The 2019 Jukebox: Young blood, fresh tunes
We take stock of the music scene in 2019 Tamil cinema, the trends, highs, lows and also who walked away with the spotlight
I am not a huge fan of year-ender lists. It is because I feel, at most times, we compare apples with oranges. And with music, it’s only even more so. How do I compare a Pularaadha to, say, a Verithanam? The purpose of each song is different and the experiences they create are worlds apart. Does that make one song better than the other? It would have to be a choice of which world, created by which song, you want to be part of at a given point of time. Thus, when I was asked to write about the music of 2019, I was determined that it would not be a comparison of songs, but rather, a compilation of the worlds I loved being in, and a thank you note to the people who created it.
It has been quite the year for relatively younger names in the industry, the ones who haven’t quite made it into the A-list yet, but are making their mark with a solid dose of fresh, addictive music. Leading this list, for me, would be Justin Prabhakaran, Darbuka Siva, and Sean Roldan. I've always been a fan of Justin's quiet, minimalist melodies, and he had quite the landmark year with Dear Comrade, which is a beautiful marriage of classic sounds with processed ones. Every song from the album is a beauty — be it the dreamy Pularaadha or the lilting Gira Gira or the charming Aagasa Veedu Kattum.
Another favourite album of this year would be Darbuka Siva’s Enai Noki Paayum Thota. In contrast to Justin’s love for solid sounds, Darbuka whips up 50 shades of trance in this album that refuses to lose its allure. The young composer beautifully captures the various moods of love and the euphoria it brings, from the breathless Naan Pizhaipeno, the foot-tapping Thirudaadhe, the soulful Hey Nijame, the saccharine Visiri, to the centrepiece, Maruvarthai. It’s beautiful how Darbuka has reimagined the mood we usually associate with the situations. For example, a Visiri would be the usual ‘newly-in-love’ song. But instead, we get Hey Nijame that reflects the depth in their exploration of love. And would anyone imagine a song like Maruvaarthai to be a lullaby? It’s unusual, yet magically fits.
And then there’s Sean Roldan with Mehendi Circus — another magnificent album and also a terrific soundtrack. Sean literally pulls off a circus with his music, creating a memorable mosaic of music — the folksy Vellattu Kannazhagi, the pathos of Kodi Aruvi, and the very Raja-esque Love Polladhadhu (Brownie points for his indie-single, Romba Kadupethara, which is quite a lot of fun.)
2019 had several songs that were quite interesting, even if the entire album might have not worked wonders. Sam CS had a busy but sketchy year. Yet, he gave us the edgy Kannama from Ispade Rajavum Irudhaya Raaniyum and the spirited Kanne Kanne from Ayogya. Also a busy year for Ghibran who had five releases in Tamil. I loved the quaint Neeyagave from House Owner which deserves a lot more love. And then there’s the famous Thaarame from Kadaram Kondan. I also quite enjoyed his indie single, Nee Ilama Naa Onume Ila. Govind Vasantha, who might not have been able to recreate his 96 success, gave the very underrated Vaa Vaa Penne from Uriyadi 2 and Thalelo from Thambi. And there’s D Imman, giving us Kannana Kanne (Viswasam), Alanguruvigala (Bakrid), and the insanely catchy Gummuru Tappuru (Namma Veetu Pillai). A special shout out to Tenma’s Maavuliyo Maavuli (Gundu), Arun Raj’s Inaye (Thadam), and Shabir’s Yaayum (Sagaa).
However, it is Anirudh Ravichander who has had the most interesting year. While the composer started off with a bang in Petta, it's his work as a singer that I want to draw attention to. With more than 10 songs added to his discography in 2019, the composer-singer has really worked the magic with his baritone. Aside from his songs from Petta, there’s Marakavillaye (Jersey), Gaandakannazhagi (Namma Veetu Pillai), Takkunu Takkunu (Mr Local), and Kannama. I don’t remember the last time a music director has sung so much for other composers.
But the voice of the year is, without any question, Sid Sriram. The singer has belted out back-to-back chartbusters and even made unconventional songs like Lesa Valichuda (Jasmine) into earworms with some genuinely soulful singing. And to top it all, he also made his composing debut with Vaanam Kottatum and gave Kannu Thangom. Sid Sriram’s presence pervades 2019 Tamil film music.
I missed Pradeep Kumar’s earthy voice this year as he mostly focused on composing (Aadai, Sillu Karupetti), with the mellifluous Agam Thaanai being the happy exception.
It was quite a mixed year for the big names though. After a beautiful start with Sarvam Thala Mayam, I didn’t care much for AR Rahman’s Bigil. Yes, Verithanam was fun, but our man has enchanted for so many years that one expects more from him. If the songs are chartbusters, it only speaks to how he can give decent music when he doesn’t even really try. Yuvan Shankar Raja, meanwhile, gave us Anbe Peranbe in NGK (the visuals ruined the song for me though) and Nenje Unakaga (Sindhubaadh). GV Prakash Kumar made a return to scoring with the haunting Asuran soundtrack. Harris Jeyaraj gave us Dev, which was right up the composer’s alley. And even the maestro Ilaiyaraja made a comeback to the mainstream with Pycho’s Unna Nenachu. But, one can’t deny that the stage belonged to the young blood this year.
However, the most important trend this year for me is the increase in the number of films without songs. There’s Super Deluxe (Yuvan Shankar Raja really nailed the score of this one), Game Over (Ron Ethan Yohann), Kaithi (Sam CS), Kalavu (KS Sundaramoorthy, who also gave the lovely Meghadhootham from Airaa), All these soundtracks were effective, giving a huge boost to the narrative. This is a trend that I am quite looking forward to as it would mean that Tamil music can stem off to be a separate art form that would prove to be financially viable on its own. Just imagine what our composers could come up with outside the five-song trajectory of our films and their situations? That’s what I look forward to in 2020.