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Ilaiyaraaja’s Music Journey

by Ilaiyaraaja
I dischi di angelica, Modena, 2005
Audio CD, 76’57", IDA 021, Price: N/A

Reviewed by Stefaan Van Ryssen
Hogeschool Gent
Jan Delvinlaan 115, 9000 Gent, Belgium


With 7000 songs for some 400 films, Alaiyaraaja must be one of the most prolific composers of any time. Even Georg Philipp Telemann who is supposedly the record holder for ‘werkverzeichnis’ numbers didn’t get this far. But then, Telemann didn’t write for the Bollywood movie industry as ‘Maestro A.’ does.

Alaiyaraaja brought a group of 16 experienced musicians to the Teatro Comunale di Modena (Modena City Theatre) on May 14, 2004 to give an event-concert for the 14th edition of Angelica, Festival Internazionale di Musica. The concert was recorded and published by the Festival. An understandable move, if the enthusiastic laughter, shouting and clapping on the CD is genuine. The audience must have loved the music——I’ll explain why——and the semi-ironic comment the composer added himself (in English, but everything is nicely translated in Italian for your pleasure).

So what is Ilayaraaja’s Music Journey about? Nothing. Or, to be more precise, nothing more than any thirteen-in-a-dozen pop album from a moderately successful Western pop group. Except maybe for the virtuoso singing (by A’s daughter Bhavatharini among others), the tabla and violin accompaniment and the clearly Indian (Carnatic) source of the timbre and the melodies.

Of the fourteen tracks on the CD, twelve are absolute jewels of trivial tragic and heroic love songs, extremely well arranged and performed but nothing more. The melodies are smooth, smoother, and smoothest, the arrangements nice, nicer, and nicest: everything is superlative. And so are the flimsyness, the unnecessity and the shallowness.

So what was presumably the point of publishing this CD? We must assume that there is an audience for this kind of crossover. People who are, for whatever reasons, interested in Indian popular culture and who want to get acquainted with the music of one of its most successful exponents. We must also assume that some people may think this is the ultimate fusion between East and West (which in some ways it is, but then only between Western mindlessness and Eastern commercial acuity). And don’t forget the music and even the composer’s name have a nice New Age ring to it!

I can’t help wondering why ReR Megacorp——the distributor of this CD——sent this one to Leonardo Digital Review. This is supposed to be a journal dealing with the crossover of art, science and technology, isn’t it? I can’t imagine they have only seen ‘crossover’ and missed the other keywords . . .



Updated 1st December 2005

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