Published: 19th June 2018
Unable to join Music College, Kerala youth Panali is on a mission to make their native Kurumba music cool again
Gottiyarkandi tribal settlement is home to one of Kerala’s most ancient tribal communities -the Kurumbas
The hills of Attapadi are no longer alive with the sound of Kurumba music. Struggling against odds, Panali, a youth from the Gottiyarkandi tribal settlement, is on a mission to keep the music of his ancestors alive. While his friends are seeking more practical ways to make ends meet, Panali, on the other hand, is a lone crusader.
Last year, he had secured admission to Chembai Memorial Government Music College, Palakkad, but couldn't join because of a financial crisis. Though the incident brought down his spirit, he firmly believes music is his ultimate dream in life.
“People of my age do not prefer to learn our songs," he said. "Still, I teach a bunch of small kids our songs. If they opt out, all this will be lost without a chance of revival. Even when my parents support my music, while the people of my settlement think its madness. One cannot earn one's daily bread with music, they say,” he added.
Gottiyarkandi tribal settlement is home to one of Kerala’s most ancient tribal communities, the Kurumbas. During auspicious occasions such as marriage and cheeru kalyanam (coming of age ceremony) and for farming as well as death, Kurumbas have a rich repertoire of songs. These songs, which were once familiar and sung by everyone in the settlements, are rarely heard now. Saddened by this situation, Panali decided to fight and retain the folklore music of his settlement. Panali is the son of Kanthan and Chelli who are daily wage labourers.
His father gave him the first lessons in tribal music. From childhood, he started to show signs of his forefathers' music legacy. He easily learned the tunes and rhythm of the songs his father taught. Along with that, he started collecting and memorising the songs taught by other elders of the settlement. He possesses a notebook in which he has penned down all these songs.
Each song has a different meaning and they are sung on a specific occasion. While some songs recollect the stories of prosperity and happiness, some others tell the tales of the struggles of the tribal community. These songs are accompanied by musical instruments such as para, kuyaal and, kaimani to name a few. Most of these instruments are crafted out of wood, leather, and bamboo. In past, these instruments were made in the settlements itself. Now, they are brought from Tamil Nadu.
Circumstances never gave Panali the chance to formally learn music. But he still recalls his mentors, Kanchana Teacher from Ashram school, Malampuzha, and Bindhu Teacher from PMG School who encouraged his love for music. When admission to Chembai Memorial Government Music College was confirmed, money became his first hurdle. Health issues have stopped his father from going to work. His mother who earns for the family by doing daily wage work is struggling to run the house.
This year, too, he is hoping to join college. But money still remains the hurdle. Panali’s father Kanthan spoke about music with the same enthusiasm as his son. He didn’t forget to play the kuyaal made with bamboo. The golden days of his music reflected in his eyes while he described how kuyaal is played, which requires amazing breath control. When asked about the current situation of the music, his voice suddenly changed. In a worn-out tone, he asked the question “If no one wants it, why should we even talk about it?”