COVID-19 Music

COVID-19: How Kerala musicians are playing it by ear

Kallara Gopan

Kallara Gopan   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

As concerts and music events fall silent for now due to the coronavirus outbreak, singers and musicians in Kerala face uncertainty

Sobha Sivani from the city moved to Kochi two years ago “in search of better opportunities.” However, things have not really gone according to plan. “The same year came the floods. My husband, Sunil Kumar, is a sound engineer and his work equipment were damaged in the disaster. Now, this,” says the A-grade Doordarshan artiste, referring to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Sobha, who has sung in a couple of Mollywood films such as Kanne Madanguka and the Prithviraj Sukumaran-starrer Avan Chandiyude Makan, is among the singers and musicians in Kerala who face uncertainty due to across-the-board cancellation of programmes such as concerts, musical gatherings, wedding receptions and so on, to ‘break the chain’. With the lockdown putting artistes “out of work”, several of them hope that things will start looking up sooner. “My primary source of income are stage shows. The cancellations have come at a time when the temple festival season was on. I also had a recording with outdoor shoot slated to be telecast for Vishu on Doordarshan that has been called off,” says Sobha.

Sobha Sivani

Sobha Sivani   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Perhaps, the hardest hit are musicians whose careers are solely dependant on stage shows during temple festivals as this season has in effect become null and void. “The season is from January till around May and usually winds up before the onset of the monsoon,” points out playback singer and composer Kallara Gopan. “I still do stage shows but not frequently as I have been focussing more on concerts organised as part of public events,” says Gopan, a resident of Vattiyoorkkavu who has sung in about 12 films. “However, there’s no point in worrying as what is required is complete cooperation from all sections of the society since health is more important,” he adds.

Some musicians who are also instructors rely on technology to continue lessons, however to mixed results. Like guitarist Jose Thomas who has been using WhatsApp video calls and Skype for his classes. “But it is not always conducive due to connectivity issues. Learning and imparting musical skills need a fine human-to-human interaction. Also the audio quality matters, which can be distorted while communicating through online platforms,” says Jose, who runs Talent School of Music in Thirumala, which is closed temporarily. He points out that a spectrum of people, including musicians, artistes, lights men, make-up men, impresarios and event managers, have been hit.

Guitarist Jose Thomas

Guitarist Jose Thomas   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

For musicians like Sebastian Simon, better known in music circles as Joy, the very idea of “music falling silent” is hard to digest. “I badly miss Sunday choir and the monthly programmes by private music clubs that are a lot of fun,” says Joy, a keyboard instructor at Christ Nagar School, Kowdiar. He now spends a lot of his time “practising.”

With television channels packing up shoot of serials, those working in the TV music industry are also at a loss. As production of subsequent episodes are stalled, some of the TV channels have resorted to re-telecasting past episodes or even older serials to fill the slot. Premila L, singer and lyricist for television serials, says her recording schedules have gone for a toss. “My episode-based work includes providing background vocals for situational songs and humming. These used keep me engaged but now there are no recordings,” she says. Only recently Premila had sung for the title track of a upcoming serial, the premiere of which has been indefinitely pushed back.

Sreenath Sivasankaran

Sreenath Sivasankaran   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

For Sreenath Sivasankaran, Mollywood composer and singer from Palakkad who burst onto the music scene through reality shows, says he wants to see the current lull as “a break.” He last worked on the musical game show Start Music — Aaradhyam Paadum before starting his cinema projects. “There were a couple of TV programmes too lined up in between, but they are on pause,” he says, adding that he was expecting a “peak period” for his stage shows when schedules turned topsy-turvy.

Despite the bleak prospects, some prefer to keep their chin up and look on the bright side. Vocalist Saritha Rajeev is putting her “free time to constructive use” with “experimentations” to improve her talent. “My husband, Rajeev S A, a keyboardist, has a music studio and we listen to a lot of songs together. I record my own versions and play them back. This way, I can hone my skills,” says the Edapazhanji resident. She adds that a major source of the couple’s income comes from concerts for Malayalis in West Asia, which are now up in the air.

M Radhakrishnan

M Radhakrishnan   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The music fraternity hopes that there will be some kind of relief from the government, at least for the economically most distressed, to tide over the rough patch. “The Trivandrum Music Fraternity, which has about 1,000 artistes as members and headed by Kavalam Sreekumar, is planning to submit a memorandum to the Chief Minister regarding this soon,” says M Radhakrishnan, vocalist and founder of the troupe Trivandrum Sound of Music.

Indeed, music makes the world go ‘round!

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Printable version | May 28, 2020 10:00:52 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/covid-19-how-kerala-musicians-are-playing-it-by-the-ear/article31181192.ece

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