Saturday, September 26, 2009

Songs in praise of God

Christian devotional music composer Peter Cheranelloor has brought out numerous hits in the past two decades. His songs are loved by Malayali Christians all over the world, apart from Hindus and Muslims

By Shevlin Sebastian

One day a man rang up Christian devotional music composer Peter Cheranelloor and said that thanks to a song, ‘Onnu Vilachaal’, he stopped himself from committing suicide.

The man overheard the song which was being played at a neighbour’s house. “I began crying when he told me this,” says Peter. “I realised that I was an instrument of God who saved a soul from being destroyed.”

Peter brought out his first cassette, ‘Ashwasa Vajanagal’ in 1991. It did reasonably well, in terms of sales. But Peter’s biggest and most enduring hit was ‘Israelin Nathan’, which was sung by K.G. Markose and written by Baby John Kalayanthani.

Brought out by Grihalakshmi music company in 1999, it has sold lakhs of copies all over the world. But Peter had signed away his rights for a one-time payment. “I do not feel bad about this, because I did not want to make money out of it,” he says.

Incidentally, Baby wrote the lyrics in ten minutes, in a burst of inspiration. And Peter also took the same amount of time to compose the music. “We are sure we were just instruments of God’s creativity,” he says.

Thereafter, a string of hits came out, including ‘Immanuel’, ‘Daivathe Marunnu kunju’ and ‘Akasham Maarum’.

Today, most of these songs are sung during mass in the Catholic church. “Whenever I hear any of my songs being played in church I just look upwards and thank God,” he says. Apart from composing, Peter performs on stage and in churches and weddings all over Kerala.

So what are the themes of the songs? “People are always sinning to get ahead in this world,” says Baby. “We ask them to focus on God. If you gain the whole world and lose your soul, then it is of no use.”

The songs have been sung by the who’s who of Malayalam singing talent. From Yesudas to S. Janaki, M.G. Sreekumar, Unni Menon, Jayachandran, K.G. Markose, Sreenivasan, Biju Narayanan, Madhu Balakrishnan, Benoy Chacko and Kester.

Over the past decade, Peter has brought out 500 songs, in 40 albums, with several songs being hits. Asked to identify the ingredients of a hit song, Peter says, “You need good music and lyrics, the singer should put in a sterling performance, and the orchestra should be the best.”

Apart from this, there should be a well-planned marketing and publicity campaign. “If any one of these points is lacking, the song will not be a hit,” he says.

Lyricist Peter K. Joseph says that Peter’s music is very different from the traditional church sound. “It is fast-paced, stylish and modern,” he says. “Hence it is very attractive to the younger generation. He is also good at melody.”

One of the most gratifying experiences for the composer is how non-Christians have called him up often and complimented him on his music. “Hindus and Muslims enjoy my songs a lot,” says Peter. “This proves that music is universal.”

The man who produces universal music stumbled into the profession accidentally. When he was in his late teens, Peter wanted to join the Army. His father had been an Army man. But he failed. The reason: he had a punctured eardrum. He tried twice more and the result was the same. Peter felt depressed. So he decided to attend a retreat at the Divine Retreat Centre at Muringoor in 1990.

It was there that he realised that his future did not lie with the Army. “I decided to place my destiny at the hands of God,” he says.

During the course of the retreat Peter felt an inner urge to be a singer. He met the director Fr. George Panackal, and told him he wanted to sing at the centre. Fr. Panackal took him to the lead singer, Antony Fernandes who told him he should go to Potta Ashram because there were no singers there.

Thus Peter started singing at Potta. He did this for two years. “I used to sing songs in praise of Jesus Christ and God,” he says. After a while a desire arose in him to become a composer. The astonishing part was that Peter had no formal training in music.

“I would pray to God and suddenly a tune would spring up in my mind,” he says. Then he would contact lyricists who would provide the words. “If God decides that a person like me who has no talent will be endowed with it, then it will happen,” he says.

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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