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Tamil with a twang

Artistes releasing non-film Tamil Pop, Hip Hop and Rap albums have saved Tamil music from being pigeonholed into the film and devotional genre alone. Interestingly, their biggest market lies outside of India.

It is a case of the rise of the Global Tamilian. He (slash she for the politically correct) can effectively combine Bronx-beat boxing with flawless Tamil lyrics and roll the chorus of a Tamil love melody into perfectly rhymed rap. While the most obvious examples of the above could be picked off films - think Blaaze belting out in Sivaji's Style or Yogi B in Vallavan - non-film records released by artistes who unite typically Western notes of Hip Hop, RnB, and Pop with a language closer to home are on the rise. "The mid-90's saw a handful of non-film Tamil Pop albums, including Suresh Peters'; they did well but the genre soon fizzled out. The past couple of years however have seen the resurgence of that genre, and the arrival of Tamil Rap and Hip Hop. Though this is most audible with film music, it isn't restricted to that; more musicians are turning away from film music to experiment with Tamil rap and hip-hop, than ever before," says 'Pop' Shalini, who cut her first eponymous non-film Tamil pop album in 1996. The trend could also be an obvious reflection on the Global Tamilian today, who is flung into the throes of the music churned out by MTV and VH1 and is the proud owner of a much-stamped passport that has incidentally widened his experience of music styles from across continents. "This generation has been exposed to more Western music than the previous one. While hip-hop and rap are genres they can relate to easily, they also want something that is closer to their roots, and proclaims their identity - that's where the trend of fitting Tamil lyrics into pop, rap or hip-hop comes in."

Despite all that, record labels are apprehensive about cutting these artists some slack and hold their purse strings tight. Mainstream albums that guarantee sure-fire record sales still spell greater profits for them. "In South India, the market is very Kollywood-driven. So, the market for non-film Tamil pop, rap and hip-hop is very small. No matter how reputed an artist is, promoting a non-film album is a lot harder than one that gains publicity?simply by being the soundtrack of a certain hit film," says R Vinayakmurthy, Assistant Manager at Saregama. What record labels may deny them, the internet freely provides. These artists put their music out for downloads on their website. "It opens a world of possibilities. You can sit in Timbuctoo, type out a few words and easily discover new music," says Naushad Ali, a radiologist-cum-keyboardist of Prana, a Tamil pop band with influences of RnB and Carnatic, who recently released their debut under Saregama. Since about a year prior to the release, the band - like most others - put their music up for paid downloads from their website. "The number of downloads we recorded convinced Saregama to promote our album," adds Ali, "NRIs from the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and South East Asia contributed to about 60% of downloads."

Whoever said that being a Global Tamilian came with the prerequisite of living in India? The greatest market for these genres seems to lie abroad. "People of Indian origin, living abroad seem to best identify with Tamil-infused pop, hip-hop or rap. The record sales and download rates for these genres are higher abroad," says Vivian Viju, General Manager, Studio Eight Productions, who recently launched Kavithai Gundar, with Emcee Jesz of Natchatra fame. While Natchatra's pioneering Tamil hip-hop album, Vallavan, sold over 10,000 copies in India, Sri Lanka, Singapore, and Chicago and Toronto in 2006, Kavithai Gundar already boasts of the same sales figure in Malaysia alone since its international launch a few months ago.


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