(Krishna Kumar is the new guest blogger at varnachitram.com. He is a final year P.h.D student in Management and is based in Virginia, United States. His music interest stemmed from his training in Carnatic music. He is a voracious listener and is currently learning classical piano. For relaxation purposes he has composed a few tunes – Editor))
If there is one music director about whom I cannot maintain my objectivity, that would be Alphons Joseph (AJ), and I hope you will pardon me for that! Why is it that I cannot lose hope on this wonderful talent?
In a recent web-video interview, Alphons has sung the classic Keranirakalaadum (Jalolsavam, 2004) with just an acoustic guitar. Towards the end, he goes off an alaap on the raaga (Sarasvathy), like a seasoned Carnatic singer. Next, you hear the jazzy number from Manjupoloru Penkutty (Ithile Nee), and then of course, the ground breaking English pop-ballad “Am I dreaming?”.
In my 20-odd years of voracious listening, I haven’t heard an English song composed with such authority and devoid of an Indian-slang, from an Indian composer, including the great A R Rahman (Not to compare Alphons & ARR). It is exactly this versatility in him that gives me some hope about Malayalam film music. Yet, commercially, most of the movies he composed have not fared successfully. Few of his songs, though hits, became so slowly, climbing up the minds of the “hit-hungry” audience. Next let me try to parse out his composing style, assuming there is one.
Unlike music directors such as Sharath, M. Jayachandran, Deepak Dev and Jassie Gift, it could be a challenge to pin down what his “style” or signature is. The former four are instantly recognizable, whereas, Alphons is hardly so. The only songs that “seem” similar in patterns and composing style are: Karinkallil (Vellithira) and Kulirillam Vaazhum (Jalolsavam). I would say, those are the only “genres” where he is “not-so-comfortable”. Generally, his songs could resemble more of a holistic composing style like that of Ouseppachan, Reghukumar, Rajamani or Mohan Sithara than others, who focus on ONE or TWO aspects of a song.
To be more specific, his arrangements are very intricately done and gels with the vocals nicely. To pick one: Hrudayasakhi from Vellithira. The amazing use of chorus and strings just blows me away, each time I hear it! Another aspect of his composing is the use of unique sounds in places where we fail to notice it. Yet, they let us enjoy the song as a whole.
For example, in the song Gaanamaanu Njaan (Iruvttam Manavatty, 2005), just before the first musical interlude, listen to a subtle use of synth voice touching the notes of the raaga as Srinivas and Sujata repeat the first line. Also, note the use of a glassy percussion sound towards the end of the measure (thalavattam). Very nicely done, yet, stays in the background for a first-time listener! Same is the case with the subtle introduction of background strings and bass melodies in Hrudayasakhi or the sprinkling of piano notes/synth sounds/light strings (start of the second interlude) and the double voice-veena follow-up (ending of the first interlude) in Nee Manimukil
From an effort perspective, I read in an interview in Manorama that he went and stayed in Kuttanaadu, interacted with the people to know their culture, values and norms, and then composed Keranirakalaadum. Isn’t it great to hear that from a young composer? Because of this effort, he was blessed with a film critics award for that movie/song.
Why then, has he just composed songs for four movies (except Makalkku in which he scored the background music and the upcoming ones)? Is it just because all of his movies did not do well at the box office? Is it because his songs were bad/not good enough? To be frank, I have no clue. Personally, I did not like his latest release: Iruvattam Manavatty. I also know many people those did not like his compositions in Manjupoloru Penkutty.
One explanation I could come up with is that he might have composed ahead of his own times: How many Jazz/Blues numbers do we have in Malayalam? Another reason could be his tendency to use a lot of western instruments in some songs. A good example is the song Manjupoloru Penkanavu. There are two or three segments in that song where P. Jayachandran takes off on a classical piece. Call me picky, but I would say that too many western instruments maybe, eclipsed that wonderful melody. Or is it a fact (though an uncomfortable one) that movies have to become hits in-order for songs to be noticed? Then, how about Vellithira or Paithrukam?
Now looking towards the future; It seems that the great Raveendran maash commented in an interview that Alphons is one of the guys to be noticed (informally got this information, I maybe wrong). If this information is true, then, there could be good reason why he felt that. Can Alphons or any other upcoming MDs (e.g. Jason J. Nair, Benny Johnson) take over the responsibility of Malayalam music? Only time can tell.