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Updated: March 7, 2012 16:33 IST

Pongal, with a twist

Payal Chhabria
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"Darbuka" Siva of La Pongal perform on stage. Photo: Special Arrangement

La Pongal crafts an unusual combination — the modern percussion and ancient folk lyrics — through its various performances and its first ever album. Payal Chhabria tunes in.

There is a striking contrast between the Pongal that was and the Pongal that is for “Darbuka” Siva, who is at the helm of La Pongal — a platform that aims at creating contemporary-electro-Tamil-folk music.

A decade ago, the aroma of steaming Pongal from the earthen pots swathed by the air carrying the beats of the thapaatam and nayyaandi melam exactly woven with the traditional folk lyrics scripted by maestros from the suburbs, welcomed Siva.

Folk to the city

Inspired by his childhood associations with the festival, he conceived La Pongal in 2007 “to bring folk music to the limelight”. This year, Siva introduced the city to a four day festival, Pongal Sandhai, in January that crafted the atmosphere of a village Pongal experience with ancient folk lyrics blended with a mishmash of the beats from the platter of folk as well as western instruments at Madras-I-Azam Higher Secondary School, Anna Salai.

“It's not a band; it's a platform,” insists Siva. “We want to make folk music accessible to people in the city. La Pongal is striving to throw light on talent from the suburbs, where they have no access to technology.

These performers are a package of dance, music, acting, acrobatics and entertainment. They are so spontaneous that it seldom seems like they are performing.”

In a span of four years, La Pongal has made its presence felt in several film festivals across the globe; some of which include Kala Utsavam in Singapore, a Himalayan village music festival at Sonapani, and The Storm, a two day-long music camp at Coorg. “We want youngsters to feel cool about folk music. We intend to make them head-bang to our beats,” says Siva.

This year also saw the launch of their first ever album — La Pongal, Project 1, Contemporary South Indian Folk Music – on January 16, at Pongal Sandhai.

Pradeep, a singer for the album, says, “The album has changed my perspective of music. Folk music has no boundaries. Besides, the energies of folk performers are inimitable. One needs to double one's energy levels to keep pace with them. So it's a very challenging experience for me.”

Team work

The album has been fabricated by the collaboration of 70 – 80 folk musicians from myriad cultures. Some of the prominent artists include Antony Daasan, Pradeep, Karthik Das Baul, Bonnie Chakraborty and Neil Mukherjee.

Siva says, “We have tried to bridge the gap between the styles of different singers. Antony Daasan is a typical folk singer from Thanjavur. On the other hand, Pradeep is a trained classical singer, who hasn't explored folk music previously. So we've tried to create an interesting balance. Also, I feel an intimate connection with Bengali folk music. So we've explored counter Bengali folk melodies interspersed with Tamil lyrics.”

The album will be sold at their concerts and can be ordered at their website (http://lapongal.com/). Antony Daasan, says, “It's a great platform for artists like me who are ignorant about modern technology and western trends. It's also a great opportunity to explore various genres of folk music through one medium.”

With a platter so full, La Pongal's currents are reaching across the city. However, its current doesn't shock; it satiates.

Payal is a M.A. Communication student at M.O.P. Vaishnav College For Women.

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