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PopLore #4: Singapore Indian pop transcends the music of Indian cinema

How these musicians pushed the limits of movie songs

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Published: 10 Mar 2022


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PopLore #4: Singapore Indian pop transcends the music of Indian cinema

Singapore’s Indian pop is very much influenced by the uniquely musical nature of Indian cinema. In this episode, we explore why music plays such a powerful role in this film industry, and how different music-makers here have responded to its pervasive sounds and practices.

In the 1980s, musician Md Raffee collaborated with producer Reggie Verghese (once the legendary lead guitarist of The Quests, the reigning English-language pop band of 1960s Singapore), on his debut album. Raffee had honed his craft through exposure to a wide range of music within and beyond Singapore, and come up with a fusion sound that was entirely his own.

His music was not just different stylistically, but also in the way it was recorded. As Raffee explains: “You could hear the depth of the recording, which was normally not there in the Indian-made recordings in cinema, because they had different bandwidth. And they were focusing on more of the vocals for the heroes and everything else was compressed.”

Listeners in Singapore and India at the time did not take to his unique experimentation, although the fusion style popularised by Indian music director AR Rahman later changed things on that front. But pushing against the limitations of Indian movie songs remains an ongoing endeavour.

Hear singer-songwriters Shabir and Suthasini explain how they are championing independent music by exploring new marketing and distribution channels, and taking on themes and issues that are rarely tackled in film songs.

The music of Indian cinema is still very popular today, and the creativity, resources and reach of this industry has attracted many musicians, including Raffee, Shabir and Suthasini. Still, their stories illustrate an inspiring instinct across generations to push against the grain and create a sound of our very own.

This episode also features singer V. Suriamurthi, and it is narrated by Esplanade programmer David Pandarakannu.

PopLore: Stories of Singapore Pop, produced by Hong Xinyi and Dorothy Ding, is commissioned by Esplanade as part of PopLore: A Year of Singapore Popular Music in celebration of its 20th anniversary in 2022.

Song Credits

Nilave Poochoodava
Artist: Mohamed Raffee
Composer and Publisher: Mohamed Raffee
Usage of the song is courtesy of Mohamed Raffee

Thiruppugazh
Artists: Bombay Jayashri & Abhishek Raghuram
Composer: Lalgudi Jayaraman
From Guru Vandanam – To Sir With Love, Kalaa Utsavam – Indian Festival of Arts, Esplanade Concert Hall, 25 Nov 2016

Aayizhai
Artist: Shabir
Composer and Lyricist: Shabir
Sound Recording Owner: Shabir Music Asia Pte Ltd
Usage of the song is courtesy of Shabir Music Asia Pte Ltd

Thalavali
Artist: Suthasini
Composer, Lyricist and Publisher: Suthasini
Usage of the song is courtesy of Suthasini

About the narrator and artists

David Pandarakannu

David has been a full-time programmer at The Esplanade Co Ltd since 2015. As a programmer, David has been part of various festivals such as Kalaa Utsavam – Indian Festival of Arts, Flipside, free programmes such as Red Dot August, and has also had the privilege of working on the 2016 and 2017 editions of the Marina Bay Singapore Countdown (MBSC) project with external stakeholders. He has also been a part of Coffee Morning & Afternoon Tea, a music programme specially curated for the seniors. He is currently a part of the Indian programming team straddling between theatre for Indian audiences and Indian contemporary music. He conceptualised the Fusion Beats Mentorship programme, which helps to groom local Indian indie musicians and has curated and produced theatre productions for Kalaa Utsavam.

Prior to working at Esplanade, David had a television broadcast background, having served as a Commissioning-Editor for Vasantham, Mediacorp, for over six years.  


Shabir

Shabir is one of the most esteemed flag-bearers of Tamil music in Singapore. The inaugural winner of Mediacorp’s Vasantham Star in 2005, Shabir has since matured into a multiple award-winning singer-songwriter, music producer and performer. In 2020, he was the resident judge of Yaar Antha Star, a singing contest to unearth the nation’s best young singing talents. Shabir is the first artist of Tamil and Indian descent to be conferred the Singapore Youth Award, the highest national honour given to young achievers by the Singapore Government. In 2019, Shabir achieved mainstream success in India as a composer, songwriter and singer in the highly competitive Indian film music industry, with Yaayum crossing 105 million collective views on YouTube.


Mohamed Raffee

Mohamed Raffee has been active in Singapore, Malaysia and India’s music industries for over 35 years. His repertoire ranges from Indian ghazals to Western classical, jazz, pop, rock and blues music. A multi-instrumentalist proficient in both Western and traditional Indian instruments, he rearranged and produced the Tamil song Munneru Vaaliba for the 1998 National Day celebrations. Raffee has also scored theatre productions such as The Coffin is Too Big for the Hole for Singapore theatre group Agnikoothu and films such as Gurushetram–24 Hours of Anger (2010), as well as Kollywood hit director Ravikumar’s Jaggubhai (2010). Raffee also worked closely with acclaimed Indian film music director A. R. Rahman from 1995 to 2007 while collaborating with other composers as arranger, keyboard programmer and instrumentalist. Raffee has released four albums of original music with his band The Vasantham Boyz, and he continues to perform regularly with them.


V. Suriamurthi

V. Suriamurthi first started singing Tamil songs on the radio programme Maanavar Medai (Students’ Stage) in 1975, and graduated to singing on television in 1976 on a Deepavali variety show. He sang in stage shows and wedding functions with live music band groups like Febra Music Party, Vasantham Band, Vinnoli Music Band, Marumalarachi Band, to name a few. In 1982, Suriamurthi represented Singapore in an exchange programme with Malaysia. In the same year, he appeared in the National Day programme staged at the City Hall, and has since been a regular singer on national celebratory programmes. In 1985, he won the first prize in a talentime where the chief judge was the renowned Indian music director Gangai Amaran. Besides singing, Suriamurthi intends to do sound engineering to enrich his skills and to also share his experience with budding singers.


Suthasini

Suthasini is the first female singer to win Mediacorp’s Vasantham Star in 2011. She has since signed on as an artiste with Mediacorp, and has represented Singapore in several international singing competitions. Besides singing, writing and producing music, Suthasini is also a TV and event host and a social media influencer. Suthasini was awarded Best Emerging Artist by Dick Lee’s Rice Company, and is the youngest female to be included in a book by Lisha Women’s Wing featuring 50 of the most inspiring Indian women of Singapore. In 2015, Suthasini formed the first Indian girl band, Girls Empower, and has since been performing in collaborations with Esplanade, Mediacorp, as well as the Tamil film industry in India.


Listen to the music mentioned in this episode.

Mohamed Raffee · 8 Nilave Poochoodava

Download the full transcript here

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