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Grady Long will be singing for Mejjo Joseph for 'Vaarikuzhiyile Kolapadhakam', making him the first foreigner to sing Malayalam in a Malayalam film.

Meet Aaiyiram Kannumai Grady Long first foreigner to sing in Malayalam for films
news Music Tuesday, July 17, 2018 - 15:07

Two summers ago, Grady Long sang a Malayalam song onstage. His friend and musician Jerry Amaldev’s old lullaby 'Aayiram Kannumayi', a song much-loved in Kerala. That Grady, an American, could get the diction right, made him a darling among Malayalis. 

Now, Grady is back to sing another song – this time a new one that he will sing for a Malayalam film, Vaarikuzhiyile Kolapadhakam, directed by Rejishh Midhila. The composer Mejjo Joseph asked Grady if he would like to sing the theme song, and he said yes, becoming the first foreigner to sing a Malayalam song in a Malayalam film. He might just be the first foreigner to do that in an Indian film - Grady and Suja, his wife, are trying to find out. 

Suja is also his creative partner, as Grady will tell you. She hails from a little town called Payippad just outside of Harippad in Kerala. And she brought him in touch with Malayalam music. Grady loved 'Aayiram Kannumayi' as soon as he heard it. When he planned to sing it for a Kairali TV show in Kerala, Grady had no idea that Jerry Amaldev would be on stage. The song brought on a hug and then a beautiful friendship between the two. 

Grady, Suja and their three children came to Kerala in the beginning of the year for a long stay. “We sold our house in the US and plan on being in India for quite some time. We came to Kochi in the first part of February. We got in touch with Jerry and he brought us new connections.” It is director Antony Sony who introduced him to Mejjo Joseph.

(Grady Long with Mejjo Joseph and others)

The theme song he sings for Mejjo is nothing like 'Aayiram Kannumayi'. “It’s a very big departure," Grady says.

If 'Aayiram Kannumayi' was soft and melodious, this new song – which he can’t name as yet – is in Grady’s words, "powerful, driving, hard and flamboyant".  

There was also no risk of mispronouncing words for 'Aayiram Kannumayi' since he had an original to refer to. But he cannot take a chance with the new song, since he's the one who will be lending it voice for the first time. Grady has a method to solve this, he says. Underneath the original lyrics, he would write what he calls ‘Grady Long’s Malayalam’ that tells him how to pronounce a syllable. “Shreya Ghoshal has a similar method, Mejjo tells me," says Grady.

These are sounds that he has never made in life, Grady adds. There are, for instance, three types of 'na' in Malayalam – the regular 'na' that you use in English, then another 'na' which you pronounce touching your tongue to your throat, and a third 'na' which is entirely different. But now he can easily say ‘zha’, one of the toughest letters in the Malayalam alphabet for outsiders. 

But the Longs do not plan to stay here for good, they will go back, Grady says. Suja, a healthcare professional, had left her job in Texas when they sold the house and came to India. She is now line producing another Malayalam film. Then, their youngest is acting in a Tamil movie. “So we will be in Chennai for two months and from there head to Mumbai before we return to the US," says Grady.

(Grady Long, Suja, with their children)

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