Versatile voice on stage

Kottakkal Madhu

Kottakkal Madhu   | Photo Credit: Jawaharji K.

Kottakkal Madhu, one of the ace Kathakali vocalists of the present day, has honed his innate talent to become a musician par excellence

Kottakkal Madhu recently received the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi’s award for Kathakali music for 2016. Connoisseurs who have enjoyed Madhu’s singing in any context will readily agree with the Akademi’s judgement. After the enchanting music of the Kalamandalam trio in Kathakali — Kalamandalam Sankaran Empranthiri, Kalamandalam Venmani Haridas and Kalamandalam Hyderali —Madhu’s mellifluous voice came into prominence, as it is endowed with several mesmerising features.

Madhu was born in Kongodu, a village in Palakkad district, noted for its association with several reputed artistes in classical music, percussion ensembles and Kathakali and other performing arts like Kanyarkali. The fourth among six siblings, he inherited an aptitude for singing, as his parents, Kongodu Kizhakkumpattu Govindan Nair and Mannarkkattu Kinarathu Sathyabhama, loved music. One of his sisters became a teacher in music in a nearby school; a younger brother mastered various styles of music and works at Darpana Academy in Ahmedabad.

Kottakkal Madhu

Kottakkal Madhu   | Photo Credit: Jawaharji K.

Madhu learned preliminary lessons in Carnatic music from Parameswara Aiyer, a local music teacher. While he was studying in the Government Upper Primary School, Kongodu, Vilasini teacher, hailing from Paripally, Kollam, taught him the famous varnam Ninnukori… in Mohanam, which earned him accolades in the school youth festival.

In fact, today, Madhu’s home in Kottakkal is called ‘Mohanam’ after the famous raga that earned him the first accolades when he was Kinarathu Madhu, known in the neighbourhood as a well-behaved paper boy helping his father, the local agent of a Malayalam daily.

Kottakkal Gopala Pisharoti, who was on the faculty of music in PSV Natyasamgham, used to visit Kongodu and he was instrumental in ensuring that Madhu was enrolled in Natyasamsham.

Madhu was admitted to the department of music in Natysamgham by Kalamandalam Unnikrishna Kurup who was working in the institution at that time.

The youngster was fortunate to be trained for five full years by the doyen Kalamandalam Neelakanthan Nambeesan and became Asan’s last disciple. Asan taught him to handle all the four Kottayam stories flawlessly. The training was so rigorous that he had to revise singing the quatrain Maarge tatra and the following padam Baale! kel nii in Kirmeravadham every day for about a year and a half!

Asan himself supervised Madhu’s first stage performance, as the ponnaani (lead musician) in Purappadu and Melappadam in 1983, when he was just 15. Madhu treasures that recital because that was the only stage performance that his father could watch. Madhu’s father passed away shortly after that.

At Natyasamgham, the legendary Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar’s disciple Parameswaran Nampoothiri also taught him. From him Madhu mastered how to embellish the rendition in such a way that was sensitive to the context. Nampoothiri Asan used to demonstrate how to make full use of sangatis in the line Chalamalaya in Melappadam. While undergoing the eight years training in Kathakali music at Natyasamgham Madhu was benefited by specialisation in varnams for 10 years under Madhavan Nair. Madhu’s training in his chosen domain, in effect, left nothing to be desired.

Around that time, Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair was slated to perform ‘Handsome Brahmin’ in an excerpt from Rukminiswayamvaram for a festival in the Viswambhara temple. Quite unexpectedly, Madhu was delegated to support P.D. Nampoothiri in vocal music. Before entering the stage, Krishnan Nair had learned about the sinkidi (singer accompanying the lead vocalist). Afterwards, on meeting him in the green room, the thespian blessed him.

Madhu made it his habit to enhance his rendition by imbibing from masters he happened to hear. Any interesting nuance that he noticed in a concert would find a way into his repertoire as well. His experience and long years of training did not put an end to his learning.

He was thus inspired by Madurai T.N. Gopalan’s interpolating a raagamaalika while elaborating Bhairavi in a concert. In Melappadam, Madhu experiments with lyrics and delivery to catch the attention of audience. For instance, he introduces a tapering effect in the portion Chalamalaya-mridupavana, reducing the text-length in successive steps by dropping ‘chala’, ‘chalamalaya’, and ‘chalamalayamridu’. Using ragas such as Dharmavati and Vrindavanasaramga in Melappadam is unconventional, but Madhu does not hesitate to do so. Consequently his presentation turns out to be ever refreshing.

Madhu is equally at ease with convention-bound plays as well as popular episodes on the Kathakali stage. Both Kathakali pada kacheri, confined to select songs from Kathakali plays, and Kerala sangeetha kacheri, mainly composed of classical music compositions in Malayalam, are delectable treats. Unlike certain Kathakali musicians, he has no qualms about singing to the accompaniment of the violin, mridangam and ghatam sans the chenda and maddalam. He also shines in jugalbandi recitals and Sopanam music. In addition to providing suitable music to famous poems in Malayalam, Madhu lends musical support for Mohiniyattam and other dance forms.

Recognised as an A grade artist by All India Radio, Madhu has been honoured with many awards including those in the name of Mundaya Venkitakrishna Bhagavathar, Kalamandalam Haridas and Kalamandalam Hyderali.

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2020 1:06:00 AM |

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