Yesudas: Divine music from god's own country

Millions in Kerala as well as outside consider Yesudas God’s Own Voice.
Yesudas: Divine music from god's own country
Yesudas: Divine music from god's own country
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It has been fifty-five years since Malayalam cinema first witnessed the sensation called Yesudas. A fan takes a walk down memory lane, reminiscing some of the incredible moments from the life and times of ‘God’s own voice’...

A tiny schoolboy who grew up in Kerala in the early sixties remembers the spellbinding voice that he used to hear on the radio, whether it was ‘Enthenthu Mohangal’ or ‘Alliyambal’ or ‘Kannuneer muthumayi’.

The boy was too young to define it, but that voice had a magical charm, an ethereal grace.

Later on, he realized that the voice belonged to one Yesudas, whose name frequently came up on the All India Radio, when the singers’ names were announced. Much later, he saw the photograph of the singer, a lean man in his early twenties, clad in pristine white.

A whole generation would identify with what is written above – a “radio-only” era where even the print media rarely featured or published pictures of music personalities. Several subsequent generations will relate to that voice as THE voice that shaped music tastes, at least in Kerala, for over half a century.

Every Keralite listens to, or at least hums to himself, a Yesudas number every day. If the tourism brochures talk about Kerala as ‘God’s Own Country’, millions in Kerala as well as outside consider Yesudas God’s Own Voice.

On 14 November 2016, it turned 55 years since Yesudas, as a 21-year-old, got his first film song recorded in Chennai. The song was “Jathi Bhedam Matha Dwesham” for the film “Kalpadukal” and M.B. Srinivasan was the composer.

After the recording MBS asked the veteran recordist Koteeswara Rao about the new singer’s voice. Rao answered, “I will talk about it after ten years.” Yesudas was worried, but came to know later that Rao only meant that the singer’s voice will flourish even after ten years.

Well, that voice continues to dominate after 55 years, though for the past six years the singer concentrates on Carnatic concerts and sings only selectively for the movies.

Yesudas devotes all his time for “sadhakam”, music research and Carnatic concerts. It thus becomes obvious why you hear a lot of rare, hitherto-unexplored ragas in his concerts today, along with the singer’s nuanced explanation about the swara patterns of each raga.

During a chat with this writer in 1999, Yesudas said, “I put my heart and soul into my singing. The rest is left to God.” That has always been his philosophy. “Music is a vast ocean. Nobody can ever master it.  I am still a student of music”, he says.

Yesudas is  not one who is reluctant to talk about the hardships he suffered in early life –how he had to borrow eighteen rupees to pay the train fare for his trip to Chennai (then Madras) for his first recording, how an attack of typhoid in Chennai almost cost him his first recording, and about how his family rushed to the neighbour’s house, whenever his early songs were broadcast, since the family did not have a radio then.

Those initial struggles shaped his career which reads like a fairy tale.

As a music student in the 50s, he had applied for a Sangeet Natak Akademi scholarship. But he was denied. About a decade later he became the Chairman of the same institution! In the 50s, All India Radio rejected him in an audition, citing that the voice was not up to the mark.

Eventually that voice emerged as the most frequently broadcast voice in all the Kerala stations of AIR. And the man who had to borrow eighteen rupees for his train trip in 1961 later won the Indian Airlines award for the most frequently travelled air passenger in 1977!

He is the only singer in India who has been actively involved simultaneously in film music and Carnatic music for five decades, dispelling the myth that these are diverse streams that no person can master simultaneously.

A favourite disciple of the legendary Carnatic musician Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar in the 60s, he quickly became a crowd-puller at Carnatic concerts. 

But Yesudas is all humility as he keeps saying, “I still feel that I have to go a long way in Carnatic music, but I have tried to popularize classical music among the youth and am happy that more youngsters attend concerts today.”

It is not just Keralites who were enthralled by his songs. After his 1961 debut in Malayalam films, he established himself within three years and soon began to sing in other South Indian languages too. In the early 70s, he recorded the enchanting “Ni sa ga ma pa ni” for  Salil Chowdhury in the Hindi film “Anand Mahal”, which however never got released.

Later his “Jaaneman”(Choti Si Baat) for the same composer marked his launch in Hindi films in 1976.The same year he won pan-India popularity for the four lovely songs in Chitchor composed by Ravindra Jain (“Gori tera”, “Jab deep jale”, “Tu jo mere sur mein” and “Aaj se pehle”).

Many  more hits followed in films like Swami, Alaap, Toote Khilone, Sunayana, Sawan Ko Aane Do, Gopal Krishna, Safed Jhoot, Payal Ki Jhankar, Chashme Baddoor and Swami Vivekananda.

Veteran Bollywood music critic Raju Bharatan described Yesudas as “God’s own voice”. And music directors in all languages marveled at his quick grasp. 

One memorable moment during this period, in Yesudas’ own words, was when he recorded a song for Ravindra Jain, along with his idol Mohammed Rafi, “Rafi saab was my Manasa Guru during my childhood, when I grew up singing his songs. After this recording, he complimented me on my singing. That was a moment to cherish.”

Yesudas is the only singer in the country who has won the National Award seven times, narrowly missing out on several other occasions!

His best songs happened to be in commercial films which never made it to the National Awards shortlist, for which cinematic brilliance alone -and not its songs- is the sole criterion. Here’s an indicative list.

National Awards won

National Award near-misses

Manushyan mathangale…from Achanum Bappayum(1978)

Padma theerthame…from Gayatri (1973)

Songs from Chitchor (1977)

Songs from Telugu film Meghasandesam (1983)

Unnikale Oru…from Unnikale Oru Katha Parayam (1988)

Songs from Bharatham (1992)

Songs from Sopanam (1994)

 Songs from Alaap (1978)

Sagarame Santhamaka…from Bhajagovindam (1979)

Songs from Gaanam (1982)

Songs from Sindhu Bhairavi (1986)

Pramadavanam…; Devanganangal…; Devi…(all songs from 1991)

Songs from Sargam (1993)

Harimuraleeravam…from Aaram Thampuran (1998)

Yesudas is a rare synthesis of a divine voice, an infinite range, thorough classicism, a wealth of expression and many more musical qualities. Many music directors have told this writer about how they were amazed to see their compositions enriched beyond expectations by Yesudas’ golden voice and emotion-laden rendering.

The doyen of Malayalam film composers, the tough taskmaster Devarajan Master told this writer, way back in 1988, “Many of my compositions and also those of Baburaj and Dakshinamurthy would not have seen the light of the day, and would have remained in the cans instead, if a singer like Yesudas had not emerged in the 60s to render them.”

There can be no greater praise for any singer.

(This article first appeared in You can read the original article here. The News Minute has syndicated the content.)

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