As my Tamil friend hops into my car, he says to me “Dude, why you playing Tamil music? Put on that Soca and Reggaeton.”
I could have responded by simply saying that I am really into Tamil music, but I knew this short answer wouldn’t suffice. So let’s take a step back, and examine the topic of Tamil music in greater depth (note, I’m referring to music originating from mainstream Tamil cinema or Kollywood). It is interesting as individuals assimilate into the Western culture, some of us become accustomed to thinking Tamil music as a genre that is out-dated, fobby, and not trendy. But hold on a second! When it comes time to choosing music in the countless marriage videos, or songs to kuthu dance at a reception, or watch a performance at a dance or music competition (aka Super Singer), we want and NEED Tamil music, so something is clearly amiss here.
Like my friend, many individuals have criticisms about Tamil music that cause them to dismiss the genre. Some chastise Tamil music by proclaiming that the songs aren’t ‘clean’. It is true, that there are songs that do have sexual undertones and euphuisms that only adults will understand...but then again, Nikki Minaj wasn’t singing about Anacondas in her song either. It is obvious that these types of songs exist in any language and culture. Singling out Tamil music just isn’t fair. I believe that a valid criticism is that Tamil movies, from which the music is popularized, are all male-centric and portray woman negatively and poorly. This can be reflected in the music. Plus, not everyone has 3 hours to spare to watch physics-defying feats and illogical plot advances just to hear popular Tamil songs.
That being said, is it worth your time to listen to Tamil music? I believe so, and here are my three main reasons:
As one of the oldest languages in the world, it carries within it a strong history and also contains words with poetic justice and eloquence unmatched by any other language in the world. Sentences and words in Tamil cannot be easily transcribed into English without losing the meaning or expression. Since English is my first language, my linguistic skills in Tamil are weaker. But these songs over the years have helped me recognize and truly appreciate the language for what it is. Lyrically, we have one of the most poetic, diverse and meaningful language system,s which can be utilized in music.
2) AR Rahman
The world has recently recognized his talent, but the Tamil film industry has always seen him for exactly who he is, a musical legend. He is a legend who can take percussion instruments to create a harmonious symphony of pure delight. Sure, there are other great musical directors (Ilayaraja is one example), but nothing compares to the reach, effect or appeal that ARR brings with his music. Orchestras around the world still preform his classic song ‘Cry of a Rose’ from Roja, a serene masterpiece. Whether it’s the spirited saxophone in Anjali Anajli (Duet), the enticing flute in Pachari Nirame (Alaipayuthey) or the resonating tabula in Kannale (Bomabay), he brings each and every song to life by adding a magical touch with these instruments. Pair him up with a good lyricist, and you have a recipe for soulful music.
3) Tamil music has something for everyone.
The language and music from movies allow for a range of storytelling about emotions and situations. If you’re in love, the songs Adiye Kolluthey from Vaariyanm Aaiyram and Munbe Vaa from Sillunu Oru Kaadhal will fill your heart with excitement and ecstasy. Or perhaps, you have lost the person of your dreams due to fate or bad luck. Then you might find comfort in words from Kanave Kanave from the movie David. How about if you just want to hear about the bond between a daughter-father. The song Thangal Meengal from Aanandha Yaazhai perfectly highlights this special relationship. Even take a moment to consider mother-son songs such as the famous, Amma Amma from Mannan. There is a whole host of other situational songs, such as the beautifully sung Azhage Azhage from Saivam or the soul stirring Vidai Kodu Engal Naade from Kannathil Muthammital.
Quite simply, Tamil music shouldn’t be written off and disregarded. We should take the time to listen and appreciate it. Tamil music is an easily accessible source of music and as an avid music listener, sifting through and finding these gems is a worthwhile endeavor. Music brings with it peace and tranquility, a timeless sense of love and appreciation. We, as Tamil language citizens, truly have been given a unique gift with Tamil music, the opportunity to listen to soulful and poetic music.