Sunday, March 08, 2009

A mania for music


Playing drums at the age of four and getting admission into the RLV College of Music were the turning points in music composer Alex Paul’s life

By Shevlin Sebastian

In Alex Paul’s ancestral home at Pullepady, apart from outsiders, his numerous uncles and aunts played some kind of a music instrument. Rehearsals for ganamelas would take place regularly in a large hall.

One day the person who played the triple drums was absent. “Just for fun, my father, A.M. Paul, placed me in front of the triple drums,” says Alex. “Then he asked me to play.”

Even though he was only four years old, Alex played well. Because of this performance, he was invited to play with the group on stage.

“It turned out to be my arengattam, and one of the biggest moments of my life,” he says. “The audience was thrilled that such a small boy could play so well.”

When he was seven years old a group of boys came to him and said the parish priest of the nearby church had given them the permission to set up a choir.

“We told the priest that you know how to play the harmonium,” said Donald, one of the boys. Alex nodded, although he had never played the instrument before.

“The harmonium was kept in a locked box and the key was always with my uncle, A.M. Jose,” says Alex. “Sometimes, he would put it on top of the almirah.”

Anyway, with the help of Donald, Alex managed to locate the key and opened the case. “I placed the harmonium on a bench and started playing,” he says. “I was like a starving boy who had suddenly been given plenty of food.

But soon, Jose heard the sounds and knew it was coming from his harmonium.

“When my uncle appeared, Donald fled, but I did not notice his presence,” says Alex.

Jose stared at the boy silently. “He realised I had a knack and love for music,” says Alex. After five minutes, he reached out and held Alex’s hand. The boy suddenly got scared and began crying. But Jose said, “Sit down,” and taught him the Sa Re Gama Pa scales.

“This was a turning point,” says Alex. “He started teaching me regularly and I realised that even if I spent my life immersed in music I would not be able to learn everything.”

When Alex joined the pre-degree course at St Albert’s College, he realised he did not enjoy studies. So, he decided to join the RLV College of Music at Tripunithara.

One week before the interview he started learning the Mohana Geetam in Carnatic music on the violin. “This is basic stuff,” he says.

When Alex arrived for the interview he saw that there were 250 aspirants. “Some of them knew kirtans and other complicated stuff,” he says. “I knew that if I only played the geetam I stood no chance. But it was too late to learn anything new.”

Alex entered the interview hall and started playing. “I was struggling and the judges started talking among themselves having decided that I was no good,” he says. “But suddenly, I began playing like a mad man. I played music which had not been heard before.”

The hall became silent. The judges and the students stared at Alex. “After I finished, like in slow motion, I walked out of the room,” he says. “I could feel the teachers staring at me, while a group of boys followed me and said, ‘Where did you learn to play the violin like that? It was great! What is your name?’”

Thereafter, Alex secured admission and got himself immersed in Carnatic music.

In 2003, when he had established his reputation by providing music for TV serials and advertising jingles, film directors Rafi and MeCartin asked Alex to compose the music for ‘Chathikkatha Chanthu’. “The first song I composed was ‘Hossain,’” he says. “They liked it very much.”

Apart from the songs from ‘Chathikkatha Chanthu’, which became superhits, Alex has had numerous successes in films like ‘Classmates’, ‘Chocolate’, ‘Vaasthavam’, ‘Lollipop’ and ‘Hello’. In the past five years he has composed the music for 20 films and 90 per cent of the songs were superhits.

When Alex hears the music in his head he begins to think of the best singer for this particular song. He gives an example: Once he had gone with his family to spend some time at his brother, director Lal’s estate in Thodupuzha.

“I was having a bath in the river and thinking, ‘For the song, Ente Kalbile in Classmates, I need a different voice,’” he says. “As I was wiping my head with the towel, I realised the best person would be Vineeth Srinivasan, who had not yet made a mark.”

At that moment there was a telephone call from Dubai. It was from Lal Jose, the director of ‘Classmates’, who said, “Alex, I think Vineeth should sing ‘Ente Kalbile’.” Alex said, “You are not going to believe this, but I thought about him at this very moment.”

It seemed to be a right choice, because ‘Ente Kalbile’ became a huge hit.

“The main reason for the hits is that I have received the songs from God,” he says. “Man does not have any creative ability. It is God who is using us. We must have a clean mind and be without ego to receive this gift from God.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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