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THE RAMAN EFFECT: TYAGARAJA'S SONGS RAP TO A NEW BEAT

LONDON: When Susheela Raman’s music finally hits Indian shores, prepare to be confused. At the moment, she has the British media bewildered even as they try to classify the woman who just been nominated to the shortlist of the Booker Prize of the music industry, the prestigious Mercury Awards.

Raman is an Aussie Tamil from Chennai, born and now living in London, who is becoming famous for the unthinkable- singing 300-year-old Telugu and Sanskrit songs to a rap beat and rather good reviews. "It’s true, my album ‘Salt Rain’ has 12 songs, three of which are Telugu Tyagaraja compositions, two are in Sanskrit and written by Dikshitar, one is a Hindi Shiva bhajan and another is my own composition in Tamil", Raman told The Times of India. The rest of the songs are in English, but it is not the linguistic variety that excites Raman. "Bringing western and Eastern together reflects who I am. Putting chords under Tyagaraja Carnatic music was my childhood, these are my memories that I have recreated".

She is not worried by the purists’ charge of bastardizing a venerable entity. "Music shops in Chennai have a pop version of ‘Vande Mantaram’, she points out. Raman 27, was always a likely candidate for a career as a half-and-half, neither Australian nor British nor solely Indian or Tamil. I’m a citizen of the world," she laughs, adding that labels do not necessarily represent the whole truth any more.

She insists her music is "just good music" and that it is misleading to classify it as "world" or "ethnic" or "fusion". Critics have called the contemporary beats and polyglot lyrics "very cool, appealing to the late night smoky club scene". She has already sold more than 15,000 copies in the UK and France and is pleased that London music stores are putting her CD in window displays and out at the front. But not everyone is enthused. The Guardian newspaper, for instance offered a bad-tempered analysis of the "too obscure shortlist for this year's Mercury Awards", calling the singer "Susheela, whatever-her-name-is" and suggesting she had everyone "confused". Even so, Raman's 'Salt Rain', with its half-and-half eponymous song, sung partly in Tamil and English, is credited with doing something far more important than merely enthusing apart of the Western world in its search for new kicks. "She is taking Tamil to a wider world, just as Kerala became a real place for those outside India because of Arundhati Roy," enthuses one excited British Tamil teenager

But Raman is not the Arundhati Roy of Telugu and Tamil pop. All she has done, says her Carnatic music teacher, is to take "the ancient compositions, with their emphasis on trying to attain God, to audiences that would never have heard them".

Now the London Tamil from Down Under plans to go on tour, half-hoping to be set down in India and offer the land of her blood the fruits of her travels.

Courtesy: The Times of India
Date: 3rd August 2001

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