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NIKHIL VARMA
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Chat Folk musician Saji Kadampattil talks about his research on Padayani and the need for performances in public spaces

Are cultural spaces still relevant, even with the onslaught of the internet and satellite television? Does an artiste take a political stance affecting his community? These are some of the questions that freelance artiste Saji Kadampattil faced and has sought to answer in his performances.

The Bangalore-based artiste has been funded for research into the poetry of Malayalam poet Kadamanitta Ramakrishnan Nair and the ritual folk performance form, Padayani, towards the creation of a new performance work by the India Foundation for the Arts. Saji says, “The resulting performance will try to combine Kadamanitta’s lyrics, the rhythms and theatrical expressions of padayani, a folk celebration in a small village in Kerala.”

He adds, “The poet Kadamanitta incorporated elements of Padayani to embellish his public performance with the sound of rock, reggae and the blues. I learnt and started to listen to Kadamanitta’s music after his death. I found it to be very political in its message and rhythmic. It can be easily adapted to any genre of music. I stumbled upon Padayani and learnt about the festival that sees the participation of an entire community. Though a part of my research is finished, I am still working on the modalities of the performance.”

What attracted him to research on Kadamanitta and to create a new music form? “I have always been passionate about music. I discovered new aspects of music when I chanced upon his poetry. He tried to bring about political awareness among the masses and was able to connect with them. The powerful lyrics and the radical thought process of the poet influenced me a great deal. It resulted in a rediscovery of my roots. I feel that we have become too westernised in our thinking and thought process. It is a break from the western style of poetry. I also realised that his music was in sync with almost all major genres of music.”

Once hooked to Kadamanitta’s poetry, Saji made a trip to the village of Kadamanitta that hosts the Padayani festival every year.

“It was a great experience. I discovered the manner in which the entire community conducted the ceremony in honour of the mother goddesses. It was a life-altering moment. I would have been restricted to being a studio-based musician if I had not discovered his poetry.”

Apart from the work on the research project, Saji also decided to re-launch his band, Oolari. “Oolari is the person who acts as the collective conscience of the people in the community. It is the title of the person who collects donations from all houses in the village during Padayani. He acts like a watchdog of the conscience of the small community. I felt that as musicians we should also take a political stance and not be stuck in a narrow zone, where we only think about ourselves. This band will play a vital role in creating the performance that links Kadamanitta’s poetry and the folk festival.”

Apart from this project, Saji is also involved in the bus project, launched by another IFA grantee, Martin. “It aims at travelling in a bus across villages in Kerala, holding workshops and conducting plays and other performances with the involvement of local community. We conducted a few sessions in villages near Thrissur. The response was phenomenal. People are bored with the regular avenues of entertainment and enjoy an alternative.”

He plans street plays and small performances in public spaces in Bangalore. “Elements of my research will also be incorporated into this project. I recently gave a public performance at the metro art centre outside the metro station on MG road. People came to watch my performance and stayed on. I had great fun. I plan more such events.”

NIKHIL VARMA

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