Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Gift for music


One song, ‘Lajjavathiye’, dramatically changed the course of music composer and singer, Jassie Gift’s life

By Shevlin Sebastian

“When my grandfather, N.A. Isaac used to listen to songs on the radio he would drum on the table with his fingers,” says Jassie Gift, music composer and singer. “I found it exciting to watch him do this.”

Jassie grew up in Thiruvananthapuram and learnt music from Isaac, who was a trained Carnatic musician. “He would write and compose songs,” he says.

However, when Jassie was in Class 8 at St. Thomas school a few boys from Kuwait joined the institution. “Because of them I started listening to Western music,” he says. “I liked Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Queen, and Bob Marley.”

When Jassie went to college he learnt classical western music on the piano. Thanks to his uncle, Edwin Isaac, he joined a band, ‘Moby Dick’ as a keyboard player and began playing regularly in different hotels like Ashoka and Southpark.

In 1997, there was a New Year Eve programme and the guest singer fell sick. “Since my colleagues had heard me sing under my breath a number of times, they told me to become the vocalist,” he says. And the first song he sang in public was Eric Clapton’s ‘Wonderful Tonight’.

And suddenly, he sings the song again, accompanied by finger drumming on a table, at a recording studio in Kochi:

‘It’s late in the evening; she’s wondering what clothes to wear.
She puts on her make-up and brushes her long blonde hair.
And then she asks me, “Do I look all right?”
And I say, “Yes, you look wonderful tonight!”’

“It’s a beautiful song, and I felt thrilled when the audience clapped,” says Jassie. “It was a turning point in my life.”

Later, there was a show at University College. “When I sang, my classmates were stunned because they never knew I was a vocalist,” he says. In the audience was Sabu, who was hosting ‘Tharikida’, a humorous current affairs programme on Surya TV.

“Sabu told me I should bring out a music album,” says Jassie. The singer paid heed to the advice and brought an album, ‘Soona Soona’. The video was soon aired on Surya TV. Meanwhile, the video director, Tanu Balak, was listening to the song, along with Mahesh Raj, the younger brother of noted director Jayaraj.

At that time, Jayaraj was making a Hindi film, ‘Bheebhatsa’, starring Atul Kulkarni and Seema Biswas. “Jayaraj Sir was looking for a composer and Mahesh told him about me,” says Jassie. The director saw the video and gave Jassie the assignment. Later, Jassie composed the music for ‘Safalam’, which was directed by Ashokan, an associate of Jayaraj.

In 2004, when Jayaraj decided to make 4 The People, he asked Jassie to compose the music.

“Jassie has a universal and a deeply appealing voice,” says Jayaraj. “He is the first composer in Kerala to mix reggae and rap. Nowadays, new generation- musicians like Jassie are able to take influences from all over the world and put it into their music.”

Jassie composed the music for four songs – which later became ‘Annakkili’, ‘Lajjavathiye Ninte’, ‘Lokaasamastha’ and ‘Balle Balle’, and made Jayaraj listen to them.

“The greatest quality of Jayaraj Sir is that he is able to judge which song will be a hit,” says Jassie. Lyricist Kaithapram Thirumeni sat down to give the words. “When he wrote the word ‘Lajjavathiye’ I expressed my doubts about whether this would work,” he says. “But Jayaraj Sir and Kaithapram told me not to worry.”

It was then decided that Tamil singer Karthik would sing the song. Jassie went to Chennai to meet him but the latter had to rush off for a concert in Malaysia.

Meanwhile, the time for shooting was drawing near, so, as a cover, Jassie sang the songs. “When the shooting of ‘Lajjavathiye’ took place everybody in the unit liked Jassi’s voice,” says Jayaraj. “It was then that I decided we would retain his voice.”

The rest, of course, is music history.

‘Lajjavathiye’ took the state by storm and became one of the greatest hits of recent times. Jassie’s career exploded in its wake. He began to give four to five stage shows a day and went for numerous concerts in the Middle East. Soon, he sang the same song for Tamil and Telugu films and it became a hit there also.

Jassie is quite clear about the reasons behind its success, “I have a distinctive voice,” he says. “There is a good beat and melody. And what appealed to the youngsters was the mix of English and Malayalam words. This song was the a turning point of my life.”

Today, Jassie has sung several songs for Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada films. He has just sung for Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy for the Tamil film, ‘Yaavarum Nilam’, and is also composing music for several films.

Asked to explain his understanding of life, the singer, who is preparing to present a doctoral thesis in Indian philosophy at Kannur University, says, “You cannot do anything without the help of God. Our lives are pre-destined. I could never imagine when I was in school that I would earn my living as a singer and music composer. And, don’t forget, the element of luck that always plays a major role in every life.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)


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