Playback singing with a special touch

September 24, 2015, Chennai

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Playback singing with a special touchThe idea of ‘arranged music’ came to India along with films.


After all, films had to have a  background score; and grander the movie, grander the score.

One marvels the singers of the yesteryears, who could sing ‘live’ along with the entire orchestra and get the entire song recorded in a ‘straight take’, after a few rehearsals. The caliber of the accompanying instrumentalists also had to be pretty high.

Then came track recording where the music was recorded separately and the voice was overlaid on top of it.

In an orchestral setting, instrumentalists are required to play what the composer/arranger required them to.

The singer needs to do the same, yet being at the helm of affairs, and mouthing lyrics, has to bring something more into the song.

Thus we had TM Sounderarajan sounding like Sivaji Ganesan in one song and like MGR in another in the 60s and the 70s. His mode of expression, articulation and delivery was different depending on the artist that he sang for.

In the 80s, Artists such as SPB brought in a new dimension to the idea of a playback singer’s personal touch.

The young tenor of the aayiram nilave vaa days deepened into a vibrant rich voice with a wide range; SPB is known for the subtle touches that he adds when he sings.

The nuances that SPB brought in through his dry chuckle just prior to the word ‘parihaasam’ in the song ‘panivizhum malarvanam’ in ‘ninaivellaam nitya’ is in total contrast to his choked voice in ‘vaigaraiyil vaigai karaiyil’ in the chartbuster payanangal mudivatillai (both from the same time period) have left people prompting for repeat renditions in live performances.

Who can fail to appreciate his histrionics in the composition 'sippi irukkudu' where the sense of 'arpuda rasam' is brought in his singing of 'mayakkam tandadu yaar' or his astonishment with the spoken word 'ammadiyo'.

Similar examples abound  in Asha Bhonsle’s rendition of RD Burman’s compositions.

It is these subtle personal touches that lend immortality to songs.

About the author

Kanniks Kannikeswaran
www.kanniks.com