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Tamil: இளையராஜா, IPA: [ɪləjəɹɑːdʒɑː]) (born June 2, 1943 as Gnanadesikan) is an Indian film composer, singer, and lyricist. He has composed over 4,000 songs and provided background music for more than 800 Indian films in various languages in a career spanning 30 years. He is based in Chennai, India.(
Ilaiyaraaja was the most prominent composer of film music in South Indian cinema during the late 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s. His work integrated Tamil folk lyricism and introduced broader Western musical sensibilities into the South Indian musical mainstream. He has thrice won the Indian National Film Award for best film scoring. He is married to Jeeva, and the couple's two sons (Karthik Raja and Yuvan Shankar Raja) and daughter (Bhavatharini) are film composers and singers.
Ilaiyaraaja was born into a poor rural family in Pannaipuram, Theni district, Tamil Nadu, India. He was the third son of Ramaswamy and Chinnathayammal. Growing up in a farming area, Ilaiyaraaja was exposed to Tamil folk music, such as the songs sung by farmers working in the fields. His formative contact with music-making and performance came at the age of 14, when he joined a travelling musical troupe headed by his elder step-brother, Pavalar Varadarajan, who was a propaganda musician for the Communist Party of India. He journeyed through numerous villages, towns and cities in South India with his brothers for about ten years as one of the musical Pavalar Brothers. He first tried his hand at composing music during this period: he set to music an elegy written by the Tamil poet laureate Kannadasan for Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister.
Arriving in Madras (now Chennai) in 1968, Ilaiyaraaja enrolled under the tutelage of Dhanraj, a music teacher, as it became apparent that formal knowledge in music such as musical notation was vital for a professional music career. He was introduced to Western classical music during his training, and the music and compositional styles of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Schubert, among others, were influences that would later become a motif in much of Ilaiyaraaja's compositions (such as the use of counterpoint). Ilaiyaraaja's classical music training culminated in him completing a course with a gold medal in classical guitar (higher local) with the Trinity College of Music, London.
In Chennai, Ilaiyaraaja worked in a band for hire involved in performing music for various stage shows and formal occasions. Ilaiyaraaja also worked as a session guitarist and keyboardist/organist for film music composers and directors such as Salil Chowdhury from West Bengal, who often recorded music in Madras. Later, he was hired as an assistant to the Kannada film composer G K Venkatesh, an event that marked his entry into film music composition and direction. He assisted this music director in 200 film projects, mostly in Kannada. During this stint, he learned the practical methods of orchestration, and would hone his compositional ability through frequent experiment accomplished by persuading session musicians to play, during their break times, the scores that he wrote.
Ilaiyaraaja's break as a full-fledged composer came in 1976, when film producer Panchu Arunachalam decided to commission him to compose the songs and film score for a Tamil-language film called Annakkili ('The Parrot'). The resulting soundtrack, together with others that quickly followed, earned Ilaiyaraaja recognition for his adaptation of Tamil folk poetry and music to popular film music orchestration. Ilaiyaraaja helped reinvigorate the Tamil film music which, by the mid-1970s, was experiencing a stagnation of ideas. As demand mounted for his 'new' sound, Ilaiyaraaja emerged by the mid-1980s as the leading film composer and music director in the South Indian film industry. Besides Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada films, he has scored music for Hindi (or Bollywood) film productions such as Sadma (1983), Lajja (2001) and Cheeni Kum (2007). He has worked with noted Indian poets and lyricists such as Gulzar, Kannadasan, Vairamuthu and T.S. Rangarajan (Vaali), and film directors such as K. Balachander, K. Vishwanath Singeetham Srinivasa Rao and Mani Ratnam.[
Ilaiyaraaja's music is characterised by the use of an orchestration technique that is a synthesis of Western and Indian instruments and musical modes. He pioneered the use of electronic music technology that integrated synthesisers, electric guitars and keyboards, rhythm boxes and MIDI with large orchestras that also featured the veena, venu, nadaswaram, mridangam and tabla. The popularity of Ilaiyaraaja's music is attributed to his flair for catchy melodies, and to his employment of subtle nuances in chord progressions, beats and timbres. Ilaiyaraaja's songs typically have a musical form where vocal stanzas and choruses are layered by orchestral preludes and interludes. They often contain polyphonic melodies; the lead vocals are interwoven with supporting melody lines sung by another voice or played by instruments. Polyrhythms are also apparent, particularly in songs with Indian folk or Carnatic influences. The melodic structure of his songs demand considerable vocal virtuosity, and have found expressive platform amongst some of India's respected vocalists and playback singers, such as K.J. Yesudas, S.P. Balasubramaniam, S. Janaki, P. Susheela, K.S. Chithra, Malaysia Vasudevan, Asha Bhosle and Lata Mangeshkar. Ilaiyaraaja has sung his own compositions for films, and is recognisable by his rustic and nasal voice. He has penned the lyrics for some of his songs in Tamil and other languages. Ilaiyaraaja is known for his evocative film themes and background music, and examples of these include his work for Pallavi Anupallavi (1984), Punnagai Mannan (1986), Mouna Raagam (1986) and Geethanjali (1989).
Ilaiyaraaja has won the National Film Award for Best Music Direction for the films Saagara Sangamam (1984), Sindhu Bhairavi (1986) and Rudraveena (1989). He won the Gold Remi Award for Best Music Score jointly with film composer M. S. Viswanathan at the WorldFest-Houston Film Festival for the film Vishwa Thulasi (2005).
He was conferred the title Isaignani ('savant of music') in 1988 by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi and received the Kalaimamani Award, an annual award for excellence in the field of arts from the Government of the State of Tamil Nadu, India. He also received State Government Awards from the governments of Kerala (1995), Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh (The Lata Mangeshkar Award) (1998) for excellence in music.
He was conferred honorary doctorates by Annamalai University, Tamil Nadu, India (Degree of Doctor of Letter (Honoris causa)) (March, 1994), the World University Round Table, Arizona, U.S.A. (Cultural Doctorate in Philosophy of Music) (April, 1994), and Madurai Kamarajar University, Tamil Nadu (Degree of Doctor of Letters) (1996). He received an Award of Appreciation from the Foundation and Federation of Tamil Sangams of North America (1994), and later that year was presented with an honorary citizenship and key to the Teaneck township by Mr. John Abraham, Mayor of Teaneck, New Jersey, U.S.A.