From piano to oboe, he has played it all

Raja has worked for more than 400 regional films

Here is one person who fits the dictionary definition of the word `Versatile': M.S.V.Raja or Sax Raja, as he is popularly known in the film circles, is an expert in playing the piano, saxophone, clarinet and oboe.

He is the music composer for Abaavaanan's "Karuppu Roja", the first DTS film in Tamil. In a conversation with S.R. Ashok Kumar, the artist shares his thoughts on today's film music.

For over three decades, Raja has been playing and conducting orchestra for several films.

In the 1970s, he played saxophone for most of the light music groups including Kamesh-Rajamani and A.V.Ramanan's `Musiano'.

Later, he was part of the Ilayaraja's troupe for five years.

He also worked as an assistant to music directors Vijayanand, Hamsalekha, Manoj-Ghyan, Sirpi, Bharadhwaj and Gurukiran. He has worked as a musical arranger for nearly 400 films.

Unique career

Also, the artist is one of the rare oboe players in the country and owes much to A.R. Rahman, who motivated him to learn the instrument.

"Oboe looks similar to shenai, but the sound and playing techniques is much different. It is used for highlighting emotional and sentimental scenes in pictures.

"At present, it is not so popular in India as many are not familiar with it, but it is very popular in European countries."

He played the background score for the signature tune of AVM. "I re-recorded the tune during the 1980's for the company. Before me another person called Meera Bhai had played for the tune," he said.

He holds a Licentiate Degree from the Trinity College of London (LTCL) in saxophone; has passed the associate degree of music (ATCL) in clarinet, VI grade in oboe and V grade in piano. He is presently working for Fellowship degree of music (FTCL).

His teachers are G.Dhanraj (piano) Ganesan (clarinet) Vijayakumar (A student of Lalgudi Jayaraman) and they are teaching him different styles.

In the family

Coming from a family, which has been closely associated with the tinsel world, Raja's father Sellamuthu had worked with late drama tycoon Nawab Rajamiackam Pillai and had tutored late Sivaji Ganesan on acting skills in the `boys company'.

What does he feel about today's film music?

"Today's music is fast and electronic gadgets help us but still it takes longer for composing and mixing notes. In olden days, we could complete the re-recording in 4-5 days. Today, it takes about 10-15 days."

He feels that golden oldies had "soul in their songs and melody... Today emphasis is on rhythm and sound."

"Pronunciation vital"

Having worked for more than 400 regional films, including one Bengali and five Hindi feature films, Raja feels that words and correct pronunciation are a must for songs to reach the people. "Even after 40-50 years, Kannadasan's songs are popular because the words are simple and the tune is so melodious," he says.

Is there a dearth of good lyricists today?

"Today's youngsters are more intelligent and knowledgeable than us. With so much of advancements in the technology we can definitely strive more to give quality music to the masses," Raja concludes.