Sunday, April 11, 2010

Carnatic Singers and Bharathi

Whenever there is a carnatic vocal recital, especially in USA under the aegis of the numerous Tamil Sangams, we can bet our farm that a song from Bharathi would be sung, mostly towards the end. You can also safely bet that the rendition would be replete with sanskritised pronunciation of Tamil words. Example: Senthamizh would be pronounced Shenthamizh; Selva Kalanjiyam would be 'Shelva Kalanjiyame". There are several dimensions to this.

Bharathi songs became part of a Carnatic vocalist's repertoire in the wake of Dravidian politics that accused Carnatic musicians, mostly Brahmins, as having a step-motherly attitude towards their own mother tongue. There are some safe songs of Bharathi, like "chinnanchiru Kiliye" that are easy to be rendered beautifully. The other most famous song is "alai payuthe" (not by Bharathi). Its the horrendous pronunciation that irks me. Would a Bengali tolerate Tagore's songs being mispronounced? To say well this is just "our" way of pronouncing is sheer insult. If a Chinese opera singer, performing in NYC, is expected to be perfect in pronouncing Italians words I'd expect no less from any so called "doyen of music" who happens to sing in his/her mother tongue.

K.J.Yesudas is famous for mispronouncing Tamil words and completely altering the meaning. The most notorious song is where he sings "theru kovile" (street temple) instead of, as  the words should be sung, "thiru kovile" (sacred temple). KJY, being humble, accepted the mistake and said "well I am a malayalee the lyric writers or the music directors should have corrected it". I am surprised that these self-professed connoisseurs of music think its ok to butcher a language. Where is our Henry Higgins to put these Eliza Doolittle's in their place? The language that they sing in is the language of Kamban, Valluvan, Ilango, Avvaiyar and has a tradition of 2000 years how dare they mutilate such a wonderful language that has so many unique sounding letters, such nuances in inflection that I cannot transliterate in English.

The worst tragedy is when Carnatic singers take on Bharathi's soulful patriotic songs or his plaintive numbers that bemoan his penury and speak of the promise he holds forth. The best rendition of "Nallthor Veenai" is in "Varumayin Niram Sigappu", all else have taken the spirit out of that song. When these preening musicians render Bharathi they focus on "thala","laya","Bhava" etc and the so called "rasika" should be content to say "wah". They can render it in perfect raaga and rhythm but one who fails to convey the agonized spirit of Bharathi completely falls flat. Show me one good recital of "agni Kunju" in the concert halls, who has captured the vivid imagery of "Kaani Nilam vendum", who can make your nerves tingle with "vande mataram", not D.K.Pattammal or MS with their quivering voices complete with phlegm and coughs or UnniKrishnan with his made for romance voice or T.M.Krishna who make a lady's heart flutter with his charisma. The songs in "Yezhavathu Manithan" (especially 'Kakkai siraginile') are good versions. Carnatic musicians due to their illiteracy in the field of composing or 'symphony' (carnatic music is melodic not symphonic) cannot rise to the task of depicting complex Bharathiar songs.

People who come to listen Carnatic music vocal are already well versed in the Telugu Kritis and which is what a vocalist is trained to sing. Let them stick to it. I do not agree with the stupid idea that Carnatic singers should sing in Tamil in order to convey the meaning to a Tamil audience. No opera presentation in NY is diluted with American slangs. If I go to opera I have to study how to appreciate opera, else I should stick to Britney Spears or A.R.Rahman. If I go to see a Beethoven symphony I better be prepared and educated else I should be content with Bruce Springsteen. Carnatic vocalist do a disservice to both their audience and Tamil with these sham performances.

My plea to carnatic musicians is simple: Please, for the sake of Tamil, leave Bharathi alone. Tamil does not need you to sing these like crumbs thrown to us.

A parting thought. Why is it that only Bharathi songs are chosen? Why not any song of Bharathidasan? Is it because Bharathi is a brahmin? I wonder.


Venkata Ramani said...

Your views are Thought provoking. I also wonder why they don't sing other tamil songs by non-brahmin lyricists? There are many such songs like 'Pullanguzhan kodutha..', 'aayarpaadi maaligaiyil', many murugan songs sung by TMS like 'Ullam urugudaiyaa..' and many more. May be since these songs are sung by many in local orchestra or local temple functions, carnatic people think ashame to sing this.

Regarding mispronounciation, Udit Narayanan stands first. Not only killing tamil words, even tamil sentences as well. Read somewhere that he sung 'PIRIYAMAANA ponna kadhalicha thapillai'.. as 'PERIYAMMA ponna kadhalicha thapillai..' See how he has killed tamil culture??

Geethakrishnan said...

Cannot agree more! When did you start listening to Bharathi and Carnatic music? That was a surprise to me, really :)

There are only a few carnatic singers I can listen to: Maharajapuram Sandhanam, Bombay Jayashree and Sudha Ragunathan.

There are few movie singers (whose mother tongue is not Tamil) whose pronunciation is really good. Chitra, Shreya Ghosal (especially munbe vaa song was extremely soothing), SPB are few good examples.

I do agree with that Venkata Ramani (actually you beat me quoting that Periyamma/Piriyama) with the North Indian singers singing tamil movie songs.