Ballad of the bands
Young music composers in Mollywood are also making music with their bands
Many leading music directors in Mollywood made waves with their bands and rocked the music scene with their kind of music before heading for tinsel town. But once their film songs hit the charts, rarely do they go back to playing with their band. But some Mollywood composers are now happily juggling their time between tinsel town and their bands. Composers Bijibal, Ratheesh Vega, Alphons Joseph and Bennet Roland Japheth are still making music with their bands.
While Bennet, of the Bennet-Veetrag duo that composed music for Out of Syllabus and Khadama, is a veteran of sorts having launched his ‘Bennet and the Band’ in 1998, Bijibal’s ‘Down 2 Earth’ and Ratheesh’s ‘Ratheesh Vega’s Band Cocktail’ are fairly young. Alphons, whose gospel band Rexband is still going strong, is in high spirits about the launch of his new band.
Having a band means going beyond film music and exploring new genres, they all say. While working within the framework and storyline of a particular film, a composer has limitations. “There was a time when we had a strong music culture that was on track with film music. Like the golden age of the Tharangini cassettes. But film music is considered the last word in the music industry and you are not considered as a successful musician unless you’ve got hit film songs to your credit. However, as a musician I want to showcase the kind of music I love and I’m trying to bring in a music genre that satisfies my creativity and that of the musicians who’ve joined hands with me,” explains Bijibal.
Also, there is something wonderful about performing live, says Alphons. “You are interacting with the audience and that is something special.” Ratheesh agrees.
Each of these bands works around a particular concept. Bennet and the Band’s profile states that their music ‘builds around themes of popular Indian film songs while retaining the room for improvising and demonstrating individual artists’ proficiency on their instruments’. “Our songs, especially film songs, have a blend of different music genres. We rearrange or re-orchestrate songs bringing in these varied styles. For example, songs such as ‘Andhaneram…’ (Vinnai Thandi Varuvaya) and ‘Poo pookum…’ (Minsarakkanavu) fall in the reggae category, the number ‘Aadi vaa kaatee… (Koodevide) is in the country music genre and so on. So, we play those songs in that format. We bring in a celebrity singer and present the songs in the said format, but retain its soul,” says Bennet. He, along with Veetrag, has composed for movies, the latest being August Club.
Ratheesh Vega’s band focusses on “Folk with rock, rock with raga. We play unplugged versions of my songs, along with rearranged presentation of evergreen melodies,” Ratheesh says.
Bijibal’s band’s compositions, he says, “reflect concern for nature and society and even take a dig at our political situation. Also, we present those songs that had a special connect with the music lovers. For instance, songs such as ‘Palerum nadaaya… ( Paleri Manikyam Oru Pathira Kolapathakathinte Katha) and ‘Chembavu…’ ( Salt N Pepper).”
Alphons’ Rexband founded in 1989-90 is known for blending contemporary gospel music with Western music, Hindustani and Carnatic. Regular invitees at the World Youth Day, they are travelling to Brazil next year. “Every year we dedicate at least a month for our rehearsals and come up with new songs,” he says.
These composers have established musicians as their band members. Bennet brings in leading singers and chooses session artistes (they are not permanent members) who are accomplished musicians/percussionists in their own right. Bijibal’s band has five singers other than him – K.J.Chakrapani, Jayaram Renjith (who sung in Da Thadiya), Santhi (Bijibal’s wife), Soumya T.R. (who sang in Arabikkatha, Violin, Apoorvaragam, Ozhimuri) and Swetha Menon. “In the orchestra, there are artistes who work with leading music composers in films and stage events – Mithun R. (guitar), Vijay Jacob (keyboard), John Thomas (drums), Rajesh Cherthala (wind instruments), Kishore N.K. (Indian ethnic percussion) and Ralphin (piano),” he says.
Ratheesh is the lead singer of his band with Bruce Lee (electric guitar), Naveen Kumar (bass guitar), Sam Simon George (keyboard) and Abhishek Ammanath (drums). Playback singer Thulasi Yatheendran also chips in. Ratheesh is all set to perform in Kochi on December 28 and in London and Germany early next year.
Meanwhile Alphons, who is part of A.R.Rahman’s ‘Jai Ho’ world tour, is working on a new band that “would experiment with different music styles. We usually do that in my concerts, be it with Stephen Devassy, Benny Dayal or Balabhaskar. Recently, in Dubai, I jammed with an African band, Anavim and U.S.based- musician, Stan Fortuna.”
Mejo Joseph, who experimented with a new orchestration for his song ‘Etho nira sandhayil’ in Chapters, too is planning to start a band, which “would focus on instruments.” Then there is Avial, alternative Malayalam rock band, which forayed into composing and Rex Vijayan, lead guitarist of the band, who rocked as a composer and playback singer.
The mood is upbeat in the music scene and more is in the offing.