The other day George Mampilly received a packet by courier. It was sent by a friend B Vijaykumar who lives near Mattancherry. It contained a cassette of seven songs from the 1962 film, ‘Swargarajam’. “I had been looking for this for a long while,” says George.
George has an unusual hobby: he collects original versions of Malayalam songs and converts it into MP3 files.
“By original, I mean that the first time a song has been sung, I take that version,” he says. George gives an example: the song ‘Alliyambal kadavil’ from the 1965 film, ‘Rosy’, has been originally sung by Yesudas. “Thereafter, there have been numerous versions by other singers,” he says. “But I avoid that.”
At this moment, he has 18,503 songs stored on his laptop, using the ‘I Tunes’ software. This is not bad when you consider that since 1940, the total number of Malayalam songs is 19,200, spread over 4700 films. George’s collection begins in 1941 and carries on till 2012.
Not surprisingly, in his archive, Yesudas leads the way with more than 5000 songs, while on the distaff side, it is Chitra, with 1200 songs, while S. Janaki comes second with 800 songs. “They are legends, and the fact that they sang so many songs prove it,” he says.
Ten days ago, George got another packet. This contained cassettes of 17 songs from Sunil Elias, the grandson of Sebastian Kunjukunju Bhagavathar, a noted stage performer, actor, singer and author in the 1940s and 50s. “These were old songs from the 1950s,” says George. “There was no hope of getting these items.”
There was also no hope of getting songs from earlier films. The first talkie film in Malayalam was ‘Balan’, released in 1938 and directed by S. Nottani. “Unfortunately, not a single song or film frame exists,” says George. ‘Njanambika’ is the second film. The singers include CK Rajan, Mavelikkara Ponnamma and Sebastian Kunjunnu Bhagavathar. “I have songs from that,” George says, with a smile.
Since his friends know about his hobby, they also provide information. One friend, Tinny gave George a tip. There was a shop in Alappuzha, which used to sell cassettes. Now they were into CDs. When George went to the shop, at the corner there were two sacks filled with cassettes. He rummaged through them and got many old songs. Another contact was Eldo, who has many long playing records with speeds of 36 and 78 rpm. “The collection was begun by his father,” says George. “I went there and recorded many songs.” He has also befriended collectors in Pala and Thiruvananthapuram.
But the collector is careful that he avoids using revival music. “In this type of music, they keep the singer’s voice but add the sound of new instruments and change the whole background music and put it in the market,” says George. “I ensure that I don’t copy these.”
So far George has not made any commercial use of his collection. “I am willing to share it with others provided I am convinced that the person will not sell them,” he says.
George, 63, an equipment maintenance engineer, worked for 20 years in the automobile section of the Saud Bahwan group in Oman. But three years ago he decided to quit. “When the managing director asked why I was leaving I told him that for thirty-five years I followed somebody else’s timetable,” says George, at his home in Thammanam. “Now I want to set my own timetable.”
And that timetable has been focused exclusively on his music collection. “It has become a passion for me,” he says. “Times passes in a state of bliss. Those who are music lovers will understand what I mean.”