Santhosh Narayanan on his ‘Sounds of the South’ tour and the magic of live music

The music composer also talks about his experiments with folk music, on collaborating with Pa Ranjith again, and hints that he has been working on a film that is by far the biggest to come out of India

March 01, 2023 04:03 pm | Updated 04:40 pm IST

Santhosh Narayanan

Santhosh Narayanan | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Santhosh Narayanan is happy. Apart from the exciting film and indie projects he is involved in, there is something else that he is eagerly awaiting; something he has been craving to do for a long time — performing live. “I used to perform a lot before but once I started doing films, work took all my time. I’ve been wanting to get back to live music because even while making a song, I would think of how I can perform it in front of an audience,” he says.

On March 18, Santhosh will perform at the Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; the concert will be the first in his new music tour titled Sounds of the South.

Santhosh Narayanan

Santhosh Narayanan | Photo Credit: Arun Titan Studio (Special Arrangement)

“A live performance has its own magic,” he says. “You connect better with the listeners. It creates a vibe and brings out a musical element that a closed space may not offer. When we were rehearsing for shows, we realised that some of the songs sounded better than the original versions.”

The revival of the live music scene after the pandemic-hit years is a big boon for both audiences and musicians, he adds. “Concerts these days are booked out and you can see how excited these performers get before a show. Sometimes it’s even hard to put together a team since everyone’s busy these days — that’s a great problem to have. And a packed auditorium has always guaranteed a surreal experience for the audience as well.”

Santhosh sees another silver lining in what happened to music during the pandemic: “There was a lot of soul-searching that made people rediscover music and discover new talent.” The ‘vibe’ trend on Instagram is an example of this. “Even some of my older film songs that had gone unnoticed were rediscovered by people. It was that love we got from audiences that kept us going during the pandemic.” And, as he says, a lot of the songs of Santhosh that got newfound love were sung by Pradeep Kumar, who he lauds as one of the best in the country. “When people shared film songs that Pradeep and I actually did for our personal satisfaction, it felt heartwarming. In fact, Pradeep and I never worried about the short-term success of a song, so this was a reassurance.”

Santhosh Narayanan

Santhosh Narayanan | Photo Credit: Arun Titan Studio (Special Arrangement)

In this concert, Santhosh wants to perform some personal favourites; however, he stresses that the show is not going to be just about his film songs. “I also want to showcase all the folk music talent with whom I have worked in my movies.” That’s why the show is called “Sounds of the South, and not Santhosh Narayanan Live. In fact, I want to retain Sounds of the South as the name of my tour henceforth,” he says.

Santhosh has been experimenting with folk instruments, the parai specifically. He recalls a surreal experience when he curated the inaugural event of this year’s Chennai Sangamam - Namma Ooru Thiruvizha — Tamil Nadu Government’s cultural festival, which featured over 600 folk musicians. “When 70 folk musicians play together, it feels like thunder hitting you.”

We are taking this forward in my shows also since we are including many folk elements.” More than documenting art forms like Parai, which has a vast history, Santhosh is interested in making them more mainstream and modern. “It’s about adding modern sounds to it, see how we can present Parai authentically, and make it entertaining to the audience.”

Whenever we speak of more representation of indigenous art forms, the idea it seems is to garner more attention; but is this working? “Pop culture is about how art is consumed, and when we remove all hatred and make pure art, it works.” He cites the love that his Gaana music for 2012’s Attakathi got as an example. “It was then that I realised the love people have for Gaana; there was respect already, but when we present something well, it gets respect and love across religion, caste, creed, and gender,” he says, adding that making such music for big stars like Rajinikanth is a way to make people realise the value of our roots.

Santhosh Narayanan

Santhosh Narayanan | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

On the film music side, Santhosh has a string of projects, starting with his first straight Telugu project, Dasara, starring Nani and directed by Srikanth Odela. Santhosh says he finds a lot of similarities in the way Srikanth and Tamil filmmaker Mari Selvaraj approach filmmaking. “Tamil cinema has had many filmmakers who present raw art forms on screen, from Balu Mahendra to Vetri Maaran and Ranjith. While there have been a few such directors in Telugu, it’s still uncommon. And Srikanth is going to crack that space wide open,” he believes.

He is also scoring the music for Venkatesh’s Saindhav. In Tamil, he has Mari’s Vaazhai and Karthik Subbaraj’s Jigarthanda: Double X. The latter is a sequel to 2014’s Jigarthanda, a benchmark film for both Santhosh and Karthick, and Santhosh says that the duo agreed to approach it the way they did in 2014, “with a clean slate.”

This should keep Santhosh fans happy since the composer has not featured in many mainstream big-ticket films in the last two years. “I have been working for over two years on a yet-to-be-announced project; it is by far the biggest film coming out of India,” is all he’s willing to say on that. Apart from that and a Tamil indie project, he’s also doing collaborations with artists across the world. And, can fans expect a collaboration with Pa Ranjith again? “Definitely. Ranjith is one of the best directors to come out of the country in the last decade and there will be many collaborations with him in the near future.”

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