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Santhosh Narayanan Interview: Playing with gaana and symphony- Cinema express

Santhosh Narayanan Interview: Playing with gaana and symphony

Santhosh Narayanan talks about his upcoming concert Sounds of the South, his love for Tamil Independent music, fusing Gaana with symphony, and slipping back into ‘first-time composer’ mode for Dasara

Published: 14th March 2023

While talking about his upcoming concert Sounds of the South in Malaysia on March 18, an ecstatic Santhosh Narayanan almost makes you believe that no other form of performance art could exhilarate an artist as live performance does to a musician. “I love performing on stage and I was a performing musician even before I started doing films. It feels like I’m going back to what I am very much used to. I am pretty excited about this concert.”

But one would think a film music composer, who spends a lot of his time in a recording studio, would feel out of place when suddenly thrust under the blinding lights of the stage. That might be the case for most but this is Santhosh we are talking about. “I have always been explosive even in studio sessions,” he chuckles before continuing, “Before my film career kicked off, for about a decade I was only performing live. I didn’t have the kind of audience I have now but even with fifty people, connecting with them during a live show is a magical thing.”

Santhosh aims to amplify this artist-audience relationship by taking his music to the Tamil diaspora. “Enjoy Enjaami was like opening a door into that world. We are going to follow it up with a lot more independent music projects,” he says. Santhosh believes that discovering new talents and collaborating with them will be the first step in connecting independent music and the Tamil diaspora. “Whenever I do a concert in another country, I would love to collaborate with the local Tamil artists. I scout for the best talents and connect with them. I’ve done that all over Europe, Singapore, USA, and that’s what I did with Malaysia too. You would obviously know Yogi B and Natchatra. There are also a lot of talented, up-and-coming rappers, singers, musicians, and instrumentalists in Malaysia, who will be part of Sounds of the South."

Almost all the top musicians from the Tamil film industry from AR Rahman, Yuvan Shankar Raja, and Harris Jayaraj, to singers like Pradeep Kumar and Sid Sriram, have recently performed live in Malaysia. When asked about this mysterious allure of Malaysia, Santhosh says, “We have extremely supportive audiences over there. Like how Chennai is the hub for cricket, where passionate fans support any team, Malaysia is the same for music.”

Santhosh's concert, Sounds of the South, stems from the composer's desire to express the 'Thamizness in our music.' “Like how there is a popular genre of music called Afrobeat, I want to create a space that lets the global audience enjoy Tamil music.” In fact, the composer asserts that all his shows will be called Sounds of the South. “It's going to be a very energetic, crazy, adrenaline-pumping, and yet fundamentally emotional concert. Some of the best musicians I worked with in my career will be performing live. It will be a celebration of my film songs, folk music, and the independent music of Malaysia. This formula will be applied to my future performances in every region I go to.”

While Santhosh does have a clear-cut plan for the Tamil independent music scene, he also has his hands full with big-ticket film projects like Jigarthanda Double X, Project K, and the upcoming release Dasara, which stars Nani in the lead. With Dasara being a rooted film with a lot of rustic cultural elements, the film offered Santhosh the space for research and experimentation. In fact, Santhosh reveals the extensive research for Dasara went on for a year. “It wasn’t superficial research where I just call someone or spend time with them, I never do that. We worked really hard for this film,” he says.

Dasara is written and directed by debutant Srikanth Odela, and Santhosh is effusive in his praise of the filmmaker. In fact, Santhosh calls him the ‘Mari Selvaraj of Telugu cinema’. “He is very rooted and has a vast knowledge of the region where he comes from. The film is also set in that region. Just like how Mari Selvaraj brought the rootedness of his native in Pariyerum Perumal, Srikanth has done the same for his native in Dasara.” Reminiscing about his working experience with Srikanth, Santhosh says, “I told Srikanth that I would do a demo song for him first before signing the project. I forced myself to become a first-time composer. I pulled myself back to the state I was in while I was composing music for my first film.” Santhosh shares that an outlook like this worked wonders for Dasara. “In that one year, I learned a lot about that culture. Since I did not know the language I was very careful not to misrepresent anything. In Tamil, we take care of sounds so well, and we ensure certain ethnic sounds are not drowned out by other elements. I wanted to do the same in Dasara, and I found people I could trust with for delivering such an output. It was an amazing experience and I am proud to be part of that film.”

Talking about getting back into the mindset of a first-time composer, Santhosh returns to the topic of independent musicians. Ruminating upon the myriad obstacles an independent artist might face when they’re starting out, Santhosh reveals an ambitious plan to help the up-and-comers. “I have started building a recording studio for independent musicians. I am not going to charge them for their first records. I just want to do my part to support them.” He refrains from calling it a record label but goes on to reveal that he is eager to find new talents and mentor them. “I want to help them release their first album. I am doing this to celebrate the Tamil pop cultural change in the indie space.”  

And when we ask if he has planned to work on an independent album himself, he shares an interesting update about his upcoming Gaana album. “I am trying to fuse as many genres as possible for this one. For example, a symphonic choir with a Gaana artist is something we are working on.” Santhosh says that his primary collaborator for that album is Gaana Muthu, who sang Vambula Thumbula in Sarpatta Parambarai. “Different genres authentic-ah irukkum, adhula Gaana-um vandhu edhachu araajagam nadakkum. Like a Drake song with Gaana,” He laughs, leaving us both excited and amused at the thought of a Drake-Gaana.

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