Sean Roldan goes back to the roots with Coke Studio Tamil's Oh Hoi

Music composer Sean Roldan talks about his latest single, Oh Hoi, for Coke Studio Tamil season 2
Sean Roldan
Sean Roldan

He is one of the most sought-after music directors in the film industry today. Despite his packed schedule, singer and lyricist Sean Roldan has managed to straddle films and independent music efficiently.

The latest offering from his kitty is the sixth single for Coke Studio Tamil Season 2, Oh Hoi, a peppy single that seamlessly blends modern pop with traditional Irula tribal music. Sean explains the process behind the making of the song, the diverse collaboration, and more.

What inspired you to make this single?

I have been meeting and interacting with the Irula community ever since I began working on my film, Jai Bhim. I found those interactions engaging. They were quite hardworking and had a die-hard spirit in them. I got an opportunity to listen to their music at that time. When the offer for Coke Studio came, Arivu (singer) was researching on tribal music. I broached the idea of making music with the Irula community, and we took the plunge.

Did you draw references from your interactions during Jai Bhim for this single?

The community’s music has not grown beyond its bubble, and in a way, it is protected. But the impediment is that no one can access this music, and it is not mainstream. If you ask me about the lessons I have learned from the interactions, the biggest one is that, in this rat race, we have forgotten what life is. At the same time, we cannot deny the fact that people in the city have accomplished certain things. The intention was to complement both aspects in the song.

How did you blend contemporary music with folk music?

I have done a lot of that in music, including in my film, Joker. The actual challenge was to retain the soul of Irula music. We were very particular that it should be a conversation — a dialogue between a man who has travelled the world and the Irula people, who live in harmony with nature. The lyrics should bridge the gap between the duo. Both express their perspectives on life.

Tell us about the experience of joining hands with Arivu, Benny Dayal, and the band, Mullai Kalai Kuzhu.

Arivu is like a brother to me. I admire him and the zeal with which he pens songs. He can use a word from North Madras and Elakkiya Tamil in the same line. As for Benny, I have wanted to work with him for a long time. So, this was a good opportunity to collaborate with him. He brought a lot of vibrancy to the song. I had a good number of conversations with Mullai Kalai Kuzhu. They know their music well. We are happy that we pulled this off because it’s not an easy feat to bring such diverse people together.

You have used molam, urumi, and other instruments for the song. How important is it to bring these instruments into the spotlight?

Our brains are predominantly stuck with Thol Karuvigal (percussion instruments). But we need to understand that a mridangam is not very different from a kanjira (an instrument of the tambourine family). They are all based on the same principle. See, I am not a guardian of culture. But I think that there must be innovations in folk music. We can’t just say we have been playing this way for thousands of years. You can play music differently today. And by doing that, you won’t break away from or lose a tradition. Awareness about a tradition will only come through innovation. You have to make culture riveting for people. Also, there are no complex instruments. We still play thavil. Rudra veena and Gethu vadyam are also around. The magic lies in how you play these instruments.

Coming back to instruments, Parai is now mainstream.

I am glad because it’s one of the oldest instruments. Parai is a difficult instrument to play, and its holding position itself is unique and crucial. But even Parai needs to be innovated for it to become special. I am happy that it is now used extensively in cinema.

How do you pursue a song when you work on a film or an independent single?

Both forms have their challenges and merits. While working on a film, there are myriad motives to make a song. While some songs are scene-oriented, others are stand-alone. The songs are as universal as possible, and everybody can access them. But in independent music, you just have to communicate what you want and what you intend for the end user. However, there are financial constraints. You can’t shoot anywhere.

How is the music of your film, Raghu Thatha coming along?

The music is quite different from what I have done in a long time. We had a lot of fun working on that album. It is a weird mix of genres, just like Mundasupatti.

And what about Mannangatti: Since 1960?

It’s an entertaining and adventurous film. We have some intense music in it.

When you look back at your decade-long journey, do you feel contented?

Of course, I’m satisfied with my success. I make music I would like to hear. What I have tried to do in the last 10 years is not compromise and never let the quality slide. The industry treated me well, and the last decade has been extremely special for me. There was a time when I could say that success was not important to me. I can’t say that anymore. The challenge is to make unique and successful music.


Sean Roldan
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