The sounds of Paul Ponnudurai played in the background as we entered the event space of GMBB on Saturday night. Malaysian composer and vocalist Santosh Logandran was all set to launch his first foray into the Malaysian Tamil music scene, In Pursuit of Santhosham.
As the likes of Nadir and Yuna replace Paul over the speakers, we can’t help but to think, interesting choice of music for a Tamil album launch.
It wasn’t just the music, but the vibe that caught us from the time we stepped into the event space at GMBB. A mini art exhibition greeted us, with Malaysian artists Dr Daljit Chelli, Blank Malaysia and Kane’s pieces displayed beautifully for all to see and purchase. Such talent, we think. If only we knew that this was just the tip of the Malaysian talent iceberg we were about to hit that night.
Written, composed and performed by Santosh himself, In Pursuit of Santhosham is the musician’s first Tamil album. The 27-year-old has been a vocalist and composer of Malaysian movie and theatre productions like Pulang, Polis Evo and Sand the Musical. As a result of this, Santosh won multiple awards at the BOH Cameronian Arts Awards, Festival Filem Malaysia and the Asian Academy Creative Awards.
An audio engineer by training, Santosh has produced jingles for Brickfields Asia College, Coke Phillipines and Hong Leong Bank. He is a part of the band Nadir, and they’ve performed alongside Malaysian starlet Zee Avi, who was present that evening with her family in tow.
In her speech, Zee recounted how this was truly a good night for Malaysian music, and credited Santosh for speaking his truth through his instrument.
Singer Brendan De Cruz opened the show with a few of his original tunes. The smouldering singer won the audience over with his raspy vocals, leaving the audience snapping our fingers and clapping along with him.
Santosh takes the stage to a rousing applause from the audience. He harnessed that very energy into his first song, the chilling Aradhana, a tune dedicated to his nieces. It was one of those jaw-dropping moments when he began singing that night. It almost didn’t feel real to see Santosh on the stage, illuminated by a single red stage light as he began singing, “Vaanil irunthe vizhum malai, boomiyil thodangum ilaya,” (The rain that falls from the sky continues on the earth)
The music picks up, but not too much as to overshadow the beautifully penned words, “Un viralai puditha naal, athu vidave maatene,” (I will never forget the day I held your fingers). He calls out his niece in between, and the audience is already in love with little Yalini, in spite of not knowing who she is. “En jeevane nee than athu marakka matenne,” (I will never forget that you are my soul). Santosh couldn’t finish the last note, as he was choked up for tears. This was somehow infectious, and many of us in the audience were dabbing our eyes with tissues.
His next song was the title track, In Pursuit of Santhosham. The musicians really came through in this song that can only be called a piece of art. Santosh’s band that night consisted of violinists Wani Ismail, Sze Chiann and Hariraam Tingyuan Lam, cellist Jennifer Lim, bassist Tasneem, lead guitarist Sri Suriya, rhythm guitarist Jaime Gunter, drummer Elroy Jiek and keyboardist Stephanie Tham as well as violist Joanna Aw.
Every note was permeated with so much emotion, and the musicians were not only in sync, they were in their element, with what appeared to be a flawless performance.
While all the musicians were brilliant, violinist Hariraam stood out in the title tune, In Pursuit of Santhosham. He was outstanding throughout the song, his energy never wavering. Words will not do his skills justice. The audience that night was blessed with what was undoubtedly the most gorgeous violin piece in a Malaysian Tamil song.
Santosh narrated the life of his mother and how she worked hard to bring him up, before launching into Rani, an ode to the women in his life. Rapper Yunohoo joined him on stage for the rap hook. This song for women felt genuine and unpretentious, unlike that other Tamil song that referred to women as lionesses while three men dominated the screen. Nice work, Santosh.
It was then time for Santosh’s Yen Di, an upbeat tune like no other Malaysian Tamil song. Yen Di has been dominating the local charts since its November release. Those who were listening to Yen Di for the first time were captivated by the feels of the tune, and the impeccable music that went along with it. The rest of us were just in awe of this fantastic song being performed on stage. Adil Johan’s mad saxophone skills coupled with Sunil Chuah’s dhol beats were all we needed to be transported into another dimension.
It was a lot like listening to Katravai Patravai on Spotify, months before the release of Kaala, and then watching the entire film and seeing Rajinikanth resurrected by Yogi B’s rapping, with all those colours. That was the exact feeling for the audience during Santosh’s live performance of Yen Di. Absolute chills, even while typing this, almost 48 hours later.
There was something about the crowd. It wasn’t a crowd you would see at a Tamil album launch. Half the crowd was, in fact, not of Indian origin. Never has a Tamil album launch seen such a diverse crowd, all exceptionally supportive to the musician, and genuinely enjoying the tunes.
And then it hits us, this is why In Pursuit of Santhosham is different from many Malaysian Tamil sounds out there. Santosh has managed to fuse his excellent command of Tamil with a truly Malaysian feel, without needing the mandatory rapper in another language. Nor did he copy AR Rahman or Dr Burn. Instead, Santosh worked on his strengths, and the result was a Tamil album with a completely Malaysian feel.
In Pursuit of Santhosham may be a Tamil language album, but there is no denying that it is a through and through Malaysian, and he has cleverly honed the talents of his musicians to pay homage to his Malaysian roots, and what grounds him – his loved ones.
Host Prakash Daniel (who wonderfully kept the audience’s energy up with his well-timed jibes at Malaysian Indians) hit the nail on the head saying, “It’s not easy to organise this kind of event, especially if you’re brown,” We couldn’t agree more. The fact that Santosh has pulled it off, with an event this successful, speaks volumes about his love for music and sheer determination to be a solo artist. Ask anyone who attended the album launch, and they’ll tell you how we could all feel the passion for Malaysian arts in our bones.
Santosh may have just released a Malaysian Tamil album, but this trained Carnatic singer’s tunes are destined for far more than that. He has broken the barrier of language and he now has Malaysians recognise him, not just Malaysian Tamil music fans. He was spot on in calling himself a Malaysian Tamil music disruptor, he has set the bar so high for the industry, it will be interesting to see how this changes the way Tamil music is made here.
Santosh Logandran has reinvented Malaysian Tamil music, and he left his audience with our hearts overflowing santhosham (joy) as we left the venue that night.
To get your hands on In Pursuit of Santhosham, follow Santosh Logandran on Instagram here.
The all-Malaysian music that we mentioned at the start of the concert was curated by Santosh himself and is available on Spotify here.