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John, Riyas and Anand: rock kiya jaye?


Rocking in Malayalam

A Kerala band releases its first album in Dubai, and says the "stiffness" of Malayalam is no barrier to experimentation

Is it possible to create rock in Malayalam? Even A R Rahman thinks not.

The Malayalam film Yodha, with music by Rahman, flopped. He had an explanation -- that the language is stiff, inelastic. And someone even quoted him as saying that Malayalam is not as poetic as Hindi or Tamil. That may be disputed, but Kerala's songwriters could well agree with him that Malayalam is not an easy language to work in.

Can anyone win where Rahman failed? Jigsaw Puzzle, a band from Trissur, is trying. In their latest album Malayalam, they attempt Malayalam songs in the rock idiom.

Jigsaw Puzzle is a three-member rock band. John Varkey has learnt the classical guitar and holds a degree from the Trinity School of Music. Riyas, an architect who spends more time designing rhythm patterns than homes, plays the drums, and Anand Raj Paul is the voice.

Malayalam is a trilingual album where Malayalam, English and Sanskrit co-exist.

Jigsaw Puzzle is being promoted by SIDI BMG, a label based in Dubai. "This is the first time a Kerala band is being promoted by a company abroad. They are releasing Malayalam in their world music section," says Riyas.

Kerala roots: an elephant caparison adorns the album jacket Malayalam features 10 songs -- seven Malayalam, two English and one Sanskrit.

Theekkanal, the opening song, is an interpretation of the folk song Chekkeladikkum. Jigsaw Puzzle replaces the original lines with new lines, and creates a samba atmosphere with the orchestra.

Krishna tulasi is a Jigsaw Puzzle interpretation of a famous film song. This is a creative reworking of an old song, and not a remix. Remixes are usually meant for dance, but here the band uses the old Malayalam hit, based on raga Shubha Pantuvarali, to reinvent a melodious space. The track uses only the accoustic guitar.

Brahma bhootha prasannathma is a verse from the Bhagavad Gita. It is a poem of submission, and the band places it on a techno beat. The instruments on this track are the pulluvakkudom, tanpura, synthesiser, drum and an Indian-style violin.

"Our instruments and tunes are all here, but we are trying to express ourselves in a new style," says John, the band leader.

Mis-takes is a reggae song in English, the message being that you make your own mistakes if you want to learn.

Nada nada nada is a folk tune supported by rock elements like heavy drumming and guitar riffs. Kalikalam is a satire, and sits on a popular beat. Rathrinjaran is a Malayalam poem recited in a conversational style and doesn't seem to belong in this collection.

"We are fed up with Malayalam film songs. We want to give new music. We are not worried about commercial acceptance, and our producers have not put any pressure on us," says Riyas.

"Malayalam is very stiff for a rock style. That is why musical experiments have not happened in the language. We are trying to break out of the groove," says Anand Raj Paul.

And how do they work? "We record tunes as scratches. Then we take them on to a computer. The next step is to present it before an audience. If they like a song, we proceed further," says John.

Let's watch the Jigsaw Puzzle unravel.

Gireesh Balan

Rs 65
Marketed in India by Virgo Music Co Ltd
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Vakola, Santa Cruz (E)
Mumbai 400 055

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