_____ALMOST 13 years I wrote this article......writing here again for the members.____
If Africa and South America contributed to Tamil film music it came out in a simple piece of instrument as “the Bongo”. The two drums of the Bongo typically made of wood, has the head made of animal skin and despite its small size, produces high pitched sounds tapping the artistic use of the palm and fingers. The variations of the bongo beats include using sticks or brushes or bringing “mute” sounds by placing part of the hand on the top of the head as the strike happens.
If the Bongo carved its own niche in the realms of Tamil film music, the entire credit goes to MSV (both with TKR and alone), for it is indeed a revelation that he deployed the bongo for a variety of use: be it to emote the psyche of the human mind, a grand opening, providing pace, getting the right sobriety, to put you to sleep, and finally casting a permanent place in your heart for a lifetime! In this exploration of the Bongo in MSV’s repertoire, the focus is mostly on the songs that had the Bongo as the “exclusive rhythm accompaniment in the song, end-to-end”, excluding the masterpieces he created on the Bongo in conjunction with the tabla, dholak or the drums. This is definitely not an exhaustive list as the treasure I am in is too large, but I have done my best to hear, nourish and present a collection for everyone to recollect, admire and cherish- the rhythm of the MSV’s bongo!.
THE GRAND OPENING: Let’s begin with an exception to the basic criteria I set, simply because the Bongo as an instrument can get no better introduction as in a song opening. In what I call a battle between the bongo and the drums in a grand prelude of the song “Oru pennai parthunilavai parthu (Deivathai) ”, MSV tells us that he holds the Bongo close to his heart, that it could always match or even replace the omnipresent drums of his orchestra. Similar is his own screen appearance in “Avalukenna, Azhagiya mugam (Server Sundaram)" opening. However little did he realize that he beat these openings, with grandeur in a subsequent piece. Recall that the crux of the tale in Sivaji’s maiden venture “Pudiya Paravai” revolved around the song “Paartha GnabagamIllayio ” rendered stylishly on-screen by the club-singer Sowcar equalledby a fascinating response and admiration by the cigarillo smoking Sivaji. But what gave the start for that attention-grabbing number is the demo of the bongo – MSV tells us through that piece– this is what my little wonder is capable of – while Dada Mirasi the film’s director aptly used an African on-screen, to demo its prowess or indeed tell us its historical origin. MSV polished the entire song with the bongo, which reflects his choice for the rhythm, every time there was a tune requiring a soulful rendition with a dose of pathos attached to it.
PATHOS: There is many a tear in the heart that never reaches the eye, the heart beats louder and the soul hears quicker in silence and solitude. It is beyond composing or orchestration brilliance that MSV had the bongobe an integral part of his play to express silence, sorrow or solitude. The grief-stricken echo of MSV himself in “Ponaal Pogattum Poda”(PaalumPazhamum), the intensity of the situation, lyrics and atmosphere get immense support by the tap of the bongo through the song’s entire journey revolving around eternal silence. In fact the title song “PaalumPazhamum” demonstrated how the simplest beat of the bongo can be most effective. Who can forget the opening whistle of “Vantha NaalMuthal” in Paava Mannippu, as Sivaji pedalled on a bicycle with a baby in the front-bag – the bongo provided the song’s balance – bear in mind that the continuous beat in the song had just one variation. Did pathos and bongo go hand-in-glove is the proverbial question, but MSV exclusively chose the bongo for “Aval ParanthuPonale (Paar Magale Paar) ”, “Padaithane Padaithane(Nichiyathaamboolam)”, “Ullam Enbathu Aamai (Paarthal PasiTheerum)”, “Avanukenna Thoongivittaan (Periya Idathu Penn)”, “Engirunthaalum Vazhga (Nenjil Or Aalayam)”, “Annan KaatiyaVazhiyamma (Padithaal Mattum Poduma)” and the song which describes the philosophy of life - “Mayakkama Kalakkama (Sumaithangi)” which probably had the tabla sound like a bongo in the stanzas!. When the three musketeers of tamil film music - Viswanathan - Kannadasan and Sounderrajan brought out a Cliff-Richard like number, with continuous strumming of the bass, rhythm and jazz guitars in “Yaar antha Nilavu(Shanthi)” - matched one-to-one with Sivaji’s screen mimic of the song with a cigarette stub - what comes triumphant is that fantastic modulated rhythm of the bongo which rendered great fillip to this monumental number. If MSV used the bongo for a grand opening, so did he for what can be the Grand Finale to true light music – “Enge Nimmathi (PudiyaParavai)” – etched in memory for its high-scale musical interpretation, the 100+ piece orchestra, the never-before and never-again strings arrangements but we need to add for sure, that all the artists and instruments used in the song were kept in sync by the rhythmic-run of the bongo. That MSV choose the Bongo for this massive orchestration not just speaks of his confidence and love for the instrument but it also demonstrates his effort to bring its deserving credibility.
RHAPSODY: If pathos came with bongo, so did the song genre of joy-de-vivre, colour, spontaneous inspiration, happiness or victory. I recall as a kid the poster of MGR standing tall with a whip in his hand for EngeVeetu Pillai – the signature tune – “Naan Anayittal” announced the arrival of the real-hero in the film, the “thak -thak -thak –de- dhum -dhum” beat of the bongo with sound of the whiplash indicated that the hero will march to his conquest from thereon. Flashback to ‘Nichiyathamboolam’to depict a happy-go-lucky Sivaji and his pals singing “AandavanPadaichan” to the punch of the bongo. Do you require to be self-motivated? – plug into “Ennathaan Nadakkum Nadakkattume, (En Kadamai). Give me a better choice to express the feel of clean air, blue sky, white mountains, all packaged into one as in “Pudiya Vaanam, Pudiya Bhoomi (Anbe Vaa) set to the variations of the little bongo. A teaser of a number as “Jhavre Jhaao (Kumari Penn) had the exclusive bongo which I chose instead of the bigger hit ‘Undan ponnana kaigal’ which had the tabla attached. Get into romantic teasing with “Aaha Mellanada (Pudiya paravai) with the soft touch of the bongo. Not to be too male-chauvinistic here are “Love Birds (Anbe Vaa)” and “Aval MellaSirithal (Pachai Vilakku)” - modish Suseela’s renditions with the Bongo, where we hear the girl next door! And the magnum opus of LREaswari – innovated with a haunting pant – “Pattathu Rani (Sivantha Mann)” was done to the bongo’s taal. And if that was a club dance or a cabaret, MSV went berserk with his bongo as in ‘Paavai Paavai thaan’ (Enga Mama) or ‘Adada Enna Azhagu’ in the film ‘Nee’. And finally, an entire movie based on combination of pathos and rhabsody had lingering bongo beats – Sridhar’s ‘Vennir Aadai’ had “Enna Enna Vaarthaigalo”, “Chithirame”, “Nee Enbathenna”, “Ammamma”, “Kannan ennum mannan”, “NeeradumKangal Inge”. They say perfection is finally attained when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to discard. How true of MSV’s bongo.
ON LOVE AND LOVERS: If the language of love is spoken with a look, a touch, a sign, sometimes a word, it needs to be sung to MSV’s duets on the bongo! MSV’s anguish to better his own tune is told in his Legends music album but “Odivathu Pol Idai Irukkum (Idayathil Nee) and “Malayum Iruvum (Paasam)” are tasteful duets set to a racy bongo. A very peculiar, out-of-norm, humming bringing the best of P B Srinivas in “Mullil Roja, Kallurum Roja (Kalaikovil)” while K J Yesudas getting his first break in “Enna Paarvai (Kaathalikka Neramillai)” and Jayalilatha’smaiden film duet “Naanamo, Innum Naanamo (Aayirthil Oruvan) are some lustrous tributes to MSV’s bongo. I would definitely add another soul-searching duet from Kalaikovil – “Naan Unnai Serntha Selvam” despite having both the bongo and the tabla tapping in sync. If someone still thinks to teach himself the bongo here are the beats of - “Poga Pogatheriyum (Server Sundaram) or “Kanni Venduma (Pachai vilakku) or the simple “Kumari Pennin Ullathile (Enga Veetu Pillai). MSV’s love duets and songs with the combination rhythm of bongos, tabla and the drumsrequires separate research and kept for another day.
THE SWING OF JAZZ: MSV jazz surprise came from the beautifully crafted song “Varavendum orupozhuthu”(Kalaikovil) - the truest jazz rendition in tamil films but further interpretations of MSV’s jazz came with the bongo beats in “Kankalukenna Kavalillayo (Nil Kavani Kathali). The exploitation of the piano, voice-echos, bongos to the swings of jazz revealed MSV’s appetite, instinct, passion and curiosity.
THE LULLABY: If rest is a fine medicine, sleep the ultimate way, here is a good prescription – catch a good night sleep with “Thookam Un Kangalai Thazhuvattume (Aalayamani)” and if you need a prelude - here is “Aaha ithu nalliravu (Kuzhanthayum Deivamum), for I know every time I play them, I fall into bliss. That a bongo which often gets associated with cacophony helps you to get to sleep, is the wonder in MSV’s magic!
THE DECLINE: I wouldn’t know the exact reason but I probably think that with keeping of the times, the emergence of electronic and digital sounds, the original bongo’s use got depleted in the early 80s, through the 80s and in the 90s. Today it is a tragedy that I hear it only occasionally, ironic to see people performing on stage use two sticks on an electronic drum pad to imitate the tone of the bongo. The attempts of drummers on stage, to stand-in and play the bongo to its merit, has to-date been also futile.
In my collection of popular light music across India and based on my listening of numerous music directors across languages, it is my feeling that MSV takes sole-ownership to give credence and respectability to a simple instrument. Quality in music is not by accident, it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives, the cumulative experience of many masters of craftsmanship, it also marks the maker for his quest for an “ideal”. Search and look around for an alternative, or try it if you will, there will be no more hearing that will ever replace “THE TONE OF MSV’s BONGO!”