Music Review: Kaala (Tamil)

Composer(s): Santhosh Narayanan
Listen to the songs online here: Saavn

Hip-hop has always been something of a subversive genre, becoming a universal medium of social and political expression for the young and marginalised all across the world. Taken in that sense, it's only fitting that Kaala, a gangster drama that unfolds against the backdrop of Dharavi slums, turns rap music into a rousing call for action. A chant for social activism and change, and a means to convey what it's like to struggle everyday to survive in a world where scales are weighed against them and are stripped off their rights and opportunities for who they are and where they come from.

My problem with Kaala then stems from a purely musical point of view: while four of the tracks (Semma Weightu, Katravai Patravai, Poraaduvom, Theruvilakku) are outright protest anthems, disappointing they are, partly because of the heavy Kabali hangover that lords over them, making it impossible to enjoy the songs to the fullest. Don't get me wrong, it's all very stirring stuff, politically loaded and invigorating, but the ennui is hard to miss.

Dholak and tabla adorn the catchy qawwali-gaana fusion Thanga Sela (Shankar Mahadevan) and Urimayai Meetpom (Vijay Prakash, Ananthu), even as Santhosh concocts a full-blown kuthu Nikkal Nikkal that's both foot-tapping and irresistible in Dopeadelicz's infectious rendition. Pradeep Kumar and Ananthu lead the vocals for Kannamma (alongside Dhee), the album's softest track, but the pensive melody isn't quite as striking, despite the lovely Ilaiyaraaja flourishes sprinkled all throughout. Santhosh Narayanan delivers a rap-heavy experimental soundtrack, but shines bright in his gaana explorations, all the while sticking steadfastly to the Kabali template in what's a case of diminishing returns.

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