Reviving Musical Tradition – The New Indian Express

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Express press service

KOCHI: The popularity of kalakkatha – the folk title track of Prithviraj Sukumaran-star Ayyappanum Koshiyum – sung by Nanjiyamma in his rustic voice, was a tribute to the acceptance that tribal music is garnering in the state. Its popularity, in turn, has put Irular, the indigenous community settled in Attappady of which it is a part, on the map.

The Archiving and Research Project (ARPO), a group of young media professionals and state academics, is on a mission to identify these hidden gems that Kerala has to offer. They work with the history, culture and folklore of the state. Their multimedia storytelling and digital archiving project titled Earthlore documents Indigenous art forms that would otherwise soon become obsolete.

In addition to native musicians from the state, the collective also brings together national and international musicians to form a global ensemble. The team’s first musical adventure includes Wayanad’s Kattunaikkars and Attappadi’s Irulas.

Musicians like Charu Hariharan, his brother and playback singer Sreekanth Hariharan, Majeesh Karayad – winner of the Kerala State Folklore Academy Award – and Julian Schoming, a US-based multi-instrumentalist, are all part of the lineup.

As a multi-percussionist, singer and music producer, the project was a learning curve for Charu. “It made me realize how integral music is to their lives. Kattunaikkars and Irulas use music to celebrate. Personally, music makes me happy too. But they taught me that it can bring people together. Earthlore portrays the liberating music of these tribes, unaltered,” she says.

Vishnu Namboodiri (live sound engineer), Adityan (assistant sound engineer) and Varun John (technical consultant) also participated in the project. For Earthlore, performances by 20 artists from two tribal communities were recorded. Julian then polished them. Capturing so many elements with candor was a challenge, says Charu.

“Whether it was their instruments, their voices or the sounds of their village, we had to record everything. But ensuring good quality sound was a challenge. Sometimes we even had to fight against the wind! she says. Irular speaks a Tamil-like dialect. Their porai instrument is similar to a drum. Kuzhal, a wind instrument, was also quite fascinating to her. “Playing kuzhal requires intense breath control. Our Western and Eastern instruments are derivatives of these tribal pieces. So even modern musicians would benefit from knowing them,” adds Charu.

Majeesh Karayad, a tribal artist featured in Earthlore, said each tribe has its rhythm and sound. Their instruments are made from tree bark or the skins of animals and reptiles. “Dhavil, porai, jodimara, dampatta, gajje and chilanga are some of the percussion instruments they use,” says Majeesh.

Julian is also very enthusiastic about working on tribal-western fusion. “Although I am not Indian, I admire the country. I hope to be able to offer these indigenous communities of India and their music a global platform,” he says.

Preserving the past
Nanjiyamma, who guided the Irular during Earthlore, says the popularity will help preserve music in his community. “Tribal music can survive the test of time if it gets global representation. The current generation is reluctant to learn these traditional art forms as it will not bring them any livelihood. But if we can provide them with benefits and opportunities, they will adopt tribal art forms and that will preserve them. Earthlore has enthused the young members of our tribe,” she says. Raghu, a representative of Kattunaikkars, agrees. He thinks their first show in Kochi will open up many new avenues. “In 2015, we performed for other government projects. Such collaborations will create more visibility for our art. The purpose of my life is to popularize our music and ensure that the next generation can make a living from it,” he says.

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