History of Malayalam Music
Film music which refers to playback singing in the context of Indian music, forms the most important canon of popular music in India. Film music of Kerala in particular, is the most popular form of music in the state. Before Malayalam cinema and Malayalam film music developed, the Keralites eagerly followed Tamil and Hindi film songs. The history of Malayalam film songs begins with the 1948 film Nirmala. The film's music director was P. S. Divakar and the songs were sung by P. Leela, T. K. Govinda Rao, Vasudeva Kurup, C. K. Raghavan, Sarojini Menon and Vimala B.Varma, who is credited as the first playback singer of Malayalam cinema.
The main trend in the early years was to use the tune of hit Hindi or Tamil songs in Malayalam songs. This trend got changed in the early 1950s by the arrival of a number of poets and musicians to the Malayalam music scene. People who stormed into Malayalam film music industry in the 1950s include musicians like V. Dakshinamurthy (1950), K. Raghavan (1954), G. Devarajan (1955) and M.S. Babu Raj (1957) and lyricists like P. Bhaskaran (1950), O.N.V. Kurup (1955) and Vayalar Rama Varma (1956). They are attributed with shaping Malayalam film music stream and giving it its own identity.
Major playback singers of that time were Kamukara Purushothaman, K.P. Udayabhanu, A.M. Raja, P. Leela, Santha P. Nair, P. Susheela and S. Janaki. Many of the singers like A. M. Raja, Susheela and Janaki were not Malayalis and their pronunciation was not perfect. Despite that, these singers got high popularity throughout Kerala. In the later years many non-Malayalis like Manna Dey, Talat Mehmood, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhonsle and S.P. Balasubramaniam sang for Malayalam films. This trend was also found among music directors to an extent, with outside musicians like Naushad, Usha Khanna, Bombay Ravi,Ilaya Raja and A.R.Rahman entering the fray. This can be attributed to the fact that film music in South India had a parallel growth pattern with so many instances of cross-industry contributions.
K.J. Yesudas, who debuted in 1961 virtually revolutionised the Malayalam film music industry, and became the most popular Malayalam singer ever. He became equally popular with the classical music audience and people who patronised film music.He along with P. Jayachandran gave a major facelift to Malayalam playback singing in the 1960s and 1970s. Malayalam film music also received heavy contributions from musicians like Johnson, M.G. Radhakrishnan, Raveendran, S.P. Venkitesh and Ouseppachan, lyricists like Sreekumaran Thampy, Yusuf Ali Kechery, and Kaithapram Damodaran Namboodiri, and singers like M.G. Sreekumar, G. Venugopal, K.S. Chitra and Sujatha Mohan. A notable aspect in the later years was the extension of classical carnatic music in many film songs of the later 1980s and early 1990s.
Interestingly, that particular period is also considered as the peak time for Malayalam cinema itself and is quite widely known as the Golden Age of Malayalam cinema, a period in which the difference between art films and popular films was least felt. Similarly, classical carnatic music was heavily used in several popular film songs, most notably those in films like Chithram(1988), His Highness Abdullah(1990), Bharatham(1991), Sargam(1992) and Sopanam(1993). Vidyasagar was the leading music composer in Malayalam films, from the late nineties to the early 2000s.
At present, the major players in the scene are young talents like musicians Rahul Raj, Deepak Dev, Alphonse, Jassie Gift and Biji Pal, lyricists Gireesh Puthanchery, Vayalar Sarath and Anil Panachooran, and singers Madhu Balakrishnan, Afsal, Manjari and Jyotsna, along with stalwarts in the field.
Young composers like Rahul Raj and Gopi Sundar are not only known for their catchy tunes, but also known for bringing in a lot of electronics, digital sound and a variety of genres in Malayalam film songs.
The national award winning music directors of Malayalam cinema are Johnson (1994, 1995) and Bombay Ravi (1995). The 1995 National Award that Johnson received for the film score of Sukrutham (1994) was the only instance in the history of the award in which the awardee composed film soundtrack rather than songs. He shared that award with Bombay Ravi who received the award for composing songs for the same film.
Additionally Ravindran has received a Special Jury Award in 1992 for composing songs for the film Bharatham. The lyricists who have won the national award are Vayalar Ramavarma (1973), O.N.V. Kurup (1989) and Yusuf Ali Kechery (2001). The male singers who got the national award are K.J. Yesudas (1973,1974,1988,1992,1994), P. Jayachandran (1986) and M.G. Sreekumar (1991, 2000). Yesudas has won two more national awards for singing in Hindi (1977) and Telugu (1983) films, which makes him the person who has won the largest number of National Film Awards for Best Male Playback Singer - with 7 awards, closely trailed by S.P. Balasubramaniam winning 6 awards. The female singers who have won the award are S. Janaki (1981) and K. S. Chitra (1987, 1989). Chitra had also won the award for Tamil (1986,1997,2005) and Hindi (1998) film songs, which makes her the person with the largest number of National Film Awards for Best Female Playback Singer - with 6 awards, closely trailed by P. Susheela with 5 awards.