Santhosh Narayanan on creating authentic sound palettes and finally starting his own YouTube channel

For ‘Sarpatta Parambarai’ composer Santhosh Narayanan, the greatest compliment his soundtrack received was that it fused completely with the film

The day of Sarpatta Parambarai’s release, Santhosh Narayanan received calls from people saying that they never realised that the movie had a background score running throughout. “That, to any technician, is the biggest compliment,” says Santhosh Narayanan, seated in his home studio in Chennai. “A film should absorb you so much that all you can see is the performance of the artiste — not the music, not the way the camera is moving, not the artwork used.”

Sarpatta Parambarai is Santhosh’s fourth movie of 2021, after Parris Jayaraj, Jagame Thanthiram and Karnan, and he has four more yet to be released. “Three of them were delivered to me in one week, so it helped that all of them were completely different universes,” he says, explaining how the first step is always to figure out the “sound palette” of the film.

For Sarpatta, it was all about staying authentic to the 70s sound. Instead of echoing film music from that era, which he thought would sound too derivative, he focussed on choosing instruments specific to that time.

“The instruments then used skin, which nowadays is being replaced by fibre. So I met veteran gaana musicians such as Rev Ravi and Gana Bala, who still had access to those instruments,” says Santhosh.

If the gaana music was ambient and soulful in Karnan, it had to be rousing in Sarpatta, and for this, he tried for the first time to mix Tamil folk and brass instruments. “Black Panther was an influence for me; it showed me how African instruments could be so seamlessly fused with a big orchestra,” he says.

The golden age for indie music

But the main anthem of the movie, ‘Neeye Oli’, appears only in the end-credits scenes. Santhosh roped in Canadian Tamil rappers Shan Vincent De Paul and Navz for it. “I first noticed Shan rapping to the beats of a mridangam at a music festival in 2020, and was blown away,” he says.

The two reconnected after Santhosh’s daughter Dhee and rapper Arivu released the massive hit, ‘Enjoy Enjaami’, under A.R. Rahman’s platform Maajja, of which Shan too is a part. ‘Neeye Oli’ is the third song under the platform.

Working with fresh voices has been a defining part of Santhosh’s career. “With maajja, we are trying to find the best of the best within the Tamil music scene. I would never say we are giving people opportunities, I call them collaborations. Enjoy Enjaami opened a big door of opportunities, and this I feel is a golden era for independent music in Tamil Nadu,” he says.

This is perhaps a reason why, after nearly a decade in film music, Santhosh has started his own YouTube channel — the two songs on it, are from Sarpatta, and the first has already reached over a million views.

“Over the past few years, I’ve been thinking that I need to keep my independent voice as an artiste. You aren’t in business every second of your life, though you are still creating,” he says.

Before Santhosh’s first movie, Attakathi, in 2012 — incidentally also with Pa Ranjith — he was in a band called La Pongal, with Sean Roldan and Pradeep Kumar, who have gone on to become formidable composers.

Santhosh says he is looking forward to posting some of the band’s unreleased work from their 10 years in cinema. “There’s also one album that I found on an old hard drive. It never saw the light of the day, but I want to release it on my channel at some point.”

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