Stylish makeover for Malayalam folk song

DECCAN CHRONICLE | MERIN MARIA JAMES
Published Jan 17, 2016, 8:40 am IST
Updated Apr 5, 2018, 7:41 am IST
Vidya Iyer, the mash-up queen of YouTube, comes up with a music video.
Vidya Iyer
 Vidya Iyer

Kuttanadan Punchayile, Thithai Thaka Theithei Thom
Kochupenne Kuyilale, Thitithara Thei Thei
Kottuvenam Kuzhal Venam, Kurava Venam
O… Thithithara Thithithai Thithai Thaka Thei Thom
This favourite boat song is capable of pumping up the spirit of most Malayalis and immerse them in nostalgia about vallam kali (boat race). The breathless version sung by K.J. Yesduas may be unforgettable but now there is a new version from across the seas. Vidya Iyer, the mash-up queen of YouTube, along with Shankar Tucker, has come with a mash-up of the song. In an interview with DC, the young singer opens up about the music video, her Malayali roots and her love for music.

Chennai-born Vidya grew up in Washington DC but started learning Carnatic music at the age of five. Later in life, the psychology graduate decided to pursue music full time and started making YouTube videos. “It’s been an amazing journey so far. I’m currently learning Hindustani music and western vocals. I’ll always be a student of music.”

Her English-Malayalam mash-up that is getting a lot of ‘shares’ among Malayalis was shot at Chellanam, Kochi. The music video features Vidya, Shankar Tucker, Jomy, Sreenidhi and Sreedevi.

“The response to the song has been amazing! Growing up, I used to listen to the song a lot, so it felt like the right choice for the first Malayalam-English mash-up! It reminded me of my memories as a kid in Kerala, so we decided to do the song. Shankar produced it in one day!”

When quizzed about singing the Malayalam lyrics without any difficulty, Vidya says, “I had to practice a lot! Jomy helped me out a lot as well. It took a bit to get it right because I really wanted to do justice to the beautiful words. I speak Tamil fluently but very little Malayalam. I have sung in Malayalam before, so it wasn’t that difficult once I honed in on the proper pronunciation. One of my goals in 2016 is to learn to speak Malayalam, at least a little bit,” she says.

Vidya wrote the English lyrics with Shankar and has managed to match it with the Malayalam lyrics. “When I think of Kerala, I always feel nostalgic. So we thought about writing the lyrics with the same feeling. It’s something all people who have grown up abroad can relate to!”

Vidya, who has done many mash-ups, finds it difficult to select one as her favourite. “I love all the ones for different reasons! I’d say Kuttanadan Punchayile is my recent favorite because I love the way it has turned out. Our goal was to keep the essence of the original folk/boat race song, but with a modern twist. Shankar did the entire production— he’s a genius!”

Vidya chooses songs that she loves. “I see what can fit with a certain song. Two factors have to be common between the two songs — tempo and scale (major or minor). Shankar and I spend hours pouring over how we can blend them together and how we can showcase each song at the same time,” says the singer.

Speaking about her Malayali connection, Vidya says, “My entire family is from Palakkad, and my grandmother grew up in Kerala, as did my mom. Most of my family speaks fluent Malayalam. So we would go back to visit a lot when I was a kid!” “Kerala is one of my favourite places. It’s so beautiful, so serene! One of my favourite things to do is take a boat ride in the backwaters and I do it every time I’m there. I also remember swimming in a kulam as a kid with my sister. It was so much fun. Also, Mata Amritananda Mayi’s ashram in Amritapuri is another favourite place! Aviyal is one of my favourite foods, and I could eat a sadya any day! Every time I visit my grandma, that’s the first thing I ask her to make. I also love idiappam.”