There's more to Harris Jayaraj's music than meets the ear, says T. Krithika Reddy
The drive to Harris Jayaraj's studio in interior K. K. Nagar is a breeze! With his music constantly receiving airplay, the hour-long journey is so filled with the sweet consonance of his songs that I forget the febrile dissonance of our traffic-choked roads. I'm drawn by the sonority of ‘Uyirin Uyirae' (Kaakha Kaakha), caressed by a gentle ‘Nenjukkul Peithidum' (Vaaranam Aayiram) and struck by the aural surprises in ‘Nenjil Nenjil' (upcoming Engeyum Kaadhal).
I tell him I've been listening to the radio all the while, and Harris says with typical simplicity, “Oh, is it? The radio in my car isn't working, and I haven't fixed it!” As the sun plays peek-a-boo over a verdant space in the second floor, Harris opens up on a range of topics.
First things first. Engeyum Kaadhal has already set the tone for another year of musical milestones. “I was a bit reluctant to take it up because we associate Prabhu Deva with action. But when he narrated the story, I realised it was a soft romance with a liberal dose of songs and plenty of opportunities to experiment.” In between trademark guffaws and plenty of “get it?” Harris continues, “Romance is my cup of tea, so I went ahead. People wonder why an English number has been thrown in. But “Bathing At Cannes” has been sung by foreigners in the film. That's not all, 40 French people were used for the ‘Nangaai' track. We've taken a tune from a popular Michael Jackson song because the scene warranted it. My favourite, however, is ‘Thee Illai'.”
Fusion of genres
Harris is back with K. V. Anand, after the success of Ayan, for Ko. Talk about the much-hyped club song in which he also makes an appearance, and Harris gushes, “It's a song that will appeal to youngsters. It fuses R&B, jazz and Andhra folk tunes. The director wanted me in a scene that portrayed a charity event, I relented after much persuasion.” Also in Harris' crammed diary are Murugadoss' 7am Arivu, director Shankar's remake of 3 Idiots and the Hindi remake of Kaakha Kaakha.
A composer who tries to steer clear of inane lyrics, Harris' love affair with the language happened only after he turned composer. “I didn't think of language as anything more than a communication tool. Only during discussions with lyricists did I realise the beauty and intricacies of Tamil. Nowadays, it's become quite painful for the lyricists because I take too much time. Language is about expression, the more you are passionate about it, the better the outcome. And I'm very particular about pronunciation too. We spent nearly five days including four sessions with the chorus to get the word Randakka (Anniyan) right!” Is that why he hesitates to sign up Hindi films? “I don't have the time. Besides, this is my base and I'm not keen on seeking acknowledgement from Bollywood.”
Whether it's ‘Vaseegara' (Minnalae), ‘Oru Maalai' (Ghajini), ‘June Ponal' (Unnalae Unnalae), ‘Ithuthaana' (Saamy), ‘Mudhal Mazhai' (Bheema), ‘Partha Muthal Nalae' (Vetaiyadu Vilayadu), ‘En Anbe' (Sathyam) or ‘Nenje Nenje' (Ayan), we can bob our heads and hum along to Harris' music. “Melody is integral to my work.” There's more to Harris' music than meets the ear. Behind all that charm, it's a mistake to think there's no challenge. There might be a slight techno veneer to some textures, but inherent is the quintessential Harris softness and sweetness. “Having been a keyboard player for several top-notch musicians, I honed my skill pretty well before turning composer. It's important for me to make the voice stand out despite the many instrument options. Technology can complement the voice, not vice versa. If used with restraint, it can help the voice float over delicate textures.”
With Indian music going global, how does Harris handle the challenge of changing audience tastes? “Change is imperative. Today, people can listen to music from South Africa or America soon after it's released. So they are aware of global sounds. My duty is to try something new — but with a touch of local flavour. Unless you can relate to it, there's no soul! Besides, music is best when the composer is passionate about his work and patient to get the best. You have to look for something new all the time. If I'm given the choice to choose between a fresher who ‘sings like' a legend and another with an ordinary voice, but with a different style, I'll go for the second!”
A devout musician, Harris agrees that Gospel music motivated him to think differently. “The essence of Gospel music is worship. Not many composers look beyond that. But to beat the monotony, I used to try something distinct. It taught me to experiment within a structure. Composing comes from the bottom of my heart. When I start, there's a vacuum. Then it simply flows. I believe God creates, I just deliver.”