Kalaa Utsavam: Indian veteran Mohamed Raffee's 50th year in music

Mohamed Raffee, together with his band Vasantham Boys, will celebrate his 50th year in the music industry with a concert at the Esplanade Theatre.
Mohamed Raffee, together with his band Vasantham Boys, will celebrate his 50th year in the music industry with a concert at the Esplanade Theatre.PHOTO: ESPLANADE

SINGAPORE - Fifty years after he made his debut performance on radio at the tender age of 10, home-grown music stalwart Mohamed Raffee is still going strong.

One of the most established artistes in the Singapore Indian entertainment industry, the 60-year-old is marking his golden jubilee with a show at the Esplanade Theatre on Nov 19.

The singer-guitarist will be backed by his long-time band Vasantham Boys, which comprise his two brothers - pianist/keyboardist Mohamad Bashir, 57, and drummer/percussionist Mohamed Noor, 53 - and bassist Daniel Sitranen, 60.

It will not be a mere nostalgia trip. The concert, part of the Esplanade's Indian arts festival Kalaa Utsavam, will feature tunes from his upcoming album, The New Horizon.

The title, he says, is taken from an album that he and his band recorded in 1988, but never released because the tapes were accidentally wiped out.

Like his past discography, the new songs, which he has never played live, are eclectic and span various genres, from jazz and blues to R&B and funk. He also dabbles in electronic music and progressive rock in a couple of them.

While he describes most of them as love songs, there are also a few with optimistic messages. "It's about looking forward to the future and being positive about it," he says of the lyrics.

One of the songs, an ode to music, has lyrics written by poet and playwright Elangovan.

The concert will also be the first time in his long career that the multi-hyphenate - he is also a composer, producer, arranger and music director - gets to fill the set list with only original material.

In previous shows, he and his band would usually be backing other artistes or performing covers and songs from film soundtracks.

"This concert will be the first one of its kind for us," says the entertainment veteran, who has worked with stars such as Oscar- and Grammy-winning Indian composer A.R. Rahman.

"This is something the band had always wanted to do. We get to do our own songs from 1993, 1994 and we are rearranging them so that they don't sound anything like the original anymore. We added textures to make them sound very current."

The 105-minute set will include songs from his previous albums Breakthro (1993) and Karupayee (1994).

The concert will feature tunes from Mohamed Raffee's upcoming album, The New Horizon. PHOTO: ESPLANADE

The quartet will be bolstered by additional musicians onstage: percussionists Joe Jayaveeran and Navin Kumar Nagpal; guitarist Munir Alsagoff; electronic wind instrument player Leo Mendoza; synthesizer player Euntaek Kim; and singers Suthasini, Vishnu Balaji, Kaushik Iyer and Nandhitha.

Raffee is looking forward to performing in front of a live audience again, something he has not done for almost two years since the pandemic hit. The gigs he managed to get in the past 20 months were either online concerts or recordings for television shows with no live audiences.

He felt emotional when he walked onto the Esplanade Theatre stage recently in preparation for the upcoming concert. "It felt very much like home. The stage is our playground, we've always been there since we were kids. I just stood there and looked around and I felt like I could finally breathe again."

Not one to rest on his laurels, he is already planning his next project - to record an instrumental album that will marry traditional and modern music.

"We've never wanted to be stagnant," he says. "Since we were young, we were always encouraged to do something different. My father always told us that it's okay to play old songs, but don't end up playing old songs all the time."

Book It/Raffee 50 - A Musical Jubilee

Where: Esplanade Theatre, 1 Esplanade Drive

When: Nov 19, 8pm

Admission: $30 and $38 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to the Sistic website)

Info: Visit the Esplanade's website