A voice like SPB: How his work influenced singers

Meet MJ Shriram and ‘Mouna Raagam’ Murali, whose singing careers have a close connection with late singer SP Balasubrahmanyam’s body of work

Updated - September 30, 2020 01:22 pm IST

Published - September 28, 2020 04:51 pm IST

A file photo of SP Balasubrahmanyam with MJ Shriram and MS Viswanathan during the 100th show of ‘Mind, Body and Soul’

A file photo of SP Balasubrahmanyam with MJ Shriram and MS Viswanathan during the 100th show of ‘Mind, Body and Soul’

The songs of SP Balasubrahmanyam have had a big impact on fans.

They have had a bigger impact on some singers, who modelled their careers on the work of the late musical legend. Here are two such artistes, whose voices fans often describe as similar to SPB’s himself:

MJ Shriram: Live and direct

There are SPB fans, and there are SPB devotees. Singer MJ Shriram belongs to the latter category.

Shriram is well known in Chennai for hosting a show titled ‘Mind, Body and Soul’ that celebrates two musical icons: SPB and Ilaiyaraaja. Held every Thursday night at the Black & White Resto Bar at The Residency, the retro musical night has completed 550-plus weeks and is a big hit among fans of Tamil cinema.

Through the COVID-19 pandemic period, MJ Shriram continued to dish out songs through social media.

Shriram starts the programme every evening with the popular ‘Ithu Oru Ponmalai Pozhudu’, but there is nothing else that is set in stone about the proceedings. “I do not prepare anything. I take requests and keep shuffling between the many songs of SPB for various composers,” says Shriram, who chooses from a collection of 1,200 numbers for his performances.

The singer considers it a blessing that there have been regular patrons for the show. Even celebrities like Suhasini Mani Ratnam, Dharani and other musicians have attended the shows. “They are able to connect with those SPB songs through my voice rather than sitting at homelistening to the numbers. That is a big blessing,” says Shriram.

SP Balasubrahmanyam himself was very fond of this Retro Night; he was present in person for all its milestone weeks. “He often complimented me for singing for hours continuously in a pub,” recalls Shriram, who has been singing in pubs since 1994, “He will always be my guru, and all I would want to do is follow his footsteps.” 

‘Mouna Raagam’ Murali: A fan remembers

‘Mouna Raagam’ Murali’s orchestra did 78 shows with SP Balasubrahmanyam in the last 12 years, the highest that any musical band did with the maestro. With him on stage, Murali never sang SPB songs. “When the original is present, how can I dare?,” he would tell the audience. Today, he is unable to fathom what made him break the rule just two months ago.

Through the lockdown, Murali has been streaming live musical programmes for two hours daily on Facebook. To mark the 100th day, on July 18, he invited SPB, who willingly offered to come to the studio. While SPB sang from his playlist, Murali rendered ‘Iru Manam Konda’ from Avargal . “Before starting, I told him this was the first and the last time I was singing his song in front of him. He gave a thumbs up and even corrected and appreciated my rendition. But I never imagined my words would turn true in this manner,” he says, in a voice choked with emotion after returning from SPB’s funeral on Saturday afternoon.

Now, Murali has decided to sing only SPB songs for all his live shows hereafter. “I will vigorously plan more shows and sing Balu sir’s devotional songs as a tribute to the man who treated me as family and showered so much love on me,” he says.

A seven-minute song penned and composed by Murali for the Tamil Nadu Police department highlighting their work in a positive way was scheduled to be recorded in SPB’s voice. “But destiny has thrust it upon me; I will sing it now.”

SPB’s last stage show was with Murali’s Mouna Raagam orchestra on January 26 in Madurai and the last public show as well on July 18. “After that, he went to Hyderabad on July 27 for three days for a recording and a week later fell ill,” he says.

With the show ‘Romantic SPB’ on February 14, 2008, the association between the two started and strengthened over the years. “Every alternate month, I planned a live show with him and we travelled all over the world. He always appreciated my orchestra for using less instruments but each playing to perfection.”

In the initial years, Murali would prepare a song list of 25 and SPB would select 15 for the three-hour live on-stage. But as their understanding and fondness grew, Murali would select exactly 15 songs, including many of his rare gems, and SPB gracefully obliged. “After every programme, he would send a laudatory voice note,” says Murali.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.