Singer Anthony Daasan of ‘Sodakku' fame is in-between shoots when he agrees to talk to us. The popular folk singer is just back from his trip to Muscat and is on his way to record his second Kannada song.
Having shot to fame with the quirky and sensational ‘Kaasu panam’ number that released in 2013, Anthony Daasan has recorded over 150 songs so far. The singer has also appeared in a number of films and has now ventured into composing songs for films.
The big break
Talking about his roots, Anthony fondly recalls of his time as a young kargattakaran (folk dance artist). “I grew up in the village - my father is a nadhaswaram player, my mother was a construction worker. I began dancing at the age of ten,” he says.
Born in Reddiyarpalayam near Thanjavur, the singer took to performing in several village festivals and gatherings. He also began singing in churches and later during performances. “I married my wife Rita and then we began performing together,” he says.
Anthony first came to the city in 2006 to take part in Chennai Sangamam that was then a huge coming together of talented people and folk artists from across the state. The singer continued performing onstage for about four years before he gained his big break in playback singing.
“I owe my entry into Tamil films to Chinnaponnu akka. She was the one who introduced me to actor Karunas and that’s how I sang my first song ‘Dindukallu dindukallu’ for Dindugal Sarathi in 2007,” he says.
While talking about his music exposure, Anthony says it was Darbuka Siva who encouraged him greatly. “I learnt a lot from him. La Pongal was the first band I was a part of,” he says.
And with La Pongal, the singer developed his own style of singing. This later paved way for the launch of his own band Anthonyin Party and helped him earn the moniker ‘Folk Marley’ Anthony Daasan.
La Pongal also gave Anthony the stage to perform with singer Usha Uthup. “It was like a dream come true for me. I’ve only seen her on TV and in newspaper. So for me to be able to perform along with her was a great experience. I was thrilled,” he shares excitedly.
Anthony goes on to recollect how he performed live without prior team rehearsals for the ‘Vandiyele Nellu Varum’ Coke studio recording. “The singer who was there for the rehearsals didn't turn up and so I joined the recording directly,” he adds.
Anthony earned a spot for himself on the list of upcoming indie folk singers in the country. His original composition ‘Oda Karai Orathula’ documented by IndieEarth, an independent artists’ collective, helped him gain a lot of recognition.
Anthony has also worked with a good number of young music directors like D Imaan, Santosh Narayan, Anirudh Ravishankar, HipHop Aadhi, Sean Rolden etc.
The folk artist has also written the lyrics for a few of his songs. “‘Pandii Naatu Kodi' in Jigarthanda was my first credited song as a lyricist. However, I’ve also written the lyrics for the male part in my first song - 'Dindukallu dindukallu',” he says. Anthony has written ‘Kattikida’ in Kaakki Sattai, too.
Singing and beyond
A natural artist from a very young age, he is well known for his animated expressions and his energetic moves while performing. This perhaps explains his natural flair for acting. Having appeared on-screen first in the ‘Kasu panam’ song in Soodhu Kavvum, the singer made his acting debut in Karthik Subbaraj’s Jigarthanda. He later went on to act in Bala’s Tharai Thappattai in 2016. “Karthik is like my brother and director Bala is like my father. I learnt a lot from the two of them,” he says.
For someone who incorporates an eclectic mix of instruments in his performances, from thappu to the guitar, Anthony shares that’s he’s never had a proper formal training in music. “Although I come from a traditional musical family, I never learnt to play the instruments nor did I learn singing. In fact, everything I learnt is from my own observations,” he says.
It is interesting to note that his band Anthonyin Party incorporates a good mix of western and southern folk musical instruments.
Anthony was propelled to overnight fame recently with his latest Kannada chartbuster 'Tagaru’. The singer is now a well-known name in the industry and he’s just one song old!
Did he face any challenges while performing in a different language? “I probably take an extra hour to get the lyrics right but there’s always new learning every day. I’ve sung four Telugu songs and four Malayalam songs as well,” he adds.
From a karagattam dancer, Anthony has grown to become a multi-talented artist - the latest addition being his entry into composing songs. Anthony composed his first song for cinema in 2016 for Uriyadi’s ‘Maane Maane’. The song gave the singer a huge boost and he has now taken up a film project.
“I'm absolutely thrilled to be working with director Vijay Desingh in Vairi. I have composed four songs in the film and I’ve sung in one - ‘What are you talking lady’- along with my wife,” he says. Anthony will also be seen playing an important role in Vairi.
While folk art has been sidelined for a while, Anthony shares that the situation looks better now. “I feel people are going back in search of their roots. Pants that were in fashion 40 years ago are now in again. It’s always a cycle. Folk art too is gaining a good traction. I feel there’s a lot of encouragement,” he says.
Picture Courtesy: Facebook/ Anthony Daasan
On his thoughts on recent initiatives like The Casteless Collective, Anthony says it's a very welcome move. “All talents have to be appreciated and in the end it all comes down to how well we preserve and appreciate our own traditional art forms. Such programmes are very encouraging for the artists,” he says.
Having gained an entry through Chennai Sangamam, the singer rues that the festival doesn't happen any more. “It is indeed a great loss for the community. I know a number of artists who gained recognition through Sangamam. It was our boon. Several singers like Chinnaponnu, Velmurugan, Super Singer Rajalakshmi Senthil, etc were all those who gained a footing through the Sangamam. Were it to happen again I’m sure more such talents can be unearthed,” he says.
Living the dream
Coming from humble roots and without an education, Anthony says that his love for singing is what has got him here.
“I’ve been recording 10 songs a week now in addition to my overseas concerts and acting. I like novelty and there’s always more to learn,” he says, adding that he also gains a lot of inspiration from Ray Charles and Bob Marley.
A patron for upcoming folk artists, Anthony shares that he has trained close to 40 karagattam performers so far. “There are a number of youngsters who perform my songs in villages and it's very exciting to hear from them. I always feel that folk artists should be encouraged. Schools and institutions should invite folk artists during their events,” he says. He goes on to add, “Those who know the art should develop it and those who don't should help artists develop.”
The folk sensation also talks about his directorial dreams.
“Who doesn't dream? I have a story in mind on the lives of karagatta kalaingargal (folk dance artists) and I’ve titled it Aatakaari. It would be great to find a producer who’s willing to bankroll it,” he says.