Naan Ketkadha Padalgal – 10 overlooked/obscure Ilaiyaraja gems

For the longest time, I got introduced to new Ilaiyaraja songs (new as in not heard by me before) through one of three sources – mixtapes compiled by my mother or relatives in Chennai, TV jukebox programs (we had no Tamil radio living in Mumbai) and, later, mp3 collections.  From around 2001 to 2005, mp3 expanded my awareness of Ilaiyaraja’s work like anything (a few I also found on raga.com and the now defunct tamilsongs.net).  After that, the mp3s I found mostly had the same songs and as I got interested in rock and other Western music, I barely added new Raja discoveries other than albums that were being released in this period (2007 onward).

And then, years later, I stumbled upon Ilaiyaraja forums and also met fellow fans on Baradwaj Rangan’s blog.  I also discovered new songs just by way of YouTube suggesting them (thanks YouTube!) to me.  Below is a list of ten such songs that most if not all Raja fans will enjoy and about which many may not be aware of for reason only that he composes humongous amounts of music and some gems unfortunately slip through the cracks and disappear.  Luckily, internet never forgets and that is a good thing in this case!

1. Nalla Neram Neram – Antha Oru Nimidam:  At the Ilaiyaraja masterclass hosted last year by director R Balki at the Goa IFFI, a fan asked about the Kannada version of the song and Raja quickly explained the concept of polymeters in lay terms.  For that reason and multiple time signature changes in just the prelude alone, this one is an absolute goldie and a must listen. Vocals by S Janaki

2. Uruginen – Anne Anne: This one I discovered at mayyam.com which you cannot access now from India at least because DoT has blocked it (don’t ask why!).  A stylish romantic duet that morphs into dance-disco by the end. The evergreen, ever reliable pair of SPB and S Janaki delivering as always on vocals.

3. Kangalukkul Unnai Ezhuthu – Thanthu Vitten Ennai: This one is from the last film of legendary director C V Sridhar (and also happens to be the first starring Vikram, a long, long time before his superstar days).  The song itself, sung by S Janaki, is picturised on Rohini and features a beautiful grahabedam overlaid on a rock-like beat.  The tension built up in the pallavi and released during the raga switch in the charanam has to be seen, or rather heard, to be believed. This and the next one I discovered on Ilayarajaforums.net

4. Adhikalai Neram Kanavil – Naan Sonnathey Sattam: This one is interesting.  Another grahabedam beauty and brought to my attention by Ilayarajaforums.net.  But I HAD heard it before on a compilation…and ignored it. It is easy to, just off the somewhat generic/standard shehnai intro.  The intro gives no indication of the magic that lies ahead.  Hence…never judge a book by its cover or a Raja song by its intro. 😀 One of the few songs where Asha Bhonsle has sung for Raja (along side SPB here) and imo her best one for Raja.

5. Niram Pirithu Parthen – Time: I had heard good things about Time album from Raja fans for a long time and not quite bought into it.  I am still not super-duper fond of Naan Thanga Roja, Thavikkiren or Kadhal Needhana.  It’s better than Kannukkul Nilavu, that I give.  BUT Niram Pirithu Parthen, this one is a gem of the sparsely populated Raja-jazz genre. The melody is beautiful, beautiful, rendered well by Sujatha and the orchestration is out of the world, Raja doing chamber-jazz.  Wish the production was better but if wishes were horses…

6. Day by Day – Honest Raj: Ravi Natarajan, who hosts the rajagenius blogspot, recommended this song during a discussion on Raja-jazz.  Certainly one of his most authentic stabs at jazz.  What is very interesting is how he reconciles the looseness of jazz (captured in the dreamy and contemplative guitar intro) with his trademark staccato approach.  That way, it isn’t really jazz at all but what else should we call it?

7. Illuthu Pothina – Honest Raj: So, the other day, while playing Day by Day, YouTube aiyya suggested this song to me.  I didn’t even realise there is this song as well on Honest Raj. Like the song coming up next in the list, it expertly blends a rural sounding melody with extremely Westernised orchestration.  I want to emphasise here…when I say orchestrate, I only mean something synonymous to arranging.  Not necessary that he is using a big orchestra with strings and woodwinds everywhere.  He’s not on this song.  In fact, the more stripped down arrangement makes the juxtaposition even more interesting.  Sung, however, in a pure Tamil mould by Mano and Janaki.

8. Kaatuley Kamba Kaatuley – Rajakumaran: Brilliant, brilliant duet with similar rustic-Western juxtaposition.  Wasted sadly in a mega flop Prabhu film. SPB rocking it along side long time collaborator Janaki. The keyboard tones make me suspect the looming presence of Karthik Raja in this recording and I miss Viji Manuel’s vintage Fender Rhodes tones but the flute work is very interesting (as on Illuthu Pothina too).

9. Poongatrile – Paatu Paadavaa: Another interesting one. I remember Paatu Paadavaa from school days. My Tamil speaking classmates in suburban Mumbai (and I am talking like 50km from Marine Drive!) knew Iniya Gaanam and Nil Nil Nil.  If you are little younger millennial than me or you were busy with the vagaries of life during the film’s release, you wouldn’t believe it but Nil Nil Nil was a hit and came on TV regularly.  And when Uma Ramanan appeared on Saptaswarangal (remember that one??), she sang this song too to lots of cheering and clapping.  I had also heard Vazhi Vidu and Chinna Kanmanikulle.  BUT, because Poongatrile played during the title credits, it hardly got played at all on TV on disappeared.  Pity because it’s one of his most interesting stabs at an almost pure synth set up and at a sound described, accurately or not, as new age.

10. Kanavil Mithakkum – Eeravizhi Kaviyangal: If you were thinking I was lucky/stud enough to have discovered Eeravizhi Kaviyangal without external assistance, nope, I just reserved the best for last. I could do a whole write up about this utter gem of an album.  And this one, rendered by Yesudas, is one of the most soulful, haunting songs of Raja’s entire, supercalafragi-prolific career.

P.S:  Where I found the song in question uploaded standalone on Ilaiyaraja’s official handle (as opposed to a jukebox of the entire album), I have used it.  For others, in view of the recent situation (needs no explanation if you have been following…), I have only used okie-dokie versions as I would not like the remaining high quality sources to get deleted because I brought them wily-nily to the attention of whoever is managing this on behalf of Ilaiyaraja.  One thing I can say…no matter how much the actions of his handlers may infuriate me or others, we will never, ever fall out with his music.  🙂 A thing of beauty is forever.

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10 Responses to “Naan Ketkadha Padalgal – 10 overlooked/obscure Ilaiyaraja gems”

  1. Suraj Iyer Says:

    The Eera Vizhi Kaaviyangal album is perhaps one of those moments of blinding inspiration that Ilayaraja seems to have changed upon (happens a lot in his case I suppose!). Interestingly, I came across a blogpost by guitar Prasanna where he endeavors to analyze a few of Ilayaraja’s songs and Pazghya Sogangal followed by Kanavil Mithakum happen to make the list. I was extremely abashed for not having heard this swashbuckling stunner of an album earlier. This extremely high estimate of myself as an Ilayaraja fan of the highest order completely scorched and reduced to ashes (LOLZ!!). The other songs on the list are equally scintillating having encountered them almost exclusively on Maha’s channel(OM Shanti).

    • Madan Says:

      Thanks Suraj.

      “This extremely high estimate of myself as an Ilayaraja fan of the highest order completely scorched and reduced to ashes” – Yes, same feelings, lol, when I finally chanced upon Eeravizhi Kaaviyangal. And I hear you about the inspiration too. Raja gets inspired for unremarkable films a lot but sometimes the inspiration simply shoots through the roof. This is one such instance.

      “almost exclusively on Maha’s channel(OM Shanti).” – Seriously man. Yedho, ennadhan nadakkum nadakkatume nu vidavandidhan.

      • Suraj Iyer Says:

        Rant: I was mighty pissed when Navin Mozart’s account was taken down so unceremoniously. It had almost become a perfunctory ritual for me to walk down to my laboratory every morning listening to an Ilayaraja BGM. I woke up one day and tried to play the Netrikann BGM and puff! everything was gone. There are a plethora of channels that remaster old and rare Ilayaraja songs but rarely any that meticulously document and remaster entire background scores. His channel was perhaps the only one that really went full main course as opposed to a tasting menu comprising of a few seconds. The least the official channel could do was to involve dedicated Ilayaraja connoisseurs like him with equal skin in the game as opposed to a blanket embargo on material from alternative sources. Another Youtube channel that went by the name of ‘Balpaki’ was recently terminated for a similar reason. ‘Venkasteshwaran Ganeshan’ and ‘Kader Majee’ escaped retribution by making their Ilayaraja playlists private. I had an entire playlist of rare Ilayaraja songs which seems desolate now and there is absolutely no way to know which songs were deleted. Fortunately, I have about 15 BGM’s stored privately in my hard drive.

        For now, I seem to be vacillating between Glenn Gould’s recordings of Bach’s piano concertos, Clapton solos, and the Ink Spots (all thanks to Shawshank). Let 2020 be formally declared as the worst year of the Millenium. Aah!! Finally vented.

    • Madan Says:

      Suraj: Agreed, Navin Mozart being taken down is the biggest loss of all. The others uploaded songs so at worst, you would have to settle for lower quality uploads. But the meticulously put together compilations of BGMs by Navin, they’re gone! There’s no equivalent to that on the internet. Yes, Raja should have at least made a deal with them, maybe a kind of phased transfer of the videos to the Official Handle. Now the fans are left hanging dry.

      Glenn Gould playing Bach piano, gotta listen, thanks for the heads up. Luckily for me, I have been into Western music for a long time as you can tell from my previous two posts. And just at this moment, I am playing Cathy Dennis’ Am I The Kind of Girl on loop. So the pain is bearable. But still, fuck 2020.

  2. vivaciously_yours Says:

    Nan Ketkadha sila padalgalum 🙂 Nice collection. There were a couple that I listened first time today.. and I own a whole lot of Raja collections.. Thanks! Adhikalai unthan was a frequent one on our radio back then.. I love the Time song, Niram Pirithu, fantastic Jazz composition and yes, completely was able to resonate with your Uma Ramanan comment.. Part of me feels like, the picturization of some of Raja’s song did him some dis-service to the extent of the popularity of the song, take the first song on your list, Nalla Neram, there is so much to learn about music and composition and multiple time signatures from this piece, but I can understand why I have never seen this song as a kid or why it was a re-run in the radios:-)

  3. Venkatesh Says:

    I’m listening back to “Kaatuley Kamba Kaatuley” after 20 years. 🙂 We used to have the audio cassette of Rajakumaran at home. I, too, wasn’t aware of “Izhuthu Potheena”. Picturisation (and mood) wise it’s very similar to “Katti Pudikkattuma”.

    Also, recently discovered “Kelayo Kanna” (Naane Raja Naane Manthiri) and “Un Kanakku dhaan” (Raja Kaiya Vecha). I’ve seen both the films but not sure how I missed them.

    BTW, didn’t know Navin’s channel was taken down. 😦 Was it due to copyright issues?

    • Madan Says:

      Thanks Venkatesh. I don’t think I remember the songs just by the title (Naane Raja/Raja Kaiya Vecha) now that you mentioned them. Happens so often with Raja’s music. He composes too much, haha.

      Yeah, copyright issues, they just took down his whole channel in one go. And they have only uploaded Mouna Ragam BGM on the official handle so fans are left in the lurch. It’s crazy f-ed up, man, why can I hear JW or Morricone BGMs (or Silvestri and so on and so forth) but not Raja BGMs!

  4. adrienne Says:

    adrienne

    Naan Ketkadha Padalgal – 10 overlooked/obscure Ilaiyaraja gems | Pictured life

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