Music

Back with a bang

Viji Manuel. Photo: B. Jothi Ramalingam  

It was a humid Sunday afternoon when I met Viji Manuel, son and student of Handel Manuel, in Kilpauk. He took a while to open the door. “Sorry. I can’t walk fast,” Viji Manuel said with a tinge of sadness. “An accident in 2006, followed by a botched-up operation, threw me out of gear. Thanks to corrective surgery, I am able to walk now,” said Viji Manuel, even as he sat at his keyboard and began to play impressive jazz chords. “The last time I played for a recording was in 2007. I am raring to go,” says the 63-year-old. What a contrast to the Viji Manuel of the 1970s, who was then a suave youngster playing effortlessly on the several keyboards. Viji slipped into a rewind mode. “Having heard of my prowess in bass guitar, drums and keyboards, a rock band from Singapore asked me to join it. I was 17 then. As the first rock organist in India, I toured the country with this group.”

When asked about his foundation in music, Viji said, “I taught myself. My father used to wonder but at the same time, was elated at my talent. I was the first to use Vox Jaguar Rock organ here. In 1971, I won the best drummer prize at the all India contest. My rock band ‘Plastic Glow’ performed regularly at a hotel in Mussourie. Every night, our show ended with my drums solo.”

Viji became nostalgic while talking about his entry into film music. “Well wishers pushed me into film music. I played for the first time for music director Shyam Joseph, as a bass guitarist. I changed the way bass was played till then. It continued with MSV and K.V. Mahadevan before joining G.K. Venkatesh. It was here that I met Ilayaraja as an acoustic guitarist.”

The magic of Ilaiyaraaja

“Breaks were filled with exchanges on music and I made him listen to Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. I influenced Ilayaraja in writing baseline for melodies. I was amazed at his ability for swift western music notations.” He then recalled how music director Govardhan, who had composed songs for the film ‘Varaprasadam,’ asked Raja to do the re-recording. “I still remember the theme music he composed brilliantly alternating between Major 7th chords and Minor 7th chords.” Viji mentioned how Jude David helped him hone his skills in music writing and Govardhan master who taught him jatis, talas and notes writing in Tamil.

What made him take to keyboard playing? “After a few films, Raja asked me to train his brother-in-law Sashi in bass guitar. Once he was ready, I shifted to keyboards. Viji sang the bass portions that he played for ‘Darling Darling’ (Priya), which is close to his heart.

Viji played the theme music for ‘Raja Paarvai.’ “I recall the scene where Kamal plays the violin solo with the piano on arpeggio mode. “It was V.S. Narasimhan on the violin, and me on the keyboards.” “Even while doing live concerts for Raja, I never used to refer to any notes and all that I needed was just the scale. Technology is now playing a greater role in music but the feel is better when you play manually.”

Viji Manuel has composed music for two films ‘Iravu Suriyan’ and ‘Idhaya Vaasal.’ But he didn’t go beyond that. “The unnecessary interference by the producers and directors giving me reference songs for composing shut the door on my creative ability. I called it quits and returned to Raja’s fold,” said Viji. He worked for other music directors too but only when Ilayaraja was out of town.

“When Yuvan Shankar Raja had to leave for London on an urgent work, I did the entire rerecording, upon his request, for ‘Thulluvadho Ilamai,’ which was well received.”

After a hiatus of eight years, he is back in the music arena. “I know it is quite a long gap. It is time I start earning once again.” His current assignments include recording a gospel album. “V.S. Narasimhan is also part of the project that is produced by my friend, John Sudhakar. A.R. Rahman, who has been my admirer right from his childhood, has promised to associate me in his recordings. I will play for others too.”

It is indeed a happy phase for Viji Manuel (Ph: 90032 79972) right now.

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 9:35:02 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music/back-with-a-bang/article6379597.ece

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