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Kadal: A love story
Kadal: A love story

Sea through: the music of ‘Kadal’

A.R. Rahman and Mani Ratnam team up again for a soulful soundtrack

Lounge Loves | Kadal (OST)

The music of Kadal, Mani Ratnam’s 11th film with A.R. Rahman, won’t shock listeners with sheer newness the way Roja and Thiruda Thiruda once did, but it still meets the high standards of their collaboration. I doubt it will knock Alaipayuthey (Saathiya in Hindi) out of anyone’s list of favourites, but it is well in keeping with the mellow, reflective post-2000s strain that we heard there, and continued to hear in Ayutha Ezhuthu (Yuva) and Kannathil Muthamittal.

Shakthisree Gopalan’s Nenjukulle, which became a YouTube phenomenon when Rahman and Gopalan previewed it on MTV Unplugged, exceeds expectations as a studio recording. No one makes sound as crystalline and persuasive as Rahman, and Gopalan’s terrific voice, with a strings section rolling in the background like a low tide, and a single flute trilling like a strange, sweet mechanical bird overhead, makes this one of the songs of the year.

Unlike some of his recent Hindi extravaganzas, Kadal is an album of middling length (only seven songs!) but Rahman’s use of relatively new voices for each track opens it up beautifully. It’s difficult to choose any singer on this album as better than the other. Sri Lankan rapper Aaryan Dinesh Kanagaratnam is very good on the pulsing, urgent Magudi Magudi. Another young male voice has to navigate Chithirai Nela, one of those Rahman songs that is more like a small 6-minute vocal symphony than a regular chorus-stanza-chorus affair; Vijay Yesudas does it with gliding ease. Unfortunately, Moongil Thottam, a duet with Abhay Jodhpurkar and Harini, restrains them a little too much to be memorable, and is the one song of Kadal that bored me.

Some of the biggest numbers on the album borrow their sounds from American roots music. Adiye is all soul, from its clattering electric piano to Sid Sriram’s mournful-funky voice, singing—Adiye, yenne yengay nee kooti poren (Girl, where are you taking me)? Anbin Vaasale, on which singer Haricharan ramps it up with the Chennai Chorale, borrows the celestially inclined harmonies of gospel. The opening song Elay Keechan, which draws you into the album, is a bright, infectious shanty about Tamil fishermen set to blues-y mountains-and-rivers sound.

Some of these work very well indeed. But there’s also something slightly jarring about the way Rahman de-situates this music from its context, especially with Elay Keechan. Then again, fusion music is supposed to be about the give and take of musical customs, and while a part of me wonders about Rahman’s counter-intuitive move inland, another part slips into the easy energy of the song, thanks, once again, to its singers led by Rahman himself.

Twenty years after we first heard him on the dreamy background vocals of Roja, I think it’s fair to say that one of Rahman’s signal contributions to Indian music has been his own voice, which has stretched and grown with his music, and whose nasal, slightly trembling tenor is now an unlikely but well-beloved asset.

Kadal, Sony Music, is available for 125 for a CD, and 80 in digital format, available on Flyte and iTunes.

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