Stephen Devassy has his finger on the pulse of his listeners and viewers. With his telegenic face, rakish charm, cool attitude and of course his mastery over the keyboard, pianist Stephen Devassy has become the heart-throb of television viewers in Kerala and Tamil Nadu courtesy his appearance on Amrita TV’s ‘Super Star’ and Vijay TV’s ‘Airtel Super Singer.’ This 28- year-old from Ottapalam in Palakkad is also one of the hottest talents in the South Indian music industry known for his scintillating work as a music arranger for chart toppers like Swapnakoodu, Mozhi and Azhagiya Tamil Magan.
“A music arranger is someone who realises the vision of a music composer regarding the treatment of a piece,” says Stephen. “The composer will give a rhythmic guide such as thaka, thaka-thaka-thaka and it is up to the arranger to work with the idea and harmonise using a variety of tools of the trade such as computers, synthesizers and the musical instruments themselves. The more I did music arranging, the more I realised that I found my niche,” adds the pianist who started off working for people like Bernie Ignatius, Mohan Sitara and Alphons in chartbuster Malayalam films such as Swapnakoodu, Nammal and Kalyanaraman. Soon his skills caught the ears of the Tamil music industry and he was called in for hits such as Mozhi, Majaa, Azhagiya Tamizh Magan (with Praveen Mani to whom A.R. Rehman gave the contract), and Udaya.
Wings of creativity ......
But it was for Mozhi under music director Vidyasagar that Stephen soared on the wings of creativity. “In the film Prithiviraj, who plays a music director, enacts a scene where he conducts a piece of music. I had to create a piece of music that synchronised with each and every minute flick and dip of Prithiviraj’s hands and nod of his head. It was a big challenge because his actions also had a lot of vague movements. I remember crying my guts out because it was just not gelling. In the end it took me almost six hours to acoustically recreate the one and a half minutes on film. The sweat and tears paid off I guess because I won a lot of industry reviews,” recalls Stephen beaming with pride about his contribution to the film that not only rocked the music charts in 2007 but the Tamil box office too.
In between, Stephen debuted as a composer with the Malayalm film Hariharan Pillai Happy Aanu and composed music for ‘Sacred Chants of Kosmic Music,’ a series of albums wherein he gave retro Western tunes to classical Sanskrit slokas. His latest experimentation was the background score for the film Modi Vilayadu. “Music is what I do best. I tried my hand at academics (accountancy) for two years but found that my soul lay in music… pattham classum musickkum…to twist the phrase is my qualifications,” grins the star of reality TV– a mantle that he gladly wears, along with his signature bandana, that is.
“Reality TV made me into a household name,” adds Stephen, who after training under Fr. Thomas at the Chetana Music Academy, Thrissur got his break at the age of 17 playing keyboard for music director Johnny Sagarika. “Chances to get a foothold into the music industry come by but once in a blue moon and if you are really talented then consider reality shows as a boon to get yourself noticed,” adds Stephen. That’s advice from someone who was literally pushed into music by his musically-inclined father, P.K. Devassy. “In fact it was my brother, Sam, who was into music. But soon I too was smitten by classical music. I would have loved to continue as a classical pianist but dire straits all but forced me into film music,” quips the youngster who is inspired by contemporary pianists Yanni and Louis Banks “because they paved the way to make classical piano trendy.”
He found that his key to success was his knowledge of classical music and he put it to use while playing with his band Seven and with Rex Band. Stephen has also worked with the likes of singer Hariharan (with whom he tours extensively), drummer Sivamani (for the album ‘Mahaleela’) and with Sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan (for the album ‘Breaking Barriers’) to whom he was recommended by Aman and Ayaan Ali Khan after he accompanied them at a WOMAD (World of Music, Arts and Dance) festival in Paris. When he is not making music, Stephen gets his kick out of watching war films and learning to fly at the Madras flying club. This is one pianist who is flying high!