At Chennai Kalai Theru Vizha, artists bring Tamil Sufi songs, the Gana tradition to Mylapore

Kumari Aboobacker performed Tamil Sufi songs and Muniyamma presented Gana numbers on the first day of Chennai Kalai Theru Vizha

Kavitha Muralidharan January 21, 2019 15:48:46 IST
At Chennai Kalai Theru Vizha, artists bring Tamil Sufi songs, the Gana tradition to Mylapore
  • On Day 1 of Chennai Kalai Theru Vizha, Kumari Aboobacker performed Tamil Sufi songs and Muniyamma presented Gana numbers.

  • Gana, a form of music that has its roots predominantly among Dalits living in North Chennai, is often performed at funerals.

  • Aboobacker could be one of the last practitioners of the tradition which brings together Islam and Carnatic music.

Clad in a rich pink sari, Muniyamma from Vyasarpadi betrayed no sign of nervousness about her first stage performance. Neither was there any qualm about performing in a ‘culturally rigid’ Mylapore, known more for its Carnatic performances. Belting out her Gana numbers – some from films and some written by her – Muniyamma soon had the crowd tapping to her music. An emotional Muthu – a member of the Casteless Collective – later told the audience about how Muniyamma, his paternal aunt, was one of his earliest teachers. “She had always sung only at funerals or small gatherings. This is her first big stage. Will you all clap for her again?” he asked in all earnestness.

“I was very hesitant to do this performance,” Muniyamma says, “This response is truly overwhelming."

At Chennai Kalai Theru Vizha artists bring Tamil Sufi songs the Gana tradition to Mylapore

Glimpses from Chennai Kalai Theru Vizha. Image courtesy of Chennai Kalai Theru Vizha

Muniyamma was performing in Mylapore on 19 January as part of Chennai Kalai Theru Vizha (street festival). Gana, a form of music that has its roots predominantly among Dalits living in North Chennai, is often performed at funerals.

The evening started with a vivacious performance of Villu Paatu – an ancient form of musical story telling – by children from Ennore. Interspersing their performance with humour, the children took the audience through the environmental problems in Ennore and small victories achieved through struggle.

After Muniyamma’s performance, Kumari Aboobacker took the stage to treat the audience to some soulful Tamil Sufi songs. Introducing Aboobacker to the audience, historian and writer Kombai Anwar spoke about the Islamic connection to Carnatic music. Singing these songs for four decades now, Aboobacker could well be one of the last practitioners of this tradition. “These are reminders that Carnatic music is not confined to one community alone,” Anwar said.

Singing songs of Kunangudi Masthan Sahib and Kasim Pulavar among others, Aboobacker sought to further explore this musical tradition. His rendition of a song for Allah modeled on the famous 'Thiruppugazh' – a 15th-century song on Murugan – visibly moved the audience. The song was made popular through TM Soundarrajan's rendition – a renowned playback singer – but Anwar sought to remind the audience that the "song sung by Aboobacker predated the TMS version of Thiruppugazh."

An energetic fusion dance by the Flying Bees dance troupe proved to be a fitting finale to the culturally vibrant line-up, which was an eclectic mix of artists. “The idea behind this event is to merely emphasise that all forms of arts are equal, all stages are equal and all human beings are equal. We hope that has been achieved," says Nityanand Jayaraman, one of the coordinators of Chennai Kalai Theru Vizha.

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