind when we talk of Kanjira. One is, ‘Madhar thammai’ (PeNN) in the voice of T.A.Mothi & music of R.Sudarshanam the other is ‘Jeevan ke har mod pe’ (Joota kahin ka) by R.D.Burman.
Morsing (aka Jaw Harp), used as a percussion in Carnatic besides in Rajasthani folk music, is also prevalent in many world cultures. It consists of a metal ring with two parallel forks which form the frame, and a metal tongue in the middle, between the forks, fixed to the ring at one end and free to vibrate at the other. It is held between teeth & played.
MSV had used in many of his compositions to name a few, ‘Ennai yaar enru’ (Palum Pazhamum), ‘Kadhal kadhal enru’ (Utharavinri Ulee Vaa).
Song book of Palum Pazhamum with the page containing the song ENNAI YAAR ENRU PC: From the archives of TCRC
More in my next on Exotic music instruments used in Indian film music.
If you have found yourself listening to old Tamil film music and felt like you attain absolute ecstasy from the mosaic of sounds that the blend of various musical instruments produced, pleasing your eardrums, we know exactly how you felt!
From traditional Indian instruments to the exotic instruments from various parts of the globe, the music composers of Tamil screen composed their lilting music. In fact, by virtue of music composers like A. R. Rahman having become a global player, such globalization in music has brought some very exotic musical instruments such as Balalaika, Cajon, Harpejji etc to our door step.
The track record of Tamil film music goes much beyond the music directors & playback artistes who literally lived them. The immaculate talents of extremely talented musicians, who never were known to the listeners at large, deserved the credit of the lively compositions we cherish even to-date. The fruits of their creativity is an ever lasting a gift to the current & future generations of music-lovers.
In order that we appreciate those highly talented music makers of the Tamil screen, we must know about the various musical instruments they used in their breezy compositions, under the direction of music directors.
Here in this Article, we will have a ringside view of the various musical cine-orchestral music instruments along with links to videos and songs wherein these were used, particularly in Tamil films till the early seventies. However, we will eschew Accordion since we have already devoted a special Article on that.
In old Tamil films the organs used to produce musical notes similar to the mighty church organs. Since then the organs have gone through a long history of evolving & development resulting in today’s one-man orchestra provided by the modern electronic keyboards.
Listen to ‘Ennai alum Mary matha’ by P.Leela from Missiyamma (1955), in the composition of veteran S. Rajeswara Rao, where the beginning music is of the organ.
These are wind instruments using enclosed reeds, fed from a ‘bag’, which acts as the reservoir of air. The player keeps pumping air orally into the ‘bag’ as he plays. So, the difference between any wind instrument & bagpipe is that unlike the other wind instruments which are blown into with air directly from the player’s lungs, bagpipes receive air first into its bag from where it goes to the pipes. Though Bagpipe is predominantly seen as a Scottish instrument, bagpipes have been played for over a millennium throughout other large parts of the West.
I have not come across a bagpipe being used in any Tamil film songs. Though someone said, it has been used by K.V.Mahadevan in the song ‘Thottu vida thottuvida thodarum’, on a careful listening, I find, the bits resembling Bagpipes are in fact produced by the Organ of those times known as Univox.
As far as my information goes, Bagpipes were used only in the Raj Kapoor film Sangam (Music by Shankar Jaikishen) in the song ‘Bol Radha Bol Sangam’.
A plucked stringed instrument, which originated in Africa & got adopted in the country music of USA. Banjo had not been very widely used in Tamil film music but there are specific songs where this has been used. For instance, MSV-TKR had used Banjo in few of their compositions & the one we have here for citing is ‘Ennathan nadakkum nadakkattume’, from ‘Pana Thottam’ (1963), where the string instrument you hear is a Banjo.
Song book of Pana Thottam with the page containing the song ENNATHAN NADAKKUM NADAKATTUME PC: From the archives of TCRC
These are Afro-Cuban percussion instruments consisting of a pair of small, open bottomed drums of different sizes & played by fingers & palm.
Indian films till the sixties used this percussion instrument very frequently in the compositions. In fact instruments such as Accordion, Bongos & Mandolin ruled the roost In Tamil film compositions prior to seventies but became slowly extinct as there was a paradigm shift to the music genre & compositions. MSV-TKR had used Bongos in very many memorable songs. Ganesh (of Shankar-Ganesh Duo) who was a formidable member of MSV’s orchestra played Bongos.
Some of the songs using Bongos for percussion that deeply rooted in my mind include ‘Ullam enbathu aamai’, ‘Pesuvathu kiliya’, ‘Poga poga theriyum’ & ‘Silai eduthan oru sinna ponnukku’.
Here is ‘Pesuvathu kiliya’ from Deiva Thai, composed by MSV-TKR with the Bongo beats.
In ‘Silai eduthan oru china pennukku’ (Server Sundaram) too you get to hear percussion beats of Bongos.
Song book of Server Sundaram with the page containing the song SILAI EDUTHAN ORU CHINNA PENNUKKU PC: From the archives of TCRC
These are rhythmic percussion instrument comprising of a pair of concave shells joined on one edge by a string, originating from Turkey. O.P.Nayyar had used it often in his compositions. It is a hand held instrument used to produce clicks for rhythmic accents or a ripping or rattling sound consisting of a rapid series of clicks.
Here is a Tamil composition by MSV-TKR in the song ‘Pillaikku thanthai oruvan’ from ‘ Parthal Pasi Theerum’ (1962)., where you can hear the rhythmic wooden clap sounds produced by Castanets.
You can spot castanets in few other Tamil songs too such as ‘Kelvi piranthathu anru’ (Pachai Vilakku), the music director being MSV-TKR.
Song book of Pachai vilakku with the page containing the song KELVI PIRANTHATHU ANDRU PC: From the archives of TCRC
It is a four stringed bass instrument originated from Italy in 17th century, looking like a giant violin (held while playing against the seated cellist and traditionally played with a horsehair bow), has been used routinely in many Tamil Film Songs. However, due to its ‘Bass’ tone structure it has a low tonal registry & may not be heard separately unless played singly in the songs.
In ‘Silar sirippar silar azhuvar’ song from ‘Pava Mannippu’ (1960), composed ny MSV-TKR you can hear Cello.
In ‘Enge nimmadhi’ song (‘Puthiya Paravai’ – 1963) too, one can distinctly hear Cello in the opening music just prior to the vocal of TMS.
A typically six stringed instrument with European roots with a multitude of incarnations from acoustic to electric, has featured commonly in many film songs.
Tamil Cinema has had amazing Guitarists such as Dhanraj Master, Philip, Ilayaraja, Chandrasekhar, Gangai Amaran & R.Visweswaran. Of these, the last named late Visweswaran (husband of danseuse Chithra Visweswaran) was a close friend & college-mate of this writer. Visweswaran himself was an expert Guitarist who could play Flamenco genre music & had played for R.D.Burman.
Veteran Guitarist Philip debuted in the M.K.Radha starred Gemini produced film “Apoorva Sahodarargal’ (1949), introduced by the legendary Music Director S. Rajeswara Rao. Since that Philip had played for K.V. Mahadevan, Viswanathan – Ramamurthy, Sathyam and V. Kumar. Hindi music directors from Bombay such as Hemant Kumar, Madan Mohan, Chitragupta and Ravi wanted Philips to migrate to Mumbai. Philip, an autodidact, now in his eighties, was considered a genius. His guitar pieces were predominant in many Tamil film hits including ‘Aha mella nada mella nada (Pudiya paravai), ‘Vannakili sonna mozhi’ (Deiva Thai), ‘Malar enra mugam onru’ (Kathalikka neramillai), “Aval paranthu ponale’ (Paar magale paar), ‘Avalukkenna Azhagiya mugam’ (Server Sundaram), ‘Anubhavam pudumai’ (Kathalikka neramillai), ‘Aada varalaam’’ (Karuppu Panam).
In an Article by V. Balasubramanian titled “Harmony with strings” in The Hindu dated 27.4.2014, the author wrote “MSV during his heydays was a hard taskmaster who would leave no stone unturned till he gets what he wanted. During a particular recording, that started at 7 a.m, the work went on till next day morning. Philips pleaded with MSV to let him go but in vain. Finally, when it was pack up, Philips had to rush directly from the recording studio to the church where his wedding was to take place.“ This writer has had the opportunity of meeting this genius along with R.Visweswaran in early sixties.
“Ilaiya nila pozhigirathu” (Payanangal Mudivathillai) composed by Ilayaraja & rendered by SPB has ample guitar bits, played by Guitarist Chandrasekhar. As per an Interview by SPB, Ilayaraja had well over twenty retakes to get the Guitarist play those difficult Flamenco Notes to his full satisfaction. The results were obvious in the song!
We will continue discussing more of the exotic musical instruments used in our films in our next posting.