It’s My Personal Belief That Lyrics Drive A Song Forward: Santhosh Narayanan

“Dhanush provided unofficial musical supervision for the album of Jagame Thandhiram,” says the composer.
It’s My Personal Belief That Lyrics Drive A Song Forward: Santhosh Narayanan

Santhosh Narayanan who produced 'Enjoy Enjaami' (with more than 260 million views on YouTube and a remix by DJ Snake), talks about how Dhanush provided unofficial musical supervision in Jagame Thandhiram, how he came up with the word 'rakita' and why Ilaiyaraaja's 'Shenbagame' is one his greatest inspirations. Edited Excerpts…

 'Rakita Rakita Rakita' was the first song released from Jagame Thandhiram. Usually the rhythm is vocalized as 'takita' but how did you come up with this?

This is a great question. When I worked with Mari Selvaraj I had a chance to get into the usage of words and understand their sounds. There's a parai maker called JK whom I met and he taught me about this. For example, janja-nakka janakku-nakka is a well known rhythm and there's a reason why specific sounds are used to vocalize that beat. Actually, a phrase in 'Manjanathi Puranam' from Karnan inspired me to use 'rakita'. 

Dhanush has a fantastic ear for music. There's always something unique and catchy, be it 'Kolaveri' or 'Rowdy Baby'. What did he contribute to the music of Jagame Thandhiram?

Dhanush would deny it, but he was of great support in finalizing what went into the album of Jagame Thandhiram. Except maybe, 'Rakita Rakita Rakita', he okayed the songs after hearing them. If I really like an idea, I'd send it to him on WhatsApp. He would never tell me if it's good or bad. But he would definitely react if he liked it. That's something I observed in him. If there's no reply, I'd change the idea. So, without knowing it, he has done the supervision of this album.

He showed me the 'Rowdy Baby' song after it was recorded. It was so thoughtful of him to have me hear it. I told him that it was amazing and would be a big hit. He had a knack for identifying that. It's a magical power. And he's one of the big reasons for how the album has shaped up. It's a collaboration of many musical supervisors. Karthik Subbaraj is one of the best in the world for suggesting where a score should start and end or where it could be placed. I've always asked him to learn music. I'd like to see his compositions, something in the Clint Eastwood space. 

It seems like you make a conscious effort not to disturb the lyrics of the song with the music. Is this conscious?

There are two answers to this. It's not like I shouldn't disturb it. I always feel like, with the right mix, many elements can be happening at the same time in the song. For example, 'Evano Oruvan' from Alaipayuthey made more sense in the film when it was placed along with the dialogues. It's my personal belief that the lyric drives the song forward. If you want, you can have a score without lyrics, of course. So, I have a philosophy, for myself, that the lyrics drive the song. 

At the same time, I don't feel like the music shouldn't overcome the lyrics. I've done songs where the vocals are very low.

Every music director has a signature. By now, I can say that a song sounds like a Santhosh Narayanan song, even though you might not have made it. The lines in 'Aasai Oru Pulveli' from Attakathi seem like they're connected to each other, but the line that begins with 'aagayam' soon after shifts almost to a different scale. Even 'Naan Nee' from Madras has unexpected melodic lines…

The inspiration for that is Ilaiyaraaja's 'Shenbagame' in the charanam. We used to really enjoy the transition back to the pallavi. It is one of my best moments in Tamil film music and I've tried to draw inspiration from that and the examples you cite are my failed attempts to do that.

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