The Irulas of Palakkad, like other tribal people, have a song for every season of life from birth to death and everything in between. The Kattunayakans also sing about their life in the forest and who they are. “Songs are a part of their lives,” says Sruthin Lal, co-founder of Archival and Research Project (ARPO), a not-for-profit organisation that works toward preserving and educating Kerala’s heritage via storytelling. ARPO will showcase the music of these two tribes on May 29 at ‘ARPO Earthlore’, a tribal music concert, scheduled to be held at Bolgatty Palace in the city.
Sruthin sees the maiden event as an introduction to the music of indigenous people, paving the way for subsequent editions. Tentative plans include turning this into a half-yearly event. The concert grew out of an idea that included archiving the songs of the tribal people, and down the line, helping them acquire intellectual property rights.
“We want to introduce people to the potential of this music. Tribal music is raw, and we want to bring it out and enable access for tribal people to another space,” says the former journalist. He co-founded ARPO with Parvathy A.R., an assistant professor of economics at Government College, Munnar.
Popularising the unknown
Formed in 2021, ARPO was created to fill the ‘gap’ in knowledge systems about Kerala’s storytelling, history and folklore, beyond the familiar ones. Sruthin says, “With storytelling as the base, we want to draw youngsters to the content by telling untold, unfamiliar stories. There are three aspects to what we do — multimedia storytelling, digital archiving, and curated experiences.”
The music festival is the product of around four months of finding the musicians. Since the organisers were unfamiliar with the music, they enlisted the help of award-winning folk music artist Majeesh Karayad as a consultant. “The Irula musicians were comparatively easy to find. The most famous among them is Nanjiamma [of Ayyappanum Koshiyum fame]. The Kattunayakans were, however, reluctant to share their music. Most of the younger generation of the tribe on the Kerala side do not know their music. The elders who know it are unwilling to share as they consider it sacred,” he said.
However, ARPO was able to find the musicians / troupe among the Kattunayakans on the Karnataka side. At the concert, the tribal people will render the songs without stylistic interventions. Each troupe comprises 15-odd members.
ARPO Earthlore will be held over two days. On May 28, a tribal music workshop will be held at David Hall, Fort Kochi, from 3 p.m. onwards, and the concert on May 29 at 6 p.m.
For registrations, log on to arpo.in. Entry is free for students.