G. Venugopal is an Indian playback singer, who has completed more than 25 years in the film music industry, predominantly in Kerala, where he has won three “Best Playback Singer” awards. One of the finest light music artists the state has produced, he is also on the forefront of a movement that fuses music and contemporary Malayalam poetry.
On this blog, the gifted musician, whose name is synonymous with melody, discusses music, culture and society, among other topics. To listen to his songs, visit his website. Please send us your
It is hard to exaggerate what Yesudas has meant to the Malayalam film industry, where his voice has reigned supreme for half a century, carrying on its supple wings the dreams and aspirations of the Malayalees.
Years have come and gone. So have musicians of all hues and shades. The popular music revolution of the '50s that continued unto the late'80s is a thing of the past. But in Kerala, Yesudas has remained the monarch of all he surveyed, forever defining the popular light music culture and defying the years.
No performer carries on forever as numero uno, and, for the same reason, Yesudas’ feat probably has no parallel in any popular art form.
Yesudas came to the fore when a social revolution, in the form communism, was sweeping at the roots of centuries old decadence in Kerala. There was total jubilation and all-round optimism that the state was poised for a big leap.
Any reformative movement will have its own share of artists and romanticists. In the 1950s, dramas and songs of the Kerala People's Arts Club — better known as KPAC — were part of the communist movement bandwagon. Soon after the Communist Party of India came to power in the state through a democratic election, its architects opted for a better market, the cinema, to spread its message.
The Malayalam cine music field would soon witness a rare collection of fabulous talents such as poets and lyricists Vayalar Ramavarma, P. Bhaskaran and O.N.V. Kurup, and composer G. Devarajan. The common denominator in all their musical permutations was Yesudas, whose voice gave wings to their lines and notations.
A movie song is always made for a situation. And it can only be as good as the situation demands. Yet, in our movies, whether they are in a language spoken by millions, such as Hindi, Marathi, Tamil and Telugu, or in a language of the very few like Bhojpuri, the Indian film song has transcended minds and ages, and cut across cultures.
We grow up breathing, lusting, loving and losing, and playing and meditating through film songs. What makes a movie song so popular is that an average Indian can seldom think of a single situation in life without a movie song lingering at the background of his memory.
If you look at the popular music culture of India, you cannot divest it from the visual evolution. Films and music have hitched on to the Indian psyche like stars to the sky. (Here I am, a singer from one of the regional languages like Malayalam trying to figure out where the "singer" stands in this great cultural carnival!)
The lyricist, the composer and the singer are like the three compartments of a train driven by the engine, which in this case is the director of the movie. All the cars of the train are tethered to and complement each other. There is no independent existence for any one compartment.
Yet, in the case of movie industry, the singer comes to be called the "performer," whereas the other two, the lyricist and the composer are in the exalted category called the "creators!"
Why is it so?
Singers, for long, were confined to singing the nuances and curves set by the composers, and to the lyric, set by the lyricist. These days, it is the tune, lyrics and the song.
Most of the old-time classicists, those great doyens of composing, never allowed the singer a free reign. The singers who existed then were few, but they were titans. Respect for the singer was in the "mute" mode in the creators' mind, till the song was recorded.
Alas, the problem was once the so-called song escaped from the creators' hands, it was like the Frankenstein monster set free! The voice swayed. It seduced. Listeners became mere slaves. And the song was just Mohamed Rafi, Talat Mehmood, Mukesh, Yesudas, Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhonsle.
Much to the chagrin of the composer and the lyricist, "their" songs sail on the wings of a voice, never to return!
The animosity of the "creators" for the "performers" in the film field is an open secret.
As a singer, completing his 27th year in this cut-throat industry, I am still searching to find answers to the question, "Why does the voice hold sway?"
-- Posted on November 08, 2011
Vidhyarambam at Thunchanparambu
Vidhyarambam is a hugely important ritual in Kerala that initiates a child to the world of letters and the ceremony falls on the Vijayadashemi day. The Vidhyarambam at Thunchanparambu, the house of Thunchathu Ezhuthachan, the father of Malayalam language, has a special meaning for Malayalees.
This year, yours truly was invited to inaugurate the Vidhayarambam Kalolsavam at Thunchanparambu. The great MT Vasudevan Nair presided over the event, which was held on October 3rd.
Personally, sharing the stage with MT, an iconic writer whose works have influenced generations, was a great experience for me.
MT is the patron of the Thunchanparambu Ezhuthachan Smarakam (Memorial), a cutural stop for lietrary enthusiasts. It was an invitation from him that landed me there. The writer, winner of the Jnanpith in 1995, presides over the "ezhuthiniruthu," or the initiation ceremony, there on Vidyarambham day every year.
-- Posted on October 15, 2011
A tribute to Johnson Master
If you haven't seen my piece on Johnson Master, which was published in the New Indian Express and the International Business Times, it is here.
Posted on October 15, 2011
Gone with the tune...
Music was a natural part of our home environment. It was a koottukudumbom, where we all lived in a large ancestral house. My grandfather, Parur T.N. Kumara Pillai was the karanavar, or the head of the house. My mother’s elder sisters, Saradamony and Radhamony, were once popular Carnatic musicians, known as Parur sisters.
It was Radhamony aunt who instilled the basic lessons of music into me. I would love to listen to her singing at our pooja room with her Tambura. As a token of good behaviour, she would give 10 minutes of strumming the tambura to me.
And towards the end of her practice, she would hum a rag, and ask me to identify a movie song in the same rag. She would help me with this quiz, and the next day, would painstakingly teach the well-notated song with lyrics.
Those days, radio was the only medium of music. There was radio and then a huge imagination!
The radio was the most prized possession in a household. (I am talking of the early’60s.) Invariably the radio would be on a high pedestal, so that small kids cannot tamper with it.
I would climb onto a high stool, swing my short chubby legs down and listen to Talat Mehmood, Rafi, Mukesh and the tender youthful divine voice of our own Dasettan wafting around our living room!
What did I think then? If only I can travel in a time machine back to that age of innocence!
When I hear those songs now, the technologies not yet solid, the recording amateurish, but glorious lyrics and out-of-the-world voices! What have we got now? Advancement in technology. But how come we lost our sense of beauty? The aesthetics? Will those golden times come again?
Or are they all the daydreams of a failed romanticist? (Posted on August 14, 2011)