My head will burst if I don’t make this post.
I took a bus from Chennai to Pondycherry the day before yesterday. It was a privately owned air-conditioned bus and as part of entertainment, the Tamil film “Kutti Puli” was played. My first reaction was “Oh no, not this one!” and I put up with the torture for sometime till the movie shows the disgusting scene of the protagonist throwing up (I repeat, “throwing up”)on two men. For me that was “enough is enough” and I moved to the rear seats of the sparsely occupied bus. Here the sound was barely audible and the T.V screen far away. The partially (almost 50%) damaged TV screen also aided as a deterrent to watching the movie. After the bus was stopped for a while (for tea break and refreshments) I got back to my old seat and tried watching the film with all the patience I could muster but it was unbearable. I even tried stuffing my handkerchief into my ears and closed my eyes to doze off. It was then and all of a sudden that the rocking riff and beats of “Akkamaga” started playing and I couldn’t believe my ears and eyes. One more movie has used the song and ripped the makers and singers of this song of any credits. The song has been modified with some added percussion and synth sounds and eventually been wrecked in the process with an unbearable video too. The song has also been trimmed as there are moderately adult-oriented lyrics (pales in comparison to our double-meaning lyrics) in the latter part of the song.
So what is “Akkamaga” and who are these guys behind this song? So let me rewind a bit, back to 1996.
The date, Feb, 9, 1996, is unforgettable because it was the first time I left India. I was headed for Singapore. The company that employed me, took me and my friend on a circuitous trip (to save costs of course) to Singapore from Chennai (then Madras). On the now defunct East West Airlines we were first flown to Bombay. At Bombay we were taken by shuttle to the International Airport. From there we boarded a Cathay Pacific flight to Bangkok and then from Bangkok we were flown to Singapore. Being my first trip outside India I was excited but the journey from Madras to Singapore which would have taken just three hours, took 14 hours to finally reach its destination. Like actor Sivakumar (Surya’s father) once said, it was amazing to hear announcements being made in Tamil as the plane descended into Singapore’s Changi airport.
For a Chennaite, Singapore is a home away from home. At the guest house where we were put up in Spottiswoode Park, located opposite the Singapore General Hospital was Nila’s Pub and Bar. The restaurant was on the ground floor and the pub on the first. I hardly went upstairs but the live band playing Tamil songs couldn’t stop me one day, but that’s another story.
At the restaurant they would play music via a hi-fi system. What a feeling it was to walk into the restaurant in another country for the first time and listening to Tamil songs being played. Illayaraja’s songs were the common fare. But there was this one song that captured my attention. It was repeatedly played and it was the one called “Akkamaga”. From the way it sounded it was obvious that it wasn’t from India. On enquiry, a Singaporean Tamilian would tell me that it was the Malaysian band “The Keys” and that it was the raging “Pub Hit” among local Tamils, at that time. I wasn’t surprised.
I am not sure why my friends did not fancy the song but I simply loved it. The lyrics were outrageously hilarious and the Singaporean/Malaysian accents adorable. New listeners may find it even a little untoward or adult but that was the beauty of it. Just like Sri Lankan Tamil, the Tamil in Malaysia and Singapore has a flavor and usage of its own. Here’s an old video on YouTube of the band performing “Akkamaga” live. The video is poor and the song has just been imposed on the video. I am sure it isn’t the live audio.
Malaysian and Singaporean Tamils call this music “Samba Rock” a steady bass and guitar riff married to a “dappan koothu” kind of a beat. Now if you are wondering if you heard that sound in a Tamil movie you are right. Music director Bharathwaj used it in his massive hit “O podu” in the 2002 film “Gemini”. But it was the Telugu film “Devudu chesina Manushulu” that copied the song tune for tune and almost all of the music in the song “Devuda Devuda entha pani chestharu”. And now “Kutti Puli” has this song almost in its original form with the same vocalist, lyrics and music. No credits have been given anywhere to the original makers of the song. What to say of royalties then.
Though not at big as “Akkamaga”, The Keys have two other hits in “Nila Mele” and “Fathima”. I cannot tell you how heads turned when I played “Akkamaga” at a company gathering in 2004.
One of the quintessential members of The Keys, “Darkkey” went on to make solo albums. One of his big hits was a song called “Karatana” which in my opinion can be called Tamil’s first death metal song. Though likeable on the first listen it can get boring on repeat listens. Other similar songs from Darkkey can become a painful overdose too. The video of Karatana from YouTube is posted below. The video and the audio sync is poor.
One other big “samba rock” band from Malaysia was “Kashmir Stone” who sang both English and Tamil songs though their music sounded very much like metal bands of the 80’s. Here they are from their 2000 album “Mangga Thoppu” with a song called “Oh My Love”.
Their entire album is available online for listening and download. You will not believe Tamil Rock existed like this outside of India. I particularly liked “Aruvi Kari oram”, “Muthalaga” and “Rock n Roll”. Check them out at the link below and you’ll be surprised.
Many other Tamil rock and pop bands exist outside India worthy of mention that I may not be aware of. Do let me know if you know of them.