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M Jayachandran: Music is a Universal Language

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By  Sujata Majumdar

One of the most sought after composers in Malayalam films, Jayachandran received the National award last year as best Music Director for the film Ennu Ninte Moideen. A recipient of many more esteemed awards throughout his career for films like Celluloid, Pranayam, Karayilekku Oru Kodal Dooram, Madampi, Nivedyam, Nottam, Perumahakkalam,  Gaurisankaram, etc, Jayachandran has carved a niche for himself in the music industry. His music is distinct and original.  An amalgamation of Indian and western classical, the orchestration of his songs is a delight to the ears. His compositions like “Pattil e Pattil”, “Kathirunnu Kathirunnu” etc, always create ripples among music lovers worldwide.


Q:  Please share something about your growing up with music and your gurus

A:   Both my father and mother were interested in music and they had learnt some music when they were young. My dad was an ardent lover of Carnatic classical music whereas my mother was interested in film music and all the lighter forms of music. They both used to sing as well.  I remember there were nice musical moments when guests would come home and amma (mom) and acchan (dad) would sing together.  As children, I and my chettan (elder brother) 8 yrs elder than me, would curiously look at them and understand the significance of family bonding.  The bond grew stronger due to music.  All the time there was music…. and dad put me under the guidance of my guru Attingal Harihara Iyer. He was the one who took me into the world of music. He used to teach me the sapthaswaras , the janta varishaas and some varnas too of carnatic music. Later I joined my guru Perumbavoor G Raveendranath… where I learnt for 7 to 8 years.  After that I started learning from Neyyatinkara Mohanachandran, a great doyen of carnatic classical music. He knew about 3000 odd krithis.  He was a master at singing rare ragas and krithis. I learnt from him for about 19 years. As far as film music is concerned… my first guru was noted music director M B Sreenivasan… and later on I was fortunate to work with one of the greatest composers of Malayalam music..Shri G Devarajan…whom we used to call Devarajan Master. Eventually I got chance to assist my guru Perumbavoor G Raveendranath in his devotional projects and later in his film music projects as well.

Q:  Why did you choose music as your career despite being an engineering student?

A:  Basically we are a family of engineers.  My dad’s grandfather went to Mumbai and learnt Electrical engineering. His son… my father’s maternal uncle also followed suit. Later my dad did graduation and post graduation in electrical engineering. My elder brother followed his footsteps and joined the college of electrical engineering. He is now the president of Siemens Malaysia. So looking at the family tradition from childhood there was an unwritten format about me to also become an engineer although I was more into music. However, I had no choice but to join engineering. My parents were aware that I was more interested in music but they wanted me to have the degree of engineering as they thought music as a profession was unpredictable and risky. Mainly in those days nobody would think of music being the only profession. In our family we don’t have any musician… or any person from cinema.  So being totally from an engineering background, I almost forced myself to take up engineering. However, when I was studying… my mind /heart /soul was into music… which didn’t allow me to concentrate on engineering. I was going through a lean patch.  I would bunk classes and go to music concerts… I would attend recordings of great masters… also recordings of my gurus… devrajan sir and ravindranath sir.  First I studied in TKM Engineering college , Kollum… then final year I was transferred to Trivandrum eng college where I completed my engineering degree. But eventually my passion (Music) became by profession.

Q:  You were very close to your mother. Tell us about the importance of your amma in your life.

A: Amma was everything to me. She was like a goddess and guardian angel. I remember she used to take to the youth festivals when I was just 8 yrs old. She used to sing lot of songs to me like Que Sara Sara… and many Malayalam and Tamil film songs. She was born in Malaysia.  Until about 21 years she was in Kuala Lumpur. After that she came to India… met my dad and that’s how their marriage happened. Her focus was only on me.  It was her dream that I would grow up to become a great musician one day. She built up the confidence in me and inspired me. Even during times when I went through a dark phase as I wasn’t getting proper opportunities… she would stand by me and told me that there will be a time when everybody would approach me and come to me. She predicted that I shall become a world famous musician one day. I feel whatever I have become are her dreams coming true more than mine… and whatever music  I have… that has been given to me by my parents. Both Amma and Acchan have passed away yet I can feel their presence always. Their blessings are always with me and my family.

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Q: Despite so much influence of western music in the contemporary music scenario you have always maintained your originality and also retained the Indian classical music. Tell us something about this.

A:  I feel Music is a Universal Language. For a musician Religion is also music.  But at the same time Indian music has an unparallel heredity of music. We have the carnatic and Hindustani classical streams which are distinct and pristinely beautiful.  I always feel Indian film music should retain the Indianness. Cinema itself is a western medium but when it comes to Indian films I feel they should retain the Indianness be in the story… music… theme… the way we see the things… etc . In portrayal of music also I feel the Indianness should be there. We must keep rooted. I am a staunch believer of Indian traditions and values. For the themes which require other genres from other parts of the world… should be taken in consideration the way Rd Burman… Illayaraja Sir… A R Rahman have been doing.  Cinema music is an amalgamation of different genres of music but the indianness should be inherent in the music.  I believe and hope to stay this way forever without being carried away by trends that people talk about. I have to compose trendy music  but always see to it that there is indianness in the trends  and not going for just sound of the song.  Most of the people go for sounds.. what sound you use.. what samples you use.. what auto tunes you use….what  engineering  you use. But I think I will keep myself rooted in music… number  1 priority music.. number 2 priority music..and number  3 priority music. So I will stick to it !

Q:   You are a soulful composer. Let us know about your sources of inspiration.

A:  My childhood  idol as a composer was Madan Mohan ji. Even now.. not a day of mine goes when I don’t put myself in the path of at least one song  composed by Madan ji. Even today I heard  “Lag jaa gale”. I always regret not being able to meet him. All his compositions inspire me. I also like the compositions of M B Sreenivasan.. Devarajan master.. Illayaraja sir…  R D Burman.. S D Burman.. Shankar Jaikishan..Vishal Bharadwaj.. Shankar Ehsan Loy , etc.  I am also an ardent follower of western classical music. I look up to mixing up with western harmony in my melodies.. especially in the harmony part or in the orchestration. During the conversation between the song lyrics and orchestra I always use western classical.  I am big fan of Michael Jackson.. Mariah Carey… etc.  As far as music composers are concerned, my idols have been John Williams and James Horner.

Q:  You are a renowned playback singer  as well. Why don’t we hear more of your songs as a playback singer nowadays ?

A: As a child I wanted to become a singer.  Later on when I understood the entire system of playback singing  I found out that singer has many limitations in terms of creativity specially in films. The reason behind this lies in the fact the  whole routine and everything is created by the music director.  The singer has to abide as per the limitations. The tune  itself is a limitation. If the singer becomes creative and  adds  anything of his own which strays out of the  tune, the music director points out that it is not needed. So the creativity much less is far as singing is concerned.  However in a stage concert there is scope for creativity. So I thought I should dwell in creativity so I chose to become composer.  Later on I sang a lot of songs composed by myself in films… but I somehow feel I have limitations as a singer. I feel my sort of singing would suit only some of the genres.  Many producers tell me to sing.. but If I feel the songs are not suitable for my voice I always suggest other singers’ names. This way many songs have gone to other singers.  However, I still do my classical stage concerts and also conduct a lot of star studded stage concerts in India and abroad.

Q:  What do you have to say about the  Auto tune system in recording that is dominating the music scene in current times ?

A: The very grammar of film making have changed through the years. This is different century.  The whole thought process has changed. This change has to be attributed to A R Rahman who brought in a total renaissance in film music.  Auto tune is in connection with changing times.  Now it is about  getting expressions in  a song by microscopically going into each and every phrase of the song. There are  4 / 5 takes…. edits…. some auto tune elements  are added in to the voice to make it sound different.  I am not against this.  I cannot ignore the fact that in the current scenario  the younger generation always looks for something different and trendy. Auto tune makes a machine like sound to the voice which is more mechanical.. less expressive and less human.  So, for expressional songs.. auto tune would be fatal I think.. but for other songs which rely on gimmicks and other technicalities and look up to become smash hits probably with the youth… the trend is of course having auto tuned songs.  Personally  I am not too fond of  auto tune even for pitch correction.. although I have to do it at times. I feel slight imperfections in the pitch will sound human.. that will touch the heart. So auto tune or auto tune type composition is not my forte anyway. However, if there is a requirement in the film and the producer or director asks me to compose a song with auto tuned elements then I do it.


Q: What are your views regarding reality shows. Are they really beneficial for the new singers ?

A: Talking about reality shows.. my memories go back to my childhood when I was a school student and would go for every youth festival to participate in classical and light music competitions. Many a times I won first prize also at various levels. In those times it was rare that your photo  would come in the cover page of any magazine or newspaper even if u won first prize.  But see  where the reality shows have grown today… with so much exposure of talent. This is the main positive aspect of a reality show. With one performance millions of music lovers get to hear and express the joy over the talent.. by voting via sms’s and messages. So there is instant feedback. Moreover, the participant gets overnight fame due to exposure on television channels.  Singers of present generation are  very lucky that they get chance to showcase their talent. However, lot of mediocrity is projected somehow in reality shows. Lot of hype is given to mediocre singing performances… and they choose to say that this is the benchmark as well. So in this regard I feel reality shows are bit negative as well.

Q: How did you feel when you got the prestigious National Award for your song in the film Ennu Ninte Moideen which is based on a true story. Tell us something about the song “Kathirunnu” .

A: I still can’t believe that I received national award for “Kathirunnu”..  I think it as a divine intervention, a gift from god. As far as God is concerned ..it is Krishna for me. Like the sweet music pouring out of the flute of lord Krishna.. the sweet gift has come from him.. the omnipresent Krishna.  I have embedded lot of compositional ornaments in the song.. lot of minute musical creations have happened in the song.. Even the mukhda is pretty long because in the film the heroine Kanchanmala is waiting for the hero Moideen for 10 long years.. so it is also symbolic in the mukhda which is very long to depict the waiting. There is an element of sadness in the tune. The depth had to be portrayed with ample expressions and  lot of  angularity on the notes … including a touch of positivity as the heroine thinks he will come back one day. Rafique Ahmed has written the beautiful lyrics and Shreya ghoshal has done absolute justice to the composition.  My heartfelt gratitude to the director and producer who gave me the wonderful opportunity to score music for the film. There is another tinge of sorrow which I think accentuated the depth of the composition. I had lost my father just few days before I composed the song. The grief of his absence was very fresh in my heart and mind while composing the tune.

Q:  Your recent songs from the film Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumbol starring Mohanal have become very big hits as well. Tell us something about the songs.

A: I am a huge admirer of Mohanlal sir since childhood and his family and my family have had very close relationship since a long time. His parents and my parents have been family friends too. The latest film I did with him is  Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumbol which is a superhit in Kerala. I got to score music for two songs.. one is romantic number sung by Vijay Yesudas and Shreya Ghoshal and the other one sung by Jithin Raj is a typical Kerala style peppy song with ethnic melody and rhythm. It has got a lot of nativity plus it is a fusion of different genres.  It ends in a dance phrase.  I am happy about the songs and the film being a runaway hit already

Q: You recenty received your 7th Kerala State Award for your outstanding music in Kamboji. Tell us something about the music.

A: I consider myself really fortunate to have got a chance to do the music of Kamboji. I always wanted to create  music based for pure Carnatic classical music and other forms like Kathakali Music and Sopanam Music. The journey has been  an experiment of how to connect Carnatic classical, Kathakali music, Sopanam Music with western classical. Especially in the background score, this experiment has worked out very well for the film. There is immense depth in the music.  There is absolutely so space for superficiality.  The music is divine. The divinity of expression is  profound in the songs and the background score. The stalwart singers and musicians of the industry have sung and played for the film. K.S Chitra ji got the Kerala State Award as best female playback singer for my composed song she sung  in Kamboji.

Q:  We know that you are writing a book . Tell us about the same. When is it scheduled to release ?

A:  I am writing a book  on my experiences with my guru.. one of the greatest music composers that Malayalam film industry has ever produced… G Devarajan.. better known as Devarajan Master. I met him for the first time when I was just an engineering student… I had to go through a very hard grind as he was very meticulous with his work. He was very tough and strict. His discipline got me spell bound. All his recordings would start at 9 am sharp.. and all of us would have to be in studio by 8.30 am… anybody coming after 9 am would not be allowed inside the studio. He had his own style of composing music for Malayalam lyrics .. he said Malayalam is such a language that we should really like it.. love it.. and underline the lyrical passages with some soothing and beautiful music. There are many interesting and memorable experiences that I have shared in the book. The book is scheduled to release on 23rd May 2017.

Q: What are your forthcoming projects ?

A: My forthcoming projects are : –

1) Aamy  – directed by Kamal

2) A Mammoothy starrer film directed by Syamdhar

3) Naval the Jewel starring Shweta Mohan

4) Lakshyam – directed by Anzar Khan

5) Another Mohanlal project in the pipeline


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