When India's Santhosh Narayanan brought indie musicians — both international and local — together for a festival of music

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, March 23 — South Indian music composer Santhosh Narayanan held his first international concert at the Axiata Arena here over the weekend, just weeks after legendary music maestro AR Rahman performed at Bukit Jalil to a mega audience.

This Indian music concert fever started mid-last year and different organisers have been racing to announce the singers and music directors they are bringing down to perform in Kuala Lumpur.

These hugely successful concerts clearly show that fans enjoy music from hit Tamil films from south India as well as the work of independent musicians.

While AR Rahman’s concert showcased songs from the Tamil film industry, Santhosh’s concert brought together various local independent talents under one roof — in a way uniting international and local musicians.

Santhosh told Malay Mail that he was proud to start his international tour in Malaysia by partnering with Reacch Productions and wanted it to be more like a music festival where the focus should not just be on him but on every single performer on stage.

That is why the famed musician used the Sounds of The South as the title of his concert instead of going with Santhosh Narayanan ‘Live.’

A natural shift and demand for independent music

“There is no doubt that the independent music scene is thriving at the moment. For Malaysians to engage and respond so well shows that (the influence) has reached here. Also in Singapore, Canada, UK and France.

“I started my career as an independent artist... just doing shows... then I went and did movies and I stopped performing. After my song Enjoy Enjaami connected with the audience, I decided to start performing again,” he said.

Santhosh said that there is a great opportunity for Tamil music to take its place in the world of independent music. Songs that are not connected to movies are making it big while the usual demand remains for songs from movie albums.

“So I feel independent music needs to be taken more seriously today as there is a big consumer base today as everybody has their own listening device and apps. The Independent scene is really picking up in a big way. An artist with 10, or 20 songs can definitely travel and perform globally.

“We must include a big portion of independent music in concerts but also make sure people know the songs before they come. They shouldn’t come just for my songs. I’m glad it really worked out,” he said.

Santhosh is the composer for Enjoy Enjaami and the song was performed by Dheekshitha Venkadeshan known professionally as Dhee, an Australian singer of Sri Lankan Tamil descent and also featured Indian rapper and lyricist Arivu.

The song garnered 433 million views worldwide since the music video was released on YouTube on March 10, 2021.

Santhosh said he felt very emotional and humbled by the positive reviews he received after the concert which he said has inspired him to do more future concerts by collaborating with Indian independent artists all around the world.

“I want my shows to feel like a Coachella Music Festival or like an indie concert ... I want to give a shameless kind of performance and just go crazy,” he said and joked that while that was his aim, he cringed watching clips of his own performance the next day.

Santhosh advised independent musicians who are struggling to be confident and remember that they are privileged to use various platforms online that will help push out their music.

Reacch Productions organisers S.Suresh and B. Yugeswaran said: “We always felt Santhosh Narayanan is not an ordinary composer but someone who gives importance to native sounds and instruments in modern music. We are lucky to be at the right place and time when he was ready to do this concert, kickstarting in Malaysia. It was a challenge to dip into this never been done idea but we are glad to set a mark now.”

One of the highlights of the concert was the set-up — a one-of-its-kind three-directional ramped centre stage that gave a 360-degree view. The stage also had a three-musician pit to give the audience seated around the stadium a better view of the show.

Meanwhile, Dhee who also spoke to Malay Mail said independent music is where unique ideas and individuality shine.

“Film music is amazing and great but independent music is where you see expression. Now I think it’s the right time, people have more confidence to put out music and they don’t need to rely on an external source.

“At the concert on Saturday, musicians performed songs that made them who they are today. There was so much individuality. It was just not Santhosh’s journey... he brought everyone together.

“We are in a time where independent music can be popular music. There is something liberating in independent music that you can express and not be tied to a story and I think people connect to that,” said Dhee, whose ultimate dream is to collaborate with Kendrick Lamar.

The line-up on Saturday included two Tamil-Canadian rappers Shan Vincent de Paul (SVDP) and Yanchan, who is also a hip-hop producer and famous mridangam player. These two Toronto rappers are known to bridge the gap between Carnatic music and hip-hop beats.

Malaysians never expected the 'Kothu Boys'! SVDP and Yanchan to perform their signature Carnatic rap fusion. — Picture courtesy of  Kishyen Rao
Malaysians never expected the 'Kothu Boys'! SVDP and Yanchan to perform their signature Carnatic rap fusion. — Picture courtesy of Kishyen Rao

Malaysians never expected the 'Kothu Boys'! SVDP and Yanchan to perform their signature Carnatic rap fusion. — Picture courtesy of Kishyen Rao

Other than Priyanka NK of India’s Super Singer fame, Maya Nadhi’s Ananthu also wowed the audience alongside famous Indian vocalists Haricharan Seshadri, Vijaynarain Rangarajan, Gana Muthu and Meenakshi Ilayaraja.

It was also a proud moment for local fans when homegrown talent Tamil hip-hop pioneer Yogi B and rapper, music producer Roshan Jamrock from K-town Clan rapped Rajinikanth’s Kaala song Katravai Patravai with Santhosh who was the original composer.

Staying true to Malaysia’s identity, the concert also saw a proud multiracial moment when three local choreographers with 20 different dancers from all races performed. They were Vehaara Arts, Inversion Entertainment and Elecoloxhot.

Actor cum singers Siddharth and Dhruv Vikram also belted famous numbers respectively with Dhruv releasing an unreleased song exclusively for his Malaysian audience titled Poomathiye.

It’s been a week since the concert took place but fans continue to applaud Santhosh for his versatility as a composer by performing and featuring some of the most popular songs from his discography, along with never-before-heard extended tracks.

Santhosh, fondly known as SaNa by his fans and for winning many awards in the Indian film industry, is also known for his enthusiasm in engaging folk traditional musical instruments which gives a different feel of sound to listeners. He shot to fame after he showed his musical prowess by working on different genres and coming up with equally flamboyant scores.