Yuvan Shankar Raja And Ilaiyaraaja: Like Father, Like Son?

On the younger composer’s birthday, a fanciful exercise that wonders if at least one set of “Yuvan songs” is rooted in “Raja songs”.
Yuvan Shankar Raja And Ilaiyaraaja: Like Father, Like Son?

When someone's from a rich family, we say they were born with a silver spoon. Yuvan Shankar Raja, then, was born with a silver tune. It was a house of musical riches. The premise of this article is simple. It's about inheritance. It's about carrying on a tradition, if you will. Even though Yuvan's sound is not exactly the Ilaiyaraaja sound, at least the way we broadly (and reductively) imagine the maestro's defining musical signatures, there's definitely some  sense of a DNA transfer. The thought occurred to me when I was hearing Kadhal un leelaiya, from Japanil Kalyanaraman, after a really long time. I found myself thinking how much like a "Yuvan song" this 1985 number sounded. I thought of High On Love. I thought of Devathaiyai kandaen. A third listen made me think about Munpaniya, from Nandha.

At first, I felt this was simply a function of the brain that takes you on a trip while listening to music. You hear one song, and certain musical phrases (or instrumental stylings) take you to another song… I thought that was what was happening. Later, I wondered if it was the voice: father and son share that tendency to go off-pitch while sustaining a note for a prolonged period, and sometimes, this "ungrammatical" singing almost becomes a style. But now, I'm wondering if it's something of his father's that Yuvan listened to and liked, and decided to take it further in his own way, perhaps even subconsciously. (It's within the same family. It's allowed.) Now, listen to this song: Pangunikkapuram chithiraiye, from Vanna Vanna Pookkal (1992). I can practically imagine Dhanush's face, with Selvaraghavan behind the camera. I can practically imagine a segue to… Thottu thottu pesum thendral!

Let me clarify this: I'm not saying all of Yuvan's songs contain a trace of his father's legendary music. Indeed, you could make the vice-versa case that some of Ilaiyaraaja's songs — post Yuvan Shankar Raja becoming a composer in his own right — actually sound like a "Yuvan song". Prime candidate: Saaindhu saaindhu, from Gautham  Vasudev Menon's Neethane En Ponvasantham. I'm just saying that there may be a pattern match between a few particular strains of a "Yuvan song" and a "Raja song". I think the mix of real/natural and electronic instruments that's common to both composers accentuates this feel. Now, listen to this very unadorned, very real/natural (and very exquisite) song: Vandhaale allippoo, from Kann Sivanthaal Mann Sivakkum (1983). Do you feel Yuvan here, or is it just me?

Why didn't I see these similarities earlier? Or are these less "similarities" than one-off coincidences? (And yes, you could, of course, make a parallel list about "Yuvan songs" that sound nothing like "Raja songs.) But something tells me there's been a bit of unconscious "knowledge transfer", something akin to what Carnatic music calls a bani. A sishya doesn't sing the exact same way his/her guru does, yet listen carefully, and you'll see (or rather, hear) bits and pieces of the knowledge transfer. Only, in this case, the sishya probably didn't have to actually "train". Maybe it was like how it was with Abhimanyu in the Mahabharata. Maybe the music seeped in right from when he was in the womb. Finally, listen to Rim jhim rim jhim from the Hindi film Mahaadev (1989), when Yuvan must have been almost 10 years old.

Are you reminded of Yuvan? Are you reminded specifically of Theendi theendi theeyai mootugiraaye, from Bala (2002)? If yes, it's because the tune is the same in both cases only the instrumentals are different. Maybe this is where a musical detective can point his magnifying glass and say it all began. It's not exactly rocket science. At first, you learn by mimicking the masters or the maestro in this case, who is also your father. And then, your own musical sensibilities begin to spout forth and you branch off into your own tributaries. Yes? I'm not convinced I've made a case that will stand in court, but I'm going to be watching out for more Ilaiyaraaja songs that sound like templates for his son two decades later. It's going to be a fun exercise.

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