On May 11, 2016, Think Music India released a video from Sagaa, a film that was still in the making. ‘Sevulu Kizhiyum’, which featured a stylishly-shot dance by young boys, including National Award-winning actors Kishore and Sreeram went viral, clocking over 220,000 views.
On August 11 that year, the making of the song ‘Yaayum’ released, and has been watched and heard by 18,278,159 people so far on YouTube. It’s a hot favourite on Smule too.
With that, a singer-composer hitherto known primarily to the Singapore audience blazes onto the Tamil film scene. In the island nation, he was hugely popular for his win on a music reality show on Vasantham TV.
What was more interesting was how Shabir used a verse from the Kurunthogai, which dates back to the Sangam Literature era and speaks of love and longing. ‘Yaayum Nyaayum Yaaraagiyaro’ evocatively describes how two lovers’ hearts come together like ‘Sembula Peyalneerpol’ – “Like a downpour on red earth”. Shabir heard of the Kurunthogai when he was in his early 20s. “I partook of its joy very late in life,” he says, regretfully, little realising that many in Tamil Nadu might have entirely bypassed the splendours of Tamil poetry.
Ironically, this is the first film that Shabir signed up for, but Sanguchakkram released earlier. He also wrote songs and sang some for other composers in the meanwhile.
“When director Murugesh narrated the situation for the song and said it was from the woman’s perspective, I immediately felt I should begin with the immortal lines of ‘Yaayum Nyaayum’, because I always believed it had a woman’s voice and perspective. He was convinced and we went ahead with this. I’m very happy people connected with it,” Shabir says.
Shabir’s Tamizh is the language of poetry, steeped in tradition and unpolluted by influences. And so, when someone suggested he replace ‘Yaayum Nyaayum’ with ‘Neeyum Naanum’, he did a double take. “I really wanted to marry our rich literature to a contemporary creation. And, when it got popular, it restored my faith,” he says.
As a teen, Shabir loved reading Bharathiar and the Thirukkural, outside of his school syllabus. “Luckily, I grew up in Singapore, where they take a lot of effort to teach Tamil, and learning to speak and write and read in the language was considered a matter of pride. We also have mentors who help us understand the beauty of our epics,” says the composer, 33, who is also working on Neeya 2 and Santhanam’s Dhillukku Dhuddu, besides an untitled project with GNR Kumaravelan.
Before opportunities for music composition came his way, Shabir released some albums and assisted on Vaagai Sooda Vaa. He sang the theme song for Vathikuchchi and sang the opening song of Arima Nambi. And, in between all this, shuttled between India and Singapore, where he runs a music school affiliated to Trinity College London.
The initial days of Sagaa’s delay were fraught with tension for Shabir, but when the music finally released, he was in a calmer space. “It’s something I have been waiting for so long; I just wanted it to be released. In a way, this is better, I can savour my joy without letting nervousness block it.”
Shabir says he was blessed to land good singers for what is technically his debut film album – there’s Rita Thyagarajan, Naresh Iyer and Andrea Jeremiah, among others.
“Music is something highly collaborative in nature. It is reciprocal and is a coming together of energies. It is a beautiful confluence of many things, individuals and personalities. And, when it works out well, each one embellishes the composition in his/her own unique way,” he says.
That’s a magic he hopes to infuse into his other creations too.