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'We used to hear live programmes of Mysore Ananthaswamy and Kalinga Rao at Cubbon Park and Chamarajpet. That's how we developed a taste for these songs'.
 'After working for three to four months we slowly pulled out one spool and played it. It was fantastic!'
'I said to Vasudev we have a small job, but I want to ask you. If you do it for us it will be a great privilege. He smiled and said what is the concept. I hesitated, because he is such a big artist.

Velu: 15 years of perseverance






First person
The agony and ecstasy of
restoring a treasure


MSIL Geethegalu
Rs 140 (7 cassettes)
Rs 500 (5 CDs)

A determined music label has painstakingly restored 32-year-old Kannada recordings of greats like Kalinga Rao, Ananthaswamy and Ashwath. The response is making Velu, one of the key people behind the project, euphoric 


It's the biggest music restoration project yet in Kannada, and perhaps one of the most significant anywhere in India.

MSIL Geetegalu, the half-hour programme which brought to the radio hundreds of Kannada poems set to music by greats like Kalinga Rao and Mysore Ananthaswamy, was lost to the world, till a determined music label, helped by poetry enthusiasts and musicians, brought it back to life.

The vintage songs -- classics if you go by how many people still remember and sing them -- are now available on seven tapes or five CDs. Music lovers can now listen to some of the most memorable bhavageete tunes ever made, and the poems are by top-class poets, two of whom are Jnanpith award winners.

We met Velu of Lahari Recording Company for an exclusive chat, and he spent over two hours describing the agony and ecstasy of the 15-year struggle to restore this cultural treasure.

In his own words:

I had heard about MSIL Geethegalu. I was very little then. My brother used to listen to the radio programme. We used to hear live programmes of Mysore Ananthaswamy and Kalinga Rao at Cubbon Park and Chamarajpet. That's how we developed a taste for these songs.

All that was in 1978-79. About 30-31 years ago, when our company wasn't around. We came into the picture only in 1980. The programme used to come on AIR. People used to listen to it with great enthusiasm -- it was as popular as Binanca Geetmala.

Since we loved these songs so much, we wanted to get and distribute them. But whom to approach? The natural destination was the state government. Some said the tapes were with MSIL, others said it was with All India Radio.
We did a Mysore Ananthaswamy album called Rathnan Padagalu with songs like Bhoomi tabbid modiddhange ... madkerimel manju. I think we did it in '85-86. When you hear the same songs on these tapes, the singing style is so different, the voice is so different. The later tape uses a keyboard and this and that. But in this recording there are very few instruments. The expression is excellent.

MSIL Geethegalu has Edetumbi haadidenu in two voices. We get immersed in the song. That was what they could achieve 30-32 years ago. The pity is that there was no money for musicians.
Radio was the only medium. Gramophone records were there, of course, but there was only one company, and many artistes just recorded for free, feeling honoured that their records came out. Only in the '80s did people come to know about royalties, and that they could earn some money from the music industry.

Coming back to MSIL Geethegalu, we started searching for them in '86. We asked the senior people at All India Radio and they took pains to search their archieves. They said they didn't have the tapes. Then we went to the Prabhat Studio people. That was where the songs had been recorded. They said we don't know. Kept saying they didn't have them.

We were determined. We have 7,200 titles but these seven tapes are more precious to us than all of them. We asked Jagannath of Prabhat, and he said the tapes must be with Akashvani. He just sent us away.

Around this time, Vedamurthy came as the Executive Director of MSIL. We asked him about the tapes. He said he had heard the songs and wanted to hear them again. He called Ashok Kumar, who has been a PRO at MSIL since those days. Ashok Kumar said the MSIL didn't have them, but took some interest in the idea. He said he had recorded the songs from the radio, and gave us a set of cassettes. I recorded one set each for him and Vedamurthy, and one for myself. I started hearing the songs on my car stereo.

I loved the songs, but what was even more amazing was that everyone who heard the songs wanted those tapes. A friend from Saligrama -- he took away a cassette. I pleaded that it was the only copy I had but he was not willing to listen. He took it away. I used to play nothing else.

Bendre's Naaku tanti ...  Kalinga Rao songs. Everyone used to say Kalinga Rao couldn't sing without drinking, but just listen to the songs here, his words are so clear.

And Mysore Ananthaswamy... all credit for building up our sugama sangeeta One of the five MSIL Geethegalu CDs should go to him. But in his later tapes, Guna Singh came in and helped in the background scores. He was in the film industry and gave it that touch. Ashwath also used a lot of the keyboard. So there was competition between Ananthaswamy and Ashwath, and both used keyboards. That's how the natural instruments slowly went out of sugama sangeeta.

This generation will also love the tunes. Some people said make a remix ... I said never. Let it sell or not sell, I know its value.

Anyway, Vedamurthy said come after a month. I went promptly. He is keen on bhavageete, theatre. He used to call Ashok Kumar and tell him to trace the songs. But what could he do, he used to say Jagannath was not available.

I held on to the cassettes firmly -- old Sonys. In those days there was no Cool Edit or Cakewalk -- no software. So we were wondering what to do. Vedamurthy was transferred. Then I M Vittala Murthy came in as managing director of MSIL. Vedamurthy and I spoke to Vittala Murthy about this idea. He was thrilled, and said do it at once. Same old problem, how to get the recordings?

He gave a month to Ashok Kumar and he also told us to pursue it with Jagannath. By that time, we had these software programs to reduce noise and improve old recordings. But when we couldn't get the tapes from Prabhat, Vittala Murthy got wild. He told them that the tapes belong to the government and should be returned at once. At one point I said we will give it up.

Then we used to send our man Ramachandra to Jagannath -- go to MSIL, Jagannath and back. It had become a triangle! Finally Jagannath said come on a Saturday. He said he had put it in a gunny sack somewhere. He finally gave us five spools.

It was covered with fungus. The plastic wrapper was all eaten up.
We opened the spools, and the surface was all powdery. I told our people, "If we succeed in this, your career is a success. This will bring honour to our company."

We consulted three or four engineers. We used chemicals and very gently opened each tape out. Like weavers who work on a jari seere (zari sari). We placed the tape out and cleaned it with cotton swabs.

After working for three to four months we slowly pulled out one spool and played it. It was fantastic! Of course there was some hiss and mike sounds, but those were natural in that period. We put the songs on Cool Edit, reduced noise. Each song took us four to five hours to just use the filters.

Then we mastered the songs several times. We did one from the mother tape to our digital tape and then to the floppy. We mastered some songs  nine times. Six to seven months ... with our own equipment and engineers. They had given us five spools and 55 songs. We asked them for the rest, and they said they didn't have them.

We started again, but we couldn't get those things back. We took Ashok Kumar's cassettes and restored some songs. Finally got all songs, but not all on spools.

We took the recordings to Shimoga Subbanna, Ashwath and Lakshminarayana Bhatta. They identified singers like Pushpalata. By a coincidence, she had come to Bangalore one Vittala Murthy: a poetry lover at the helm of MSIL month before, and wanted to do an album. She met Bhatta, who sent her to us to see if she could recognise the voice. She came and listened and was thrilled to hear her own voice. Songs she had sung 30 years ago. She confirmed that she had sung those songs.

Many songs we couldn't make out. Rathnamala's voice was so different then. There is a singer called T R Srinivasan, whose voice is almost like Kalinga Rao's. People told us he is from Mysore but we haven't been able to trace him.

I was stunned to know he couldn't be traced. That is the fate of our folk singers and bhavageete singers. Don't know what happens to them. He has sung such lovely songs but no one knows about him. How happy he and his family would be to hear these tapes. Against some songs on the tapes we've said 'don't know the singer's name'. If someone tells us this is so and so's voice, we'll insert it.

Someone told us MSIL had also recorded the voices of Kuvempu and some other great poets but they were untraceable... you can't buy these things.

I was sitting with Vittala Murthy when artist Vasudev was with him. He is a great artist. I said we have a small job but I want to ask you to do the tape inlay cards. If you do it for us it will be a great privilege. He hadn't done it before. He smiled and said what is the concept. I hesitated to tell him, because he is such a big artist. But I made bold and said let us keep the name MSIL Geethegalu. There are some songs that everyone recognises. We can keep them as the titles. He too liked the idea. In about two months, he gave us the artworks. We created fonts to match his style and used light colours for the jackets.

The tapes were released on March 2, the day the MSIL Nityotsava awards were announced. The response is excellent.

Bhavageete was a trend in the '80s, but it had faded out because many without skill started doing it. But people now realise its real value. To sell even one cassette is difficult, but we have released seven cassettes, and without any publicity, I am getting wonderful response. People are buying the entire set.
In Mysore and Bangalore ... and in Bangalore Jayanagar, Malleswaram, Chamarajpet... everybody in old Bangalore is buying them. We normally send tapes to the wholesale and retail outlets, but this we are selling at our office too.

Don't know the impact in Hubli Dharwad yet, but I am 100 per cent confident. I think this is a great achievement for our company. Thirty-two years back our company didn't exist, but still I have the rights. No company except HMV has such old songs. I am really delighted.

We took the copyright from the state government. More than commercial value, these tapes have cultural value. People are calling me from many distant places. I got calls from Mumbai, lots of Kannada people there. Someone called from Dubai. 

In some songs, the pallavi starts somewhere and they bring it back to the starting word on the spur of the moment. There's real skill in this. That's the beauty of MSIL Geethegalu.

Students in St Josephs, National College, Bangalore High School, everyone knows about Kuvempu and Bendre... they sing English songs by Vengaboys, learn them with difficulty, so why can't they relate to songs in the language they know?

My daughters go to Sophiya's. One is three and a half and the other is six. They have learnt these songs. They want Aavu eevina, naavu neevina... 

Lahari Recording Company
61, Gowri Chambers, 5th Main
Chamarajpet, Bangalore 560 018

Phone: 091 80 661 0333 
Fax: 91-080-6612695

E-mail Velu (Lahari Recording Company)

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