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Tunes for all seasons
Engineer turned music composer M Jayachandran has learnt the art of balancing popular music with a connoisseur's selection. One fetches him instant fame, the other lasting satisfaction. Rajeev Nair met him in Dubai

M Jayachandran had a bubbly enthusiasm as a graduate student. He was also deeply passionate about music, which was noticed by acclaimed music composer MB Sreenivasan (MBS).
Jayachandran became one of 62 students hand-picked for the first Kerala University Music Choir led by MBS. Since then, the other members have taken many routes — some married film stars, others do office work, a few slog in Dubai, a handful struggle to sustain the legacy of the MBS Choir.
Jayachandran continued to sing. And make music.
Now, a Kerala state award, a Filmfare award and at least 15 other recognitions later, Jayachandran does one thing that helped him mature as a musician: Listen to World Music.
That perhaps explains the eclectic sounds, tunes and melodies he creates. He is at home in foot-tapping racy beats (Pineapple penne, Komalavalli), in novel sounds (Chakkarmavinte kombathirikkana), sweet melody (Kallayi kadavathe, Chentharmizhi, Manikkuyile) and soulful compositions (Akale, Raakili than, Innaleyente..)
Jayachandran mesmerised Malayalam film audiences to such an extent that at one point last year, virtually all the film chart-busters were his compositions.
Jayachandran has been a familiar face for television audiences presenting a Carnatic classical music-based show. He also made a mark in the non-film circuit with Ormaykkayi, a music album that triggered countless clones.
The music composer was in Dubai for a show that showcased the heritage of Malayalam music as well as paid tribute to composer Ravindran. Excerpts from an interview:

As a popular music composer, do you feel you are being too prolific for your own good?
In the film industry, when you are busy, you are too busy. But it hasn't affected me much. Firstly, the films I did were of different genres and naturally their musical base was different. Secondly, I continue to be a music student, listening to and learning from World Music. The more I learn, the easier it is to compose.

You are a hard-core classical musician, one not expected to dabble in playback singing and music. Aren't you diluting your core capabilities by moving over to films?
I agree that film music is not a classical art but my grooming has been under two legendary masters, Devarajan and MB Sreenivasan, who saw playback music from two different lights. According to Devarajan master, film songs must be so simple that the moment you walk out of the theatre, at least one song must follow you. MBS' music, on the other hand, was very music-oriented, full of expressions. By training under them, I can simplify or strengthen songs as the situations demand. I get equal satisfaction from composing film songs as well as doing classical concerts. And with film songs, there is the satisfaction of actually creating music.

But when you do a Pineapple Penne or a Komalavalli, aren't you compromising on your own learning? Don't you feel bad about that?
No, I don't feel bad. This is my job. And there is no job that gives 100 per cent contentment. Every job has its negatives and positives, and these are perhaps my negatives. But these days, I enjoy doing such songs too because when you work on them constantly, you crack their formula, and the process becomes easy.

But what is the challenge in doing songs of the same genre, of the same style?
That is where exposure to World Music comes handy. This is especially true of foot-tapping songs, where you must create new sounds for racy numbers. I particularly like the African rhythms — there are many innovative touches in their music.

Was that an obvious influence in the songs for Athbhuthadweepu?
Yes, no doubt. World Music has been my primary inspiration. I should thank my brother for that. Wherever he travels, he picks up the native music. He gifts them to me, and also sees to it that I listen to them. He is responsible in shaping my musical inclinations.

Are today's achievements what you dreamt when you decided to make music your career?
Certainly. Music for films like Perumazhakaalam, Akale and Balettan is precisely the sort that I had wanted to do. I have always wanted to do original, innovative music. But often, as film music composers, we are dictated terms, and forced to go by trends.

But then why not make your own music, your own albums that bring out what you truly want to do?
I am working on two projects now. One is to bring out the romantic poetry of accomplished poets like Changampuzha employing good orchestration. The other is to showcase the entire Geetha Govindam. I am leaning Sanskrit to understand the nuances of the work. I want to make it a truly international project.

You are credited with having introduced quite a number of newcomers to Malayalam playback singing. Considering that you too are rather new to the field, wasn't it a risk?
It was but I believe in promoting genuine talent. Take Madhu Balakrishnan, for example. He is one of the few singers in Malayalam who has this thrithrayee shaareeram (the ability to sing three octaves easily). What he needs is the right training and a good composer, and with experience, he could become the best around. I am not into filmy politics, nor am I bothered about cliques. My criteria for selection is talent based. Some of them have succeeded, a few others have not been noticed because their films didn't do well. My father always used to say that you can keep aside talent for some time but you can never suppress it.

Critics have pointed out rare instances of plagiarism in your songs. The Balettan number is a Ra Ra Rasputin rip-off, for example...
My brief for the song was to create a tune that stays with the audience. I could have created a hundred tunes but when we finally chose the Ra Ra Rasputin bit, we were going by the fact that the song is familiar to many generations of music lovers. And it is only that Baletta, Baletta bit that has a Rasputin flavour. The rest of the song is thoroughly original. I was apprehensive about using it but the film's director said such compromises are inevitable in cinema. Ultimately, our effort is to make the film a success.

You are also known to work on classical ragas to make them sound more popular. You often use multiple ragas to make one song. Are you at any time bothered that they might not work with the audience?
When I did Manikkuyile, mixing several raga, I was skeptical abut whether the audience will like it. It worked, and I realised that the more you decorate a song, the more your make it hummable, people will enjoy it irrespective of its classical under-currents.

What is your take on the music composers of your generation?
Jassie Gift, Deepak Dev, Alphonse... they are all very talented. But I have my concern about many others. I feel that musical learning, not classical music learning, is not given sufficient emphasis. You must be curious, always trying to imbibe new lessons in music.

As a television personality, don't you think today's youngsters have an easy ticket to success and fame. Doesn't their overnight success affect their quality?
Of course, that is the biggest problem now. They have the talent — but they need to realise that only hardwork and dedication will fetch success in the long run. Now, you win one television contest and the next day you are invited to do shows in the Gulf. Their life changes, they think they have become accomplished musicians, and they stop learning music.

You are Kuttettan to the new breed of singers. Despite some of them being in your own age-group, their respect for you is perceptible. How do you feel about all this adulation?
Everything about me has happened through God's grace. I don't tell this in my interviews but I do have a very strong spiritual side that helps me realise who I am, and it keeps me low profile. I believe that every tune is alms from God. The moment the alms stop, you are finished.