CHENNAI: The deep bellow of a conch, the imagery and strains of a seven-string sengotti yazh (a harp-like ancient instrument) and evocative hums. Within the first 30 seconds of the recently released three-minute music video Azhagi, we are tucked into a world that functions beyond the frames of a certain period.
Luthier-musician Tharun Sekar, rapper Syan Saheer and artiste Sivasubramanian aka The Nomad Culture, clad in khadi dhotis, appear on the screen and take us on a hauntingly beautiful musical journey one which lingers even moments after the credits roll.
The song narrates the story of a girl, whose beauty is not defined merely by her looks but by her powerful character. The lyrics herald her arrival and are reflective of a conversation between scholars and a king about Azhagi's superpowers.
Released by Uru Custom Instruments in collaboration with In Frame magazine, the video is touted as the world's first recorded song on yazh.
"The instrument's existence can be traced back to about 2,000 years in Sangam literature. However, its usage was lost in time," says Tharun, founder of Uru, who has revived and recreated lesser-known traditional instruments including the yazh and integrated them into usage.
With no reference on how to play the ancient instrument which finds a place in classics including Silappadikaram and Tholkaapiyam, Tharun embarked on a long journey to understand and learn the instrument on his own. "The notation system was similar to that of a guitar, and I slowly found my way through that. However, it took a lot of practise and continues to be a learning process," shares Tharun.
The minimalistic sounds of the swan-shaped yazh by Tharun is seamlessly weaved with alluring lyrics by Siva and Syan and further elevated by the striking visual imageries of sweeping fields, an old-worldly theppakulam (temple tank) and looming dark clouds captured by Naveen Sekar.
"The lyrics were originally written for a comic book. But when Tharun heard it, he loved it and we decided to jump on making a video with the yazh. The artistic process for the video began earlier in September 2020 between the three of us and it slowly progressed from there. We had to fine-tune the song, make changes to the lyrics and musical elements and it was a long process. We began recording and shooing the video in December 2020," shares Siva.
The video was shot in places like Alagar Koil and Mangulam in Madurai. "We travelled to different places and explored spaces that suited the tones of our videos. We made use of a family member’s backyard in a village in Madurai a strip of farmland and visited a hilltop in Mangulam to capture the visuals. It was an interesting experience," shares Syan of Madurai Souljour, who adds another unique dimension to the video, through a beguiling Tamil rap portion.
To record an instrument long-lost in time could have been a Himalayan task. Tharun agrees. "The instrument, I found, was more responsive to space. So, positioning the mic and recording its live sound was quite tough. While we haven’t been able to capture it fully, through what we have learned so far, we are hoping to adopt and make the experience better in the future," shares the artiste, who is currently working on creating different kinds of yazh, including a 14-stringed yazh. Hinting at a future collaboration, the trio says that four to five more songs are in the pipeline.
Uru, Tharun says, has been getting enquiries from two kinds of people those who are keen on learning the cultural and traditional history of the instrument, and those who are fascinated by its sound. To cater to both, Tharun is currently working towards making its playability adaptable and curating yazh-specific events.
"We will also have basic classes, lessons and a syllabus in place for anyone who wishes to learn it. The larger vision is to take the sound of the yazh to as many digital platforms as possible and integrate it. I also want to break the myth that the instrument can only be used to play classical music. There are plans to conduct jamming sessions with artistes of various genres with the yazh taking centre stage," he shares.
(For details, visit Instagram page @uru_custominstruments. Video available on In Frame Magazine’s YouTube channel)