The current socio-political climate has seen the citizens of the world locking their doors to the outside in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. An unlikely side effect of this self-enforced isolation has been the wave of creative collaborations and projects undertaken by our nation’s artists and thinkers, who are using this period of stillness to explore their creative aspirations. We got talking with artists Aditya Alamuru aka MALFNKTION and Raka Ashok, aka RAKA, about their latest collaboration Raaja Beats, a one-of-a-kind EP consisting of 8 tracks, which reimagines yesteryear hits composed by the legendary South Indian composer Ilaiyaraaja, with a modern twist.
“No matter how exposed we are to music from the West, as Indians we have an inherent sense of rhythm.” RAKA explains, “I think it’s hardwired into us because of our upbringing, listening to a wide array of music growing up- from Indian classical music, Bollywood OSTs, soundtracks from the South, folk music and much more,”
Celebrated for his uniquely Indian flair when it comes to the art of sampling, MALFNKTION’s beats are inspired by a need for resonance, to connect with his Indian roots and culture on a deeper level.
“I think my influences in beat-making and production are mostly Hip-Hop producers from the classic 90’s era in New York, to Trip-Hop producers in the UK and France, but my music didn’t feel rooted until I started sampling Indian instruments and sounds.” Aditya says, “I’m more melody-driven and I think that’s why RaajaBeats is dope, ‘cause RAKA kills it with the percussions.”
°A Celebration of the Extraordinary
A homage to the legendary film composer, singer, songwriter, instrumentalist, orchestrator, conductor-arranger and lyricist, Ilaiyaraaja, the new EP Raaja Beats is an ode to the long and illustrious career of a man whose music was the soundtrack to countless lives and childhoods across the nation. Celebrated as one of India’s most prolific composers, the legendary Ilaiyaraaja too, was known for his breathtaking fusion of Indian folk music and instruments and Western classical techniques.
Listen to the first track off of the Raaja Beats EP, Poongatru, here!
For both Aditya and Raka, memories of Ilaiyaraaja’s music and compositions can be traced back to their earliest memories of childhood.
“I remember my parents had Geethanjali on repeat for a while.” Aditya explains, “Agni Natchathiram was also apparently a favourite, but I don’t recall this one too well.”
For Raka, as it was for many fans across South India, the earliest and fondest memories of Ilaiyaraaja’s music came from the silver screen, in his case, the film Thalapathi starring iconic actor Rajinikanth. “Mani Ratnam and Illaiyaraaja. Can’t ask for a more powerful combination than that!” Raka says.
Known to some as the world’s most accomplished and prolific composer, Ilaiyaraaja’s body of work consists of over 7000 songs, 20,000 concerts and over 1000 movie scores. Making history as the first person of Asian-origin to have composed a complete symphony with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of London, Ilaiyaraaja’s work has inspired countless musicians across the globe, one of his most notable students’ being composer and singer AR Rahman. However, to respectfully honour such a talent was no small task, and the boys knew they had their work cut out for them.
With the seed of the idea having been sowed early on in 2018, Raaja Beats officially began production in April of the year 2019, when the Bangalore-based artists decided to come together to pay homage to one of our nation’s greatest talents.
“The way Raaja Beats came about was pure magic. Everything from start to finish has had a natural flow to it.” The duo explains, “Ilaiyaraaja has proven time and again to be one of the most versatile music composers in the history of Indian cinema. Every original song has multiple switch-ups, which is basically a sampling gold mine for us.”
Listen to the second track off of the Raaja Beats EP, Ninnukori, here!
With a multitude of producers who have tried their hand at remixing the classics for the modern age, Raka and Aditya wanted to ensure they treated the music with the respect it demanded, by retaining the original essence of the compositions, with their own added spin on them.
“Given our Hip-Hop and Dance oriented production style and growing up listening to Ilaiyaraaja’s music in our homes, we felt we were uniquely placed to create a body of work inspired by the maestro. We had to be the first ones to do it.” They explain.
In a fashion typical of the great composer, the boys soon found that in their attempts at reimagining Ilaiyaraaja’s iconic works, their own learning was called into question.
“We really learned a lot about composition and arrangement, taking a cue from Ilaiyaraaja’s originals.” They elaborate, “There’s a certain charm that exists in each of his songs, and in terms of compositions, melodies and harmonies, we understood that every single element within each edit has its own unique place, and it all has to be well balanced so it’s enjoyable for the listener at the end of the day.”
When prodded about what other works of the great composer we can expect to see reimagined next, the duo revealed that audiences should expect to hear a number of familiar hits, with a uniquely 21st century twist.
“We have narrowed down some of the most classic throwback songs the maestro has produced over the last two decades. You’d just have to wait till the entire EP is released. We want to keep that as a surprise!” the duo laughs.
Listen to the third track off of the Raaja Beats EP, Raja Rajathi, here!
MALFNKTION is set to release a new EP in the month of August, as part of a collaborative project with New York Times journalist Ian Urbina, and the upcoming release of his book, The Outlaw Ocean.
RAKA’s upcoming EP, entitled BLR 2, will have a heavy emphasis on the genre of lurubass, a sound he describes as being unique to Bangalore bass music, with a global sound that is reminiscent of local roots.
We at TheVibe applaud this enigmatic duo for their work, and look forward to hearing what comes next!
All images used in this article are courtesy of MALFNKTION and RAKA, and belong rightfully to their original owners.
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