The musical trailblazer

At an eventful juncture of his musical journey, Francis Manakkil has come up with two revolutionary books on music.

A beam of sunlight falls on the lone harmonium placed aesthetically next to an old sitar in the hall of the first floor at his home. Francis Manakkil points to the sitar and says, “It belongs to Job Master, the person who pulled me into music composition.” Francis considers composer K.V. Job, best known for the melody Alliyambal Kadavil as his first guru.

Francis has had a long and eventful journey through the world of music. A journey that has now culminated in the creation of two books — 72 Musical Scales for Composers and Improvising Musicians and 4000+ Motives and Harmonic Deviations — which are nothing less than revolutionary for those closely associated with music and its theoretical know-how.

He has awed many current musical giants of Malayalam music industry, both commercial and independent. He is fondly called Chellappan in the music fraternity. A self-taught musician, Francis mastered the art of reading notations and playing instruments by referring to books at a very young age. “My introduction to music happened very early. Musician Fr Joseph Manakkil is my uncle. During vacations, I used to spend time with him in the church becau- se I could get to watch him discuss music with musicians K.V. Job, Jerry Amaldev and George. I think, their presence inspired me to turn to music.”

But stepping into music did not happen straight away for Francis. “I studied in a seminary to be a priest; that is where I learnt to play the organ. I used to play it with no knowledge of chords.

My uncle (Fr Manakkil) introduced me to the ‘C’ chord. He asked me to learn it thoroughly and left. In the meantime, I figured out the rest of the chords as well. When he returned after a few days, it surprised him that I had figured out them all. That was how it all began. Back then, I had read a book on music which had a sentence ‘Indian music is so alien to us’ — that statement got etched to my mind.”

His years in seminary introduced him to Latin through which he found similarities and a fascination for Sanskrit and Greek. All of which later aided him in writing books. Francis, who left the seminary after pre-degree, took up BSc Botany, which introduced him to ‘nomenclatures’, a system which later aided him in naming the different scales he identified in music. Those were the years when the guitar happened to him. “The guitar fascinated me. My friendship with guitarist Emil Isaac took me closer to the instrument. I never got a chance to learn it as my parents were against learning music. I used to hide my guitar and learn to play when everyone slept. It was Job master who identified that I have a nature to improvise. I dropped Botany and took up guitar, full time,” he recalls.

In between, he strayed off to take up a lab technician course. “There was a time when I realised that a career in music won’t earn much, so I did a lab technician course in Delhi and worked in Saudi for nine years.” Music never left him; he experimented with sound recording during those years.

Over the years, Francis composed close to 400 devotional songs; was instrumental in setting up the channel studio in Kairali TV; worked there as a senior sound engineer and played a key role in the formation of Cochin Sacs. He even played the bass guitar for avant-garde composer Glenn Branca

Writing the book happened out of the blue following encouragement from Jerry Amaladev whom he considers his guru. “I had never thought about writing a book. During my years in Delhi, I read the book The Music of Hindostan by A. H. Fox Strangways written in 1914. There was lack of clarity about our music in the book, but I noticed how he connected Greek nomenclature with Western music. I started digging more and felt that Greek music had something in common with ours. I was trying to picturise and understand the different scales in our music and gave logical English names to the 72 melakarta ragas. Partridge Publications will bring out 72 Musical Scales for Composers and Improvising Musicians."

His second book 4000+ Motives and Harmonic Deviations is in the final stages.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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