Cheer for Chennai’s musicians: How Tamil independent music is on the right track

Tamil independent music takes centre stage this year, as a bright young crop of musicians create and perform their own work, encouraged by growing audiences

December 08, 2022 12:12 pm | Updated 01:10 pm IST

Singer Pradeep Kumar

Singer Pradeep Kumar

The performance space at DakshinaChitra, located in Chennai’s ECR, is lit up. As the sea breeze amps up the nip in the air, MS Krsna begins to strum his guitar.

The performance is as engaging as it is unique. He chats about the number of dosas that he thinks his grandmother would have made in her lifetime, before musically segueing to ‘Paati Un Vazhayile’, a quirky Tamil song. Moments later, he is urging the crowd to croon ‘Odathey Oliyathey’, a peppy independent track of his that premiered in the metaverse earlier this year. Later, popular singer Pradeep Kumar and city-based band Oxygen take the stage, much to the delight of a clearly rapt audience.

Watch | Singer Pradeep Kumar

The entire evening packed a musical punch — without featuring even a single film track. Moving away from chartbusting numbers that have film stars shaking a leg, Chennai’s audiences are increasingly giving a big thumbs up to Tamil independent musicians and their original tracks.

“2022 has been the year that really reaped the benefits of the seeds sown in the last 10 years for independent music. People understand when you say you are an independent musician and the five-minute explainer we have has come down,” laughs singer-songwriter MS Krsna, who also got a big break this year in Tamil film music with a song in the Pa Ranjith-directed Natchathiram Nagargiradhu.

Tamil independent musician MS Krsna during a concert at Chennai’s Dakshina Chitra

Tamil independent musician MS Krsna during a concert at Chennai’s Dakshina Chitra

He has his work in the independent music scene to thank for that opportunity. “It is also a reference point to understand all the skill sets you have to offer; for instance, composer Tenma asked me to ‘mouth trumpet’ in my film song, based on what I did it in my independent track, ‘Maranthathey’.”

Realising that audiences for indie Tamil music are growing, organisers are encouraging this trend. The Madras Commune is one among them. Their recent Follow the Sound concert, despite being held more than an hour’s drive from Chennai at ECR, saw about 250 Chennaiites in attendance. “That so many people dig independent music is a sign of the times — and a healthy one at that,” says Kashyap, who founded The Madras Commune along with his singer-wife, Maalavika Sundar. Maalavika, an established Carnatic and film singer, is also putting a lot of effort into this space: her gig next weekend at Phoenix MarketCity will feature a number of her independent songs, including ‘Vaa Sakhi’ and ‘Nee Ennai Vittu Poga’.

Singer Maalavika Sundar

Singer Maalavika Sundar

The period during the lockdown saw many movie releases being stalled, and that, in turn, gave a fillip to independent music. A trend that kickstarted with 2021’s superhit ‘Enjoy Enjaami’ spilt over to this year too; many music artistes had their independent tracks out, most notably AR Rahman’s ‘Moopilla Thamizhe Thaaye’. “Mainstream artists are also making independent music, which is a good sign for artists and audiences alike,” states Padmanabhan NS, head of Artist and Label Partnerships, Spotify India. “As a genre, hip-hop is faring well in Malayalam and Kannada, while folk is popular among Tamil music listeners.”

While HipHop Tamizha and Santhosh Dayanidhi are among the most popular with their independent tracks, other artistes who have consistently released Tamil independent songs include Stephen Zechariah, Vaisagh and Anivee. Adds Padmanabhan, “We are educating artists to deliver the content at least two weeks before the release date which will help the algorithm serve the content to more audiences with similar listening behaviour. We are also seeing a re-emergence of music videos with high production value creating an initial push for independent music.”

He is probably referring to songs like ‘Edhuvum Kedaikalana’, which has already clocked 13 million views just on YouTube since its release in October. Put together by Think Indie, which strives to create an equal space for independent musicians, ‘Edhuvum Kedaikalana’ — a song that features colourful costumes and is shot on a grand scale — had music by ‘Vibester’ Vaisagh. It also has a film industry connection: it was directed and choreographed by Sandy, and launched by Prabhudeva.

Music composer Devi Sri Prasad and Kamal Haasan

Music composer Devi Sri Prasad and Kamal Haasan

The Tamil film industry might not be the biggest cheerleader for the independent music cause, but there is some backing. Like from actor Kamal Haasan, for instance, who launched composer Devi Sri Prasad’s independent track, ‘O Penne’, a couple of months ago. Kamal commented then, “Movie albums always keep music directors confined to certain norms and traits, while independent songs give them the freedom to explore their potential beyond regular paradigms. I always desire the music industry must emerge as a larger market than the movie industry.”

As with many Kamal Haasan prophecies that have come true, independent musicians might just be looking forward too to this, in the near future.

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