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Heavy challenges that light music troupes face

S. Aishwarya
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It's hard to play new songs, as they have multi-layers of digital music

Sincere attempt: Light music troupes try to do justice to digitally enriched film songs. — File Photo
Sincere attempt: Light music troupes try to do justice to digitally enriched film songs. — File Photo

Next to food and hospitality, it is the quality of the light music performances that come under close scrutiny of the guests at weddings. From loud music to the out-of-tune orchestra, every slip-up in the performance can dampen the celebration.

While obliging to impromptu song requests is a routine for light music troupes, many are increasingly finding it difficult to perform new songs to perfection as the originals are padded with layers of digital music. “Simulating the original is a challenge nowadays, especially when playing for a large audience. We could see the disappointment on their faces, but we are helpless,” says V. J. Suresh, a drummer and band leader of Bharati Entertainer.

The digitally mastered tracks used in recent film songs are irreproducible manually as each track has multiple layers. “As a result, popularity of many traditional instruments, particularly acoustic drums is on the decline. They were used extensively in the past in film songs. The drum rhythms that we are now listening to are not the acoustic drums but the software-generated music,” he adds.

Towards confronting the challenge, many light music troupes are purchasing ‘minus one' digital tracks, sourced from the music directors for the background scores. The recorded tracks not only simulate the original but also substitute for the instrumentalists during live performances.

“Worst still, some troupes pick readymade song tracks online, which do not have much quality but the sound is as good as the original. There have been instances where orchestras are kept as dummies on stage, while the digitally recorded tracks and the singers do the job. Audience usually are not aware of this,” explains a freelance light music singer.

A.V.Ramanan, a noted light music performer and proprietor of Musiano, calls the trend “unhealthy.” According to him, “manual performance still holds charm, though, unfortunately, many audiences fail to appreciate its value. Even for a digitally enriched song, one could still have a manual performance without marring its spirit. There is no need for flawlessly duplicating the original. We could be innovators and not mere copiers,” he says.

If the background music is heavy with digital layers, he suggests that the performers could tone it down and still retain the essence of the song. “What is important is to have a conscience and avoid using digital tracks during live performances.”

Indian instruments such as tabla are the worst hit. For a city that is teeming with 500 professional tabla players, there are no enough opportunities even for a dozen players in a year, according to K.S.Rajagopal, a tabla player and co-owner of Sai Raja Orchestra.

“Light music orchestras are doing away with tabla players. Most of the songs are now totally Westernised with no scope for tabla. Also, keyboards and drum pads have tabla-like beats. Where is the need for them to hire tabla players?” he says.

Pointing to classical numbers from films such as ‘Paasa Malar' and ‘Paava Manippu,' Mr.Rajagopal says that was a time when music directors used a right mix of Indian and Western instruments, thereby giving chance to many instrumentalists.

But musicians such as R.Selvaraj, a cello and double bass player, have learnt to go with the stride. “Manual performances are the best, no doubt. But they have become unfeasible and unaffordable for troupes. Some digital tunes cannot be avoided during live performances. They enhance the listening experience for the audience.”

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