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An exciting voyage through classical and folk music

South Indian musician Kavalam performs in Kuwait

Need to revive the folk tradition

South Indian musician Kavalam Sreekumar performs during NAFO’s ‘Onam 2017’ in Kuwait

In his fascinating concert ‘Ragamanjari,’ a mix of Carnatic classical, semi-classical and folkloric tunes, South Indian musician Kavalam Sreekumar took the audience on a musical voyage on Friday at ICSK auditorium, Salmiya. Demonstrating his expertise in both classical and folk musical genres, Kavalam wooed music-lovers of all hues at NAFO Kuwait’s ‘Onam 2017’.
The concert commenced with the traditional classical song, ‘Swaminatha paripalaya’, set to raga ‘Nattai’ in Kavalam’s distinctive style. This moving piece was followed by two classical songs including the popular number ‘Nakumo kanaleni’, set to the raga ‘Aabheri’. The artiste then forayed into semi-classical numbers like ‘Sreeganapathiyude’ and eventually folk songs and light music numbers drawing applauses from the audience for his soulful, lucid and powerful renditions. He was accompanied on violin by Karunagappally S Balamurali, on mrudangam by Perunna G Harikumar, on tabla by Iqbal Koyilandi and on Ginjira by Ragesh V Ramakrishnan.

Reviving the folk culture

Also well-known as a Malayalam playback singer, this was Kavalam’s third concert in Kuwait. He has travelled across India and abroad and presented concerts in the US, the UK, Europe, Asian countries and Gulf countries. Kavalam underwent rigorous training in music from the tender age of five and inherited an illustrious legacy from his father, theatre director and poet late Padmabhushan Kavalam Narayana Panikkar. The young musician, following in his father’s footsteps, seeks to revive and reenergize Kerala’s folk music and culture.

“Unfortunately, the once vibrant and powerful folk music tradition in Kerala, kept alive by my ancestors, is now fading away. Although, many folkloric songs and lyrics are available, we don’t know how they were rendered in the past. So for all practical purposes, we have lost them,” said Kavalam during an interview with Kuwait Times prior to the concert.

“That means, we are facing a challenge today. We have to recreate the music of the past once again. But it is not possible to archive the songs as they were rendered in the past nor it is possible to notate them like classical songs,” Kavalam said. He has composed scores of folk songs many of which were written by his father, and recorded them in his voice.

Kavalam sang a few of his famous folk songs like ‘Aalayal thara venam,’ ‘Karu kara kaar mukil,’ and ‘mukkutti thiruthali’ and recited some poems in his unique style of rendition that gives prominence to voice culture, expression and clarity of lyrics. “These were songs I sang and recorded around three decades ago. I am happy that these songs are very popular even today,” he said, adding ruefully that he should have recorded more such songs back then.

Appealing to the masses

Highlighting the power and resonance that folk music has with the masses and common people, Kavalam said, “The actor Mani has proved that folk songs can be more popular than film songs.” “Kerala’s folkloric tradition represented a rich cultural heritage as it was associated with harvesting and vocations of various tribes and rural people of the yesteryear,” he said.
“That generation demonstrated extraordinary artistic skills. For example, the once-famed Arjuna dance, in which artistes use three-tier rhythms-legs, hands and vocal rhythm. They could maintain rhythms and music at different levels,” Kavalam added.

Kavalam spoke about the efforts that had been made to preserve the texts and lyrics of Kerala’s folk history while arguing that they were few and far between. “M V Vishnu Nampoodiri has compiled folk songs as language song collections in five volumes. Unfortunately, no serious attempt is being made at an official level to revive Kerala’s folkloric culture today. Not even anything at the academic level,” he said.

Through his musical journey, Kavalam has rendered scriptures such as Ramayana, Bhagavatha, Lalitha and Vishnu Sahasra Namam, Soundarya Lahari and Dhyana Slokas. In addition to scores of songs and poems, Kavalam has also composed several songs for the Mohiniyattam dance form, some of which are in the repertoire of danseuses like Kanak Rele and Bharathi Sivaji. “Today, I am looking at my music career from a broader perspective,” he said.

By Sajeev K Peter

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