Pandhalula Paavakai Vedha Kallu Vitturuku… Appan Aatha Vittathunga…’ (Bitter gourd in my canopy has given us seeds. They were left behind by our mom and dad). It is a profound hard-hitting line from the internet-breaking Tamil indie hit song, ‘Enjoy Enjaami’, which has now reached 150 million views on YouTube. It’s the kind of evocative, deep line that is absent from a mass-consumed medium like cinema, where composers and lyricists look to play it safe.
In a way, this line from ‘Enjoy Enjaami’ could well be said to be an analogy for the Tamil indie scene itself. It’s a legacy that has been handed over by dozens of not-so-successful musicians, and now, the fresh spotlight on the Tamil indie music scene is but a culmination of all that effort. About four-five years ago, we had indie musicians speaking of how difficult and lonely the journey was, some of whom I had spoken to personally. Now, five years later, many of the same musicians have different stories to tell: stories of success and hope that they are narrating, as they wear a smile.
‘Enjoy Enjaami’ has currently secured a whopping 150 million views on YouTube, which is an unprecedented number for a Tamil indie song. This milestone has at least partly been facilitated by a tech initiative called Maajja, which was backed by Academy Award-winning composer, AR Rahman, to help struggling Tamil indie musicians. Pravekha of the Tamil indie band, Othasevuru, known for songs like ‘Iraivan Sandhipu’, notes that it has been fascinating to witness the paradigm shift in the music scene of the state. “When we started out, such an ecosystem or a business model for indie music was non-existent. To pursue indie music was a privilege, and it was an option only to those who would not mind the absence of monetary benefits. Internet, and how affordable it is today, has democratised the stage. Now, anyone can make and hear music. In addition, singers like Arivu have managed to venture into mainstream cinema music as well, and this has helped turn heads towards us. And now, we are finally where we wanted to be.”
Tenma, producer of the now-defunct Kurangan band, and noted flagbearer of the Tamil indie music scene, claims, “We are living in a golden age of indie music now. I have been saying this for a while, and now, finally, everyone seems to agree. We have all been waiting for this response for a long time. Finally, the business of indie music is starting to open up in terms of sponsors and funding. For the first time, the indie music scene has become part of pop culture.”
There have been initiatives to bring indie voices to the fore in the past like the YouTube channel, Terrace Jamming and Mathrubhumi Kappa TV’s Music Mojo. Yet, such steps only served to provide a stage. “Music labels weren’t helping us produce music. All they did earlier was distribute it, and that came with a lot of conditions. The music had to suit their image. Contrary to that, Maaja was willing to take care of all aspects of making the music. That’s a milestone and other labels would follow suit,” says singer-pianist, Siennor (Muyal Thottam, Vaa Pogalam). Arivu, man of the hour and one of the stars of ‘Enjoy Enjaami’, notes that the scene has become more inclusive over the years. “As a person who grew up in a small town like Arakkonam, it took me a lot of time to realise what constitutes indie music. All the veteran folk musicians from my hometown are actually indie musicians, who were singing about their daily struggles. They just didn’t get the stage I got to bring their music to a larger crowd. We have to owe this development to initiatives like Pa Ranjith’s Casteless Collective. Now, indie music is turning out to be a space for social commentary.”
Significant assistance also seems to have come from mainstream film composers like AR Rahman and Santhosh Narayanan, with all four musicians agreeing that the duo’s association with the movement was a gamechanger. Tenma says, “To turn the attention of the masses, which predominantly hear cinema music, towards indie music is a task in itself. The confluence of mainstream music and indie music is the key. Instead of fighting against mainstream music, we need to start working together.”Indie musicians are aware that the journey forward is long and hard and are in no disillusionment that the
work is over.