Alphons Joseph is on a high. The affable music director and composer has just sung a rocking number for his idol A.R. Rahman and his infectious excitement is evident as he talks about it. “It’s his first project after the Oscars. It was a pleasant surprise when playback singer Srinivas gave me a ring and told me that Rahman Sir wanted me to sing the song ‘Aaaromale’ in Goutham Menon’s latest film Vinaiithandi Varuvaya,” says Alphons.
It is a major breakthrough for the singer-composer who took a long winding route to find his destination in music. “Although my father, Joseph, a trained Carnatic singer, initiated me into music, he was not keen on my becoming a musician as his younger brother, K.K. Paul, had a tough time,” recalls Alphons. So after learning Carnatic music from Mangad Nateshan for many years and winning prizes in light music and guitar in the Calicut University youth festival, the Maths graduate turned to computers to make a career in IT.
“We are seven siblings and though our family is very musical, my father felt music alone would not be able to sustain us. In the meantime, I was part of a gospel band called Rex and so my musical abilities saw me win a lot of assignments. That was how got my first film Vellithira,” recounts Alphons.
The ‘Pacha manga…’ number climbed the charts and helped Alphons reap the fruits of his hard work. Other films followed and the genial, soft-spoken singer became a familiar face when he appeared as the jury and trainer on the music talent hunt show on Amrita TV. Unlike the tough judges who specialise in making participants squirm with their sarcasm and scorn, Alphons believes in motivating aspiring singers with his advise and rarely but firmly expressed criticism.
But the veteran guitarist and singer admits that even he was nervous when he was singing for Rahman during the midnight recording session in Chennai. “I just could not get it right initially. But Rahman put me at ease and then the recording when ahead smoothly,” recalls Alphons. He adds that it was during the audio release of Vellithira that he met Rahman and gave him a CD of the songs sung by him. “I remember Rahman asking me why I had decided to become a music director and not a singer… Little did I imagine he would give me a break like this….”
The audio preview of film Vinaiithandi Varuvaya was at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts where the seven other singers (including Blazee, Shreya Goshal, Naresh Iyer) in the film were also present. “It was a memorable experience. Another lesson it underscored was how universal is music. Although many in the audience may not have understood the language, they were moved by the scores,” says Alphons. In fact, Alphons plans to do his research on the vocal techniques in Indian music and then train students by fusing the best of vocal techniques from the Indian and Western schools of music.
“That is why I am doing my post-graduation in music at the National School of Drama. Initially, I had doubts if I could cope with the syllabus as my classmates were all music graduates. The faculty at the music department asked me to sing and when they heard me they were convinced that I could do the course,” says Alphons.
It was his work as a music composer and singer that made him aware of the depth and richness of Carnatic music. “I use a lot of fusion that blends Indian ragas with Western notes. That is when I understood how much more there is to Indian music than what is usually dished out,” says Alphons.
Admitting it is difficult to juggle work, studies and home, the father of two says that he is determined to complete the course and then do further studies in music.
His ambition? “I go where God takes me… never planned anything.”
‘Aaaromale’ has been composed by lyricist Kaithapram. The song in Malayalam narrates the angst, frustration and soul-searching of the protagonist, a Malayali. “It is a first for Malayalam as the song has several shades of the blues,” says Alphons.