At an age when most children start thinking about their careers, 11-year-old Niya Charly proudly lists hers on her Facebook page — playback singer. Hers is the main voice in music composer Rahul Raj’s Nazarethin for the Mammootty-starrer The Priest. A devotional piece, the song has gone viral since its release on January 25. Niya sounds bashful when she says she has been receiving accolades from family and friends. “Even my school’s principal,” says Niya, a class VI student of Infant Jesus School, Thiruvambady.
According to Niya, it was her parents — Charly and Nithya — who first discovered that she could carry a tune. “They enrolled me for Carnatic music lessons when I was in UKG. Ananthan sir is my guru,” says Niya, who began lending her voice to various music albums since she was in class II.
Niya’s voice was “discovered” by music composer Alphons Joseph, who heard her sing at a “prathanashala”. “I have sung a track for an album of his and also lent my voice in Chinkariyam Poomkuyilum, one of Alphons sir’s songs in Lonappante Mamodeesa.”
While the song for Lonappante Mamodeesa was a children’s song and "was fun to render, Nazarethin, a devotional melody, is dear to my heart as it is dedicated to Mother Mary,” says Niya, who adds that she plans to pursue a career in music, as she is happiest when she is singing.
According to Rahul, who has scored for movies such as Chotta Mumbai, Kohinoor, and Ezra, he was keen that Nazarethin be rendered by children. “Alphons runs a music academy called Crossroads. I told him my requirements and he suggested a few of his students at the academy and Niya as well.”
Rahul, who took a brief hiatus from the music industry to pursue a Master’s degree in Film Scoring at the Berklee College of Music in the US, wanted Nazarethin to have an old-world feel to it. The song was inspired by a visit to Eibingen Abbey, a nunnery for Benedictine nuns, in Germany. “I was walking in what looked like an empty church when the choir began to sing. The harmonious, devotional notes and the serene surroundings left a mark on me. I wanted to recreate something similar through Nazarethin, something divine, that would leave listeners with a positive vibe,” says Rahul, who adds that he tried to create a tune that he imagined the monks in the 13th and 14th century would have rendered.
He also wanted the song to sound as if it were rendered live in a cathedral. “I think I have succeeded in creating a song that met all my requirements. This song has string backing and Celtic infused woodwinds. The song starts with a single element and ends on a high note. It captures the film’s journey,” he added.
Niya, according to Rahul, picked up the song like a professional. “I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly and easily Niya picked up the song. It was as if she was meant to sing it. She had also sung the musical bit that we have used in the film’s teaser,” says Rahul, who has scored two other songs for the film. While Neelambale, a song rendered by Sujatha Mohan, “will appeal to Malayalis”, Kaane Uyiren “is a dark melody” sung by Narayani Gopan.
Rahul, who released Celestium, an independent song that released on music streaming platforms last year, is looking forward to the release of Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham, Aarattu, and Higuita.