Filmy Ripples- Exotic Instruments in Film music – Part 5 (Final)

By P.V. Gopalakrishnan

In this concluding part on Exotic Instruments in Film Music I wish to share some of my thoughts on our classic numbers in Tamil Film Music from the bygone era, listening to which we get transported back to relive the past!

They make us visualize the mammoth orchestra that went with the recording of many of the classic songs. This in turn trigger our thoughts on those times when these melodies were made. By any count, people mostly agree that these oldies from the world of Indian Film music are indeed a treasure.  The melodies of these songs are as fresh as the morning breeze to us forever. Added to them, the fine lyrics & clear diction of the singers make them so memorable.

This writer has had, during his prime days, the opportunity of witnessing few song recordings, thanks to a peer with connections! Those days were prior to the advent of stereo. The musicians were so cramped in a small recording room. Often the instruments they played on, per se, were hugely cumbersome, whether it is Univox, Double Base, Vibraphone, Piano, Cello, Kettle Drum or Harp. The air-conditioning was mostly absent as they wanted to be free from the noise of room air-conditioners & the central cooling system was not in vogue then. Imagine these very classic melodies, that were made in such less friendly environs, are being crooned out over stereophonic mikes with mixing facilities by today’s participants of TV Reality & stage shows, in the air-conditioned comfort. Whereas those men who played this music in perfect harmony, recorded them so truly sweating them out.

Those were the days, not blessed with digital sound technology. Nor were sound files & bytes known. The recordings were done the hard way. Thanks to the non-advent of track recording, the singers were in full human form & feeling the real music emanating from physically played instruments by a swarm of musicians. This meant a lot of understanding, respect & harmony between the singers & the players. The real human side of the collective music, if you like.

The music so generated also had passion in its roots having been delivered by talented musicians in real time recording situations. These unplugged sounds of the music were pure & original from each instrument, whether wind, brass, string or percussion. These great melodies were captured by “shure” mikes of mono format & made captive in vinyl record discs of those times, in the avatar of LPs & EPs. There were no computer generated beats, no octopus pads & no synthesizers, which today form, at best, poor imitations of the reverberations of the original instruments.

Some of the legends of sixties in the Tamil film music world included doyens like Sabesan (pianist), Raju (mandolin), Henry Daniel (trumpetist), Sudarsanam (flute), Philip (guitarist), Mangalamurthy (accordian), Hanumanthayya (tabla), who were all over the immortal compositions of the duo Viswanathan – Ramamoorthy. These guys were behind each of the old time melodies & many of them have left this world since leaving a huge vacuum!

With limited medium of entertainment (TVs, other recorded devices made advent much later) all ears were glued to those radio sets listening to Radio Ceylon and these musicians lived up to the responsibility of delivering the sole audio entertainment of those days. And they did it with aplomb, in unmatched quality!

Listening to these old melodies bring you nostalgia, laced with a tint of sadness of having lost those days forever in one’s life! A sadness of a like which is as soothing as weeping!!

But, it is unfortunate that these classic film musicians did not directly see themselves in limelight & withered away unacknowledged largely, though Groups like MSV Times bring honor to some of them either live or posthumously.

Now on to discuss the individual musical instruments that played in well known songs.

Dholak is a double sided folk drum, usually played with both hands while positioned on the player’s lap while an iron thumb ring is used to produce a distinctive rim sound as rhythm.

In many old Tamil songs, one used to hear Dholak beats and here is ‘Ullathile uram vendumada’ rendered by A.M.Raja from Vijayapuri Veeran, composed by T.R.Paappa, for your listening pleasure. (1960)

The beautiful duet, ‘Anbu manam kanindha pinne’ (Aalukkoru veedu -1960 Film) too has Dholak percussion through the song.

‘Dafli’, as it is called in Hindi, is a Tambourine, denoting an instrument with a large circular drumhead, on which skin membrane is stretched over the playing area. In Tamil, it is colloquially known as ‘Tape’. In Hindi a full film called ‘Sargam’ was dedicated to it, with Rishi Kapoor as a Dafli player. Here is a popular Tamil song, ‘Ellorum kondaduvom’ by TMS from ‘Pava Mannippu’, composed by MSV-TKR.

The Western Drum Set has also been often used in Indian film music. Here is an instance of its deployment in ‘Kannirendum minna minna’ from ‘Andavan Kattalai’, rendered by P.B.Srinivas & L.R.Easwari. The composers MSV-TKR have used it along with Piano Chords through the song. Mr. Noel Grant was the ace drummer who worked in the orchestra of MSV-TKR.

Snare Drum, which is part of the main Drum Set, is played by striking it with either a drum stick or any other form of beater, including brushes which produce a softer-sounding vibration from the snare wires. Our composers have used Snare Drums in many songs. Here we can hear it in the song ‘Sugam…sugam’ from the film ‘Thangai’  (1967) composed by MSV.

Ghatam is an instrument used in carnatic stream of music & is one of the most ancient percussion instruments of South India. It is a clay pot with a narrow mouth. From where, it slants outwards to form a ridge. Made mainly in Manamadurai (Tamil Nadu) & Devanahalli (Karnataka), of clay with with brass or copper filings along with a small amount of iron filings, it’s a fixed pitched instrument.  It has been made international by the Ghatam Wizard ‘Vikku’ Vinayakaram, who holds even a Grammy Award.

‘Azhagana Ratchasiye’ composed by A.R.Rahmam for the film ‘Muthalvan’ has ample usage of Ghatam. Dr.Karthick has played ghatam for A.R.Rahman in some of his compositions.

Veena is an instrument that relates to historical past, which is used in Carnatic stream. However, artistes like Chittibabu, Parthasarathi & Rajesh Vaidya have done some excellent work, playing for various composers in Tamil films.

We cite here two Tamil film melodies featuring Veena, ‘Sonna sollai nee’ by M.S. Rajeswari, from ‘PeNN’ composed by Sudarsanam & ‘Deviyar iruvar’ from ‘Kalai Koil’ composed by MSV-TKR. The latter film featured copious Veena notes in its songs as well as BGM, as the Hero was shown as a Veena artiste. These were played by the late Veteran Chittibabu, whose disciple is Rajesh Vaidya.

Kalai Koil

Song book of Kalai Koil with the page containing the song DEVIYAR IRUVAR PC: From the archives of TCRC

 

 

Gottu Vadhyam aka Chithra Veena is another traditional string instrument of great antiquity, popular with Carnatic music. This stringed instrument which resembles a Veena, is played by a slide just like a Hawaiian Guitar. Dr. Ravikiran is a well known exponent of the same. There have been few songs using this instrument. The Malayalam song ‘Senthar mizhi’ from ‘Perumazhakalam’, composed by M.Jayachandran features Gottu Vadhyam strains along with Ghatam beats, very creatively.

Piano too has been abundantly used in our films, particularly in South by MSV-TKR. MSV himself was very good at playing Piano. ‘Brindavanamum Nandakumaranum’ (Missiyamma), ‘Pattunro kaetten’ (Pasamalar), ‘Paaduvor padinaal’ (Kannan en kadhalan), Unnai onru ketpen, (Puthiya Paravai) Kannirendum minna minna (Andavan Kattalai), Ellorum nalam vazha (Enga Mama), Enna enna varthaigalo (Vennira Aadai) , Manithan enbavan (Sumai Thangi) , Kannenna Kannenna kalanguthu (Periya idathu peNN).

Vennira adai

Song book of Vennira Aadai with the page containing the song ENNA ENNA VARTHAIGALO  PC: From the archives of TCRC

‘Glockenspiel’ aka ‘bells, as is commonly referred to, is an instrument of German origin, having metal plates or tubes as ‘keys’ and are played by striking upon with hard tippled mallets, thus making it a metallophone. Our South Indian Composers have often used it in their songs, especially MSV-TKR duo. Listen to ‘Muthukkalo kangal’ (Nenjirukkumvarai) or ‘Thookkam kangalai’ (Alayamani) where this instrument makes very delectable notes.

Here is Harry Potter theme played on a Glockenspiel.

Vibraphone is a larger version of a ‘bells’ and has deep resonance of the notes produced which have a tremolo effect. The following video gives an idea of this instruments & its way of playing.

There are plenty of Tamil film songs where they have used this instrument. Here is an instance where Vibraphone has been used, the song being ‘Varathiruppano’ (Pachai Vilakku), rendered by P.Suseela in the composition of MSV-TKR.

 

Pachai Vilakku

Song book of Pachai Vilakku with the page containing the song VARATHIRUPPANO PC: From the archives of TCRC

 

 

 

 

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Filmy Ripples- Exotic Instruments in Film music – Part 1

By P.V. Gopalakrishnan

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.

Univox organ:

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.

 Bagpipes:

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’.

Banjo:

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.

Ennathan nadakkum(Panathottam)

Song book of Pana Thottam with the page containing the song ENNATHAN NADAKKUM NADAKATTUME    PC: From the archives of TCRC

Bongos:

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.

Silai eduthan(Server Sundaram)

Song book of Server Sundaram with the page containing the song SILAI EDUTHAN ORU CHINNA PENNUKKU     PC: From the archives of TCRC

 Castanets:

 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.

Kelvi Piranthathu(Pachai Vilakku)

Song book of Pachai vilakku with the page containing the song KELVI PIRANTHATHU ANDRU     PC: From the archives of TCRC

 Cello:

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.

Guitar:

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.