Sunday, November 11, 2007

Bhakti Pop in 'Tamil Voodoo' style

Bhakti Pop in 'Tamil Voodoo' style
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Pop diva Susheela Raman and Tamil Bhakti singer Kovai Kamala joined to experiment a new musical experience called, 'Tamil Voodoo' for an overwhelmingly white crowd gathered at the Dunes, an eco-friendly village near Pondicherry, on January 26, 2007.

The concert was a musical journey into the intensity and vitality of the Tamil Bhakti singing tradition in its pop avatar. The vocalists along with bass guitarists and folk drummers created an atmosphere that provided spiritual stimulation and body shakes to those who gathered at the picturesque holiday retreat, some 15 kilometers before Pondicherry on the East Coast Road.

The setting for the concert was perfect on a chill moonless night. The beach front provided the backdrop to the makeshift stage that was setup around natural dunes for the people to squat. The bonfire was lit up to provide soft lights and warm up the surroundings. Those who were ready to shakeup their legs were closer to the stage.

Auroville crowd (an international commune near Pondicherry) had gathered there in large numbers. The Dune inmates too had assembled after their supper for the concert. The musical extravaganza timed for 8.30. PM actually began at 9.

In the next two-hour or so, there was free flow of Bhakti Pop music of a rare kind. Kovai Kamla with her deep husky voice created a spiritual aura with chants of 'Murga,' ‘Govinda' and ‘Rama'. Internationally renowned pop singer Susheela Raman transformed the atmosphere into a high voltage raw pop. The drummers from of Tanjore and Mettupalayam representing the Tattapam and Tudumbattam traditions provided the rythemic beats. Guitarists Samuel Mills and Paul Jacob lifted the entire musical concert into dazzling heights.

Shusheela's solo number "Om Nmh Shiva" demonstrated her training in the Indian classical music. . Her stage eccentricities during her performances sent the crowd into tizzy. They were in a boisterous mood to shake their entire body. Some guys were seen taking of their shirts to dance freely on the drumbeats. The drummers gave a non-stop performance for fifteen minutes towards the close of the concert. The crowd went wild and was in ruptures.

"It was an unique experience unheard and unseen before. The sound of music was forcing me to shake my legs," said Suzanne Clark from Paris, who was holidaying at the Dunes.

Ann Gilbert from Auroville who came to watch Kovai Kamla perform live did not appreciate the stage mannerism of the Bhakti singer.

“Kamla has a wonderful voice, I have got three CDs of her, but her stage performance did not suit her age. She is sixty plus, I am disappointed seeing her doing a teeny-weeny show,” Ann said.

Bob, Ann's boyfriend was more magnanimous. “Kamala and Susheela created an atmosphere that cannot be described in words. It was experience to be felt alone,” he said.

“Tamil Voodoo” was a musical collaboration of several musical talents. Susheela Raman who is based in London and works with guitarist cum producer friend Samuel Mills came down to Chennai looking for musical partners. They discovered 'Funky Bodhi', the band that plays fusion, folk and pop. They discovered the Tattapam and Tudumbattam drummers. The legendary Bhakti singer Kovai Kamala, whose is tutoring Susheela Raman was roped in for the concert.

"I always wanted to experiment the Tamil spiritual music in a pop genre and demonstrate it through stage performance," said Shusheela Raman, who provided vocals on "Asian Vibes", a single released in 1999 by Joi on Real World Records, and featured on their album "One And One Is One" that sold million copies.

“This was first of the ‘Tamil Voodoos’ that’s being planned every month at the Dunes,” said Shusheela who was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize for her album 'Salt Rain' in 2001.

“I am the next performer of the 'Tamil Voodoo' series, that’s on February 24. Musicians from France are especially flying for it” Raman said, who released her album "Music for Crocodiles" in 2005 where she sings for the first time in French with the song L'ame Volatile.

“All this would lead to a huge international concert, planned in August, a la Tamil Woodstock,” the pop diva whose website is concluded.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai, India. He can be contacted at

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