Songs from ’80s dominate Ilaiyaraaja show

Superstar composer brings his hits to Bengaluru, and reveals stories behind their making

Songs from the 1980s received the loudest applause at the Ilaiyaraaja concert in Bengaluru on Saturday.

Titled Pallavi Anupallavi, after one of his hit films, the show was held at the Kempegowda International Airport concert arena, a good 40 km from the heart of the city. The distance did not deter his fans: they turned up in large numbers, braving the jams along the way.

The concert began at 7 pm, about an hour late, and went on for a little over three hours. It was dominated by Kannada songs, with a sprinkling of Tamil, Telugu and Hindi numbers.

At many points, Ilaiyaraaja explained the context of his songs. He speaks Kannada, thanks perhaps to his long association with G K Venkatesh, composer of hit Kannada songs. It is now well-known that when Venkatesh was making music for Rajkumar-starrer Sampattige Saval (1974), Ilaiyaraaja pitched for the actor as singer, and the result was the wildly successful ‘Yaare koogaadali.’

Ilaiyaraaja has been mind-bogglingly prolific, scoring music for 1,000-plus films, and creating about 5,000 songs. He began making music for Kannada films in the 1980s, and his big early hits include Geetha (dir Shankar Nag, 1981), Nanna Neenu Gellalaare (dir Vijay , 1981) and Pallavi Anupallavi (1983). Songs from that era have remained popular on radio and with orchestras playing at festival pandals and weddings all across Karnataka.

Joteyali, jote joteyali is undoubtedly the most popular Ilaiyaraaja number in Kannada, and S P Balasubramanyam, who sang it originally for Geetha. It was an excellent rendition, with the soaring live violins adding their bit to the music.

Santoshakke, another song from the same film, brought back memories of the disco era with its thumping beat, Ilaiyaraaja’s trademark funkiness coming through in the synth and electric violin interludes. 

Ilaiyaraaja was outspoken as usual: he gently ticked off a singer who went overboard with sentimentality, and stopped a lyricist about to tell a detailed story about his association with him. When Usha Uthup asked the crowd whether they liked her sari, he took a light-hearted if politically incorrect dig: ‘This is my concert, and she is talking about her sari. Women!’

Usha got to sing two energetic Tamil numbers, the upbeat Vegam vegam (Anjali, 1990) and the rock-and-roll style Rum bum bum arambam (1991), and encouraged the crowd to sing along. She gave the second number, originally sung by K S Chitra, some a couple of distinctly jazz twists.

V Manohar, K Kalyan and Nagendra Prasad, three lyricists, worked on the Kannada words for an Ilaiyaraaja song that uses just three notes (sa, ri and ga). Conventionally, at least five notes are considered essential for a song, but Ilaiyaraaja demonstrated how he had worked with less. 

The singers included Madhu Balakrishnan, who sang Yesudas numbers such as Kavite neenu (Priya, 1979), Mano, who sang Rajkumar numbers such as Nanna neenu gellalaare (Nee Nanna Gellalaare, 1981).

For Bengaluru, the show was notable on at many two counts: it was the first time Ilaiyaraaja and SPB were coming together on stage after their famous spat over copyright. (They performed with another big name, Yesudas, earlier this year, but that was in Chennai).

The orchestra was live, and the focus was on the musicians. Some glitches in sound were evident, but they also underlined the live, and not recorded, nature of the music. By contrast, A R Rahman concerts in Bengaluru have veered towards a pop
presentation, with dancers playing a big part in a slick package.

Story behind hit song

Ilaiyaraaja revealed his conversation with lyricist Chi Udayashankar during the making of the song Kelade nimageega, from the Shankar Nag starrer Geetha. When Ilaiyaraaja hummed the tune, Udayashankar wrote the opening lines ‘Sampige ondooru/Mallige ondooru. (Sampige is a place/Mallige is a place’). Ilaiyaraaja urged him not to be so linear. And that is how the song begins with the lines ‘Kelade nimageega…’ (Don’t you hear it?). The song opened with a description of a girl’s haunting voice emerging from faraway.) After singing the song, SPB praised its structure, saying it was a composer narrating a full story with music.

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