Wednesday, September 07, 2011

‘Romba’ super, OC!, Entertainment

‘Romba’ super, OC!

You may have missed swinging to Rajinikanth’s Balleilakka in the film Sivaji, but there’s no escaping the infectious energy of this Michigan symphony chorus that does a super job of the Tamil hit

Prashanth Vidyasagar

Posted On Wednesday, September 07, 2011 at 07:40:04 PM

Michael Mitchell, the conductor and the professor of the group, during the performance of Balleilakka

Of his long list of chartbusters, A R Rahman’s Balleilakka from the Rajinikanth-starrer Sivaji - The Boss caught the attention of an unlikely group — a symphony chorus in Michigan in the US. The Oakland Chorale’s version of the song is on YouTube and many have pasted it on their profiles on social networking sites.

The Oakland Chorale (OC) is made up of students of music at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. The conductor and professor of the group Michael Mitchell says, “I am influenced by different artists and types of music. I grew up listening to classical music such as Mozart and Beethoven. But I also love rock and roll. Growing up in the 1970s, in the US, I loved Elton John, The Beatles and Bruce Springsteen. So my musical influences are diverse. It is because of this I especially love music that bends or blends genres. I love the idea of a university choir like the Oakland Chorale doing music from all over the world.”

Tongue twister
It’s this attitude that prompted OC to attempt their own version of Balleilakka. “I first heard a performance of Balleilakka in 2010 and was immediately excited about the possibility of doing it with the Oakland Chorale. It turned out that someone had written a version of the song and published it in the US. I was able to find and purchase this version. We wanted to do a performance that was as close to the original as possible. So we listened to a lot of recordings and watched the video from the movie so that we could do our best with the language and the singing style. It’s not easy for Americans to sing in Tamil, so we spent a lot of time working on the words,” says Michael.

It was a challenge for them considering it’s not just a Tamil song but a pacey one at that. It took the OC about three months of hard work to memorise the lyrics. Andy Vanscoy, who sings the male solo in the performance, deserves the best compliments. Andy says, “It took me about a week to memorise my solo and about two weeks to memorise everything else. The language was a pleasure to learn and I caught on very quickly.”

Once members of the OC learnt the song, they went onto add their own spin to it. The percussionists who are spot on with their beats are bound to catch your attention in the video. “The members of the Oakland Chorale have very diverse musical backgrounds, ranging from pop to musical theatre to nearly no background at all,” says Cheyanne Coss, who sings soprano in the group. That might surprise those who watched the video. She adds, “The response to the song has been wild, both when it has been performed and on YouTube. Often after the song at concerts, the crowd explodes — you can hear their reaction in the video.”

Spiced with spunk
Their diverse forays with music make the OC unique. “The thing that separates the Oakland Chorale from other groups is our passion and commitment to every piece we take on. Mitchell is the finest conductor I’ve ever worked with, and his high passion, high energy outlook makes for a completely different atmosphere than at most other choirs or other musical groups,” says Cheyanne, quite nailing the reason for those several replays of the video.

The OC plans to work on more music from India and especially with pieces created by Rahman as he is popular in the US. “I love the rhythm and pace of Indian music I’ve heard. As with many other musicians, the drum is the heartbeat of the music. The pacing of the music, the story told through the lyrics, all make for a fantastic song to sing and perform.
Between Slumdog Millionaire and the brilliant choreography on So You Think You Can Dance by Nakul Dev Mahajan, Americans have been introduced to Indian music. I think that the interest is enormous,” says Megan Higle who is a singer and an assistant director with the group.

The OC have started rehearsing again. “We will be doing one of my favourite new songs from Haiti that is very exciting, much in the same way that Balleilakka is and we will be performing in New York City in the spring of 2012,” says Michael. What does the OC think of Rahman? Michael says, “We didn’t know anything about the actor or the movie until we decided to do the song. The performance of Balleilakka in the movie is stunning. We just wanted to do a good enough job so that people like it and feel like we had honoured the composer, the actor, and the movie. I hope we did.”

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