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AR Rahman’s ‘Rasaali’ (Falcon): A Fly Through

A R Rahman’s latest Tamil song Rasaali is a Sambaar of many influences. Let’s open up the song and see what’s inside.

Updated
Entertainment
3 min read
Sung by Sathyaprakash and Shashaa Tirupathi, this song is from Gautam Vasudev Menon’s yet to release bi-lingual (Tamil/Telugu) <i>Acham Yenbathu Madamayada</i>. (Photo: YouTube)

Composed by the maestro A R Rahman, this song has clocked a little over a million hits. I don’t know if that counts as a ‘viral’ number, but the suggestion to ‘repeat’ and ‘listen again’ at the end of the song seems quite valid.

Rasaali isn’t one song. It’s a Sambaar of sorts, with spices, condiments and additions from Carnatic music and Tamil devotional music. It’s quite a flight of fancy! Let’s fly along!

Carnatic 101 (1:30 – 2:27)

Rahman fuses carnatic music twice in the song. He succeeds once. (Photo: iStock)
Rahman fuses carnatic music twice in the song. He succeeds once. (Photo: iStock)

The first Carnatic infusion comes at around 1:25, when the Khanjira (rhythm instrument) is introduced. And then it moves on to a Carnatic violin solo. You’ll know it when you hear it. This solo is ripped straight off a Navaraga Malika Varnam, which basically means a song composed with not one, but nine Ragas. This Varnam is called the Valachi Vachi Varnam. Valachi Vachi loosely translates to ‘I come out of my love for you’.
Unless you have an ear for Carnatic music, the original composition isn’t an ideal listen. So I’ll let this one be. If you’re like to, check out K Jesudas’ rendition of the Varnam. It’s awesome.

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Carnatic Female Solo / Chinese Connect (3:27 – 4:05)

Every culture is attuned to a specific <i>raga. </i>That Chinese warlord must definitely be playing a <i>varnam in Bhoop raag. </i>(Photo: iStockphoto)
Every culture is attuned to a specific raga. That Chinese warlord must definitely be playing a varnam in Bhoop raag. (Photo: iStockphoto)

Music in every culture has a specific predominant ragam. For example, ragam Sankarabharanam (Shudh Bilawal in Hindustani, I think) dominates western classical music. Its seven notes Do-Re-Mi...are set in this ragam!

In the middle east, it’s mostly Chakravakam (raag Aahir Bhairav), a morning raga. For example, you can sing the Israeli song ‘Hava Nagila’ and ‘Albela Sajan’ (the one in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam) together. And it’ll sound nice! Same raag.

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Similarly, for Chinese or Oriental music, the predominant ragam is Mohanam (Bhoop raag).
Listen to the BGM in Kung Fu Panda or in any of Jackie Chan’s old movies for reference.

And the female solo in this song is the Varnam ‘Ninnu kori...’ (I desire you), set in this Mohana ragam.
The Raagam itself is truly enchanting (that’s what ‘Mohanam’ means). But the Varnam doesn’t really fit into the song. It sounds like it’s just been pasted there.

Instead of getting you to hear the original classical version, here’s a version by Ilayaraja. Incidentally, the song and the singer (Chitra) won the national award way back.

Mani Ratnam. Ilayaraja. Prabhu. Amala Nagarjuna.
...aah!
If you’re an 80s child, this song is your nostalgia fix for the day.

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600 Year Old Devotional Rap Song (2:16 – 3:03)

Tamil language lends itself to alliteration and rhyme. What we call ‘rapping’ has been a part of Tamil poetry and music for centuries. (Photo: iStock)
Tamil language lends itself to alliteration and rhyme. What we call ‘rapping’ has been a part of Tamil poetry and music for centuries. (Photo: iStock)

‘Spoken or chanted rhyming lyrics’
Wikipedia says that’s rapping.

If so, Tamil composers and poets have been doing it for at least 600 years!
The 15th Century Saint Arunagirinathar composed a brilliant anthology of verses in which the words themselves provided the rhythm. It’s sung to tune nowadays. But for me personally, the power, the beauty and the rhythm is all in the words themselves. This is so cool, when you actually try saying word-rhythm to which the song is set:

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Snapshot

tut-tut-ta-na
tut-tut-ta-na
ta-na-ta-na

tut-tut-ta-na
tut-tut-ta-na
ta-na-ta-na

tut-tut-ta-na
tut-tut-ta-na
ta-na-ta-na

ta-na-naa-naa

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Here’s the original composition. It’s six centuries old. But it still packs a punch.

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On a (kinda) Sad Note

A traditional Hindustani or Carnatic music concert lasts for at least four hours. Would you sit through one of those? (Photo: iStock)
A traditional Hindustani or Carnatic music concert lasts for at least four hours. Would you sit through one of those? (Photo: iStock)

I believe none of the folk arts, classical music and dance forms will survive in their original form, mostly for lack of eager patrons. I think this is the scene across the country, and definitely so in Tamil Nadu.

But when these are fused or rehashed into a form that is more palatable to today’s audience (read folks with perennially open logins on social media), it occasionally results in something beautiful and exciting.

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(Vikram Venkateswaran is a freelance writer, TV producer and media consultant. Headings, titles and captions are his kryptonite. He just moved to Chennai and hopes the city likes him and is nice to him.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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