Malfnktion and Raka Ashok on their debut EP Raaja Beats, and juxtaposing Ilaiyaraaja with bass-driven hip-hop
DRESSED IN VESHTIES, shades and some super cool Nike kicks, artistes Malfnktion and Raka Ashok encapsulate their ‘local flavour with a global sound’ aesthetic on the cover of their debut EP, Raaja Beats. “We definitely wanted to be on the cover of our EP as a duo. We thought it would be cool to look like two South Indian gangsters dripping with street swag,” Raka tells us. The 10-track EP is a homage to the legendary composer Ilaiyaraaja ’s songs, but with hip-hop forward beats.
Both the city-based producers have always experimented with sounds and made electronic music that is deeply rooted in hip-hop and contemporary dance music. Malfnktion aka Aditya Alamuru says that the idea behind this album was to revitalise the music of Ilaiyaraaja for a new generation of listeners. “I grew up listening to his music at home, but as a producer, my influences are strongly defined by sampling culture born out of the golden age of hip-hop in New York of the 1990s and French trip-hop. The style of sampling in Raaja Beats is more direct and bold, the idea is to create mixes in a way that they can stand on their own even for listeners who aren’t from South India or haven’t heard his music,” he adds.
One of our favourite tracks on the EP is Poongatru, a bass-driven layered track that takes inspiration from a song in the 1982 Kamal Haasan- and Sridevi-starrer Moondram Pirai. Other tracks include Raja Rajathi and Ninnukori. This new EP juxtaposes Ilaiyaraaja samples with bass-driven hip-hop (based on songs from Agni Natchathiram) and Pothi Vecha (inspired by the soundtrack of Mann Vasanai). “Ilaiyaraaja is an absolute legend. You’ll notice how he effortlessly merges traditional South Indian music with Western influences, constantly reinventing his sounds through the decades. We were keen on retaining the essence of all of the Tamil songs but also combining our strengths and sensibilities to make it contemporary,” Raka says, adding, “This is something we had to capture visually as well. We researched Tamil movie posters from the ’50s to the ’80s, observed the bold typography and colour schemes used in them, and applied that to our project.” The album art and cover art for the songs are reminiscent of these movie posters.
The artistes say that they would of course have loved to play the album at clubs and festivals across the country, but as that looks unlikely this year, they have created content for social media platforms and collaborated with animators, film makers and dance crews to expand the identity of Raaja Beats. “A lot more people are spending longer periods of time online and we feel it’s important to keep them energised with good music and art,” Aditya sums up.
Raaja Beats is a free to download EP.
Available for listening on SoundCloud and YouTube, and for download on Bandcamp.