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CD Review: Ilaiyaraaja / The Music Messiah

CD Review: Ilaiyaraaja / The Music Messiah

இளையராஜா – The Music Messiah / Agi Music 2006

After listening to and reviewing Ilaiyaraaja’s magnum opus Thiruvasagam, I made my way to Spencer Plaza in Chennai and bought myself this CD.

I thought I would be in for another meeting point of western classical music and Tamil traditions, but not quite. What we have here is more a product of musical story telling, new age influences, cinematic backdrops and some light classical elements.

What does Ilaiyaraaja strive to convey with this release and who is his audience? One thing is sure, there is a storyline behind the music making this very much a concept album. The plot seems to be an adaptation from the Puranas with the god Indra making mischief again as he is often prone to do in the epic stories of India.

To make a long story short; this time Indra has hatched a plot to bring humanity to it’s knees with a sonic weapon. He starts composing music that makes people forget higher values and inspires violent feelings in them, and so humanity descends into chaos. God then decides to take incarnation in the form of celestial music that is so beautiful that everyone including Indra decide to return to a life of harmony and peace.

The music consists of ten movements portraying various stages of this drama. In many ways this could be  music for an animated film or even background music for a film. In places I’m reminded of new age composers like Kitaro and Karunesh, yet at the same time this is Ilaiyaraaja and nobody else. The imagination, the sense of drama and the multitude of instruments used make it all sound distinctly like him.

Throughout the work there is a reoccuring and haunting theme that’s sometimes played on what sounds like a (synthesized) Shakuhachi flute and sometimes on strings. As I understand it it is the “redemption” theme that represents God’s incarnation in musical form. Some drums are reminiscent of Japanese Taiko percussion. If you are familiar with Kitaro’s album Kojiki you might find some resemblances here and there.

The music is very fantastic in nature and might appeal to children also. Twenty years back I used to work in a library and read stories to children with music in the background. This would surely have been a choice album for those moments. Adult fans should not take this as a slight on the music, I’m just proposing it has multiple layers.

Maybe take a fantasy novel, put this CD in the player and plunge into the world of myths and legends. Compared to the magnitude and scale of Thiruvasagam this work is more of an easy listening experience. There are very beautiful moments, no doubt, but missing are for example the splendid Tamil vocals. Nevertheless give this a try if world music and New Age are your cup of tea. It certainly has a beauty that grows on you.

After all is said and done I cannot refrain from recommending Thiruvasagam (click here to read a review and listen to a sample) as a starting point into the world of Ilaiyaraaja. Or perhaps one of his film scores. You won’t be disappointed.

You can buy this CD as an Mp3 download from the Amazon powered store by clicking here.

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9 Responses to “CD Review: Ilaiyaraaja / The Music Messiah”

  1. Sharavana says:

    //I thought I would be in for another meeting point of western classical music and Tamil traditions, but not quite//

    Hey, Finndian try Ilaiyaraaja’s “How To Name It” and “Nothing But Wind”, You may get what you expected. 🙂

  2. Aleksi Lausti says:

    Thanks for the tip. Will certainly check them out.

  3. Kamal says:


    I’ve been reading your abstracts about Raaja sir’s (Maestro. Illaiyaraaja) music albums. Overwhelming! The Music Messiah is an experimental album, wherein through music Raaja sir has attempted to narrate a story. This album has perfect musical blend of baroqueness to contemporary musical types, which is an avant-grade work at our end.

    I would recommend that you kindly give a listen to His another New-age music album which is a Background score work for a documentary about India.

    My best wishes!

    Have a good one!

  4. Aleksi Lausti says:

    Thanks Kamal, I will give it a listen for sure.

  5. MANIKVR says:

    He is still one Genius whom the Indian Film World is yet to Discover

  6. Natarajan says:

    @Aleksi Lausti : pls listen to “how to name it” and “nothing but wind” and post your review, i am eagerly waiting for that..

  7. Aleksi Lausti says:

    @Natarajan: Thanks for the tip. I will listen to “Nothing But Wind” and write a review of it soon. Looking forward to the experience.

  8. shiva padmanaban says:

    HOW TO NAME IT my life time favorite…eagerly waiting for that..

  9. Jaga says:

    Highly recommend “HOW TO NAME IT” . No other non-film albums of his comes even close to this one. V.S.Narasimhan wields the violin and be ready for true fusion of carnatic/western. Pure music.

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