The trend of hiring oppari singers can be attributed to the advent of loud speakers, according to Professor V Arasu, Head of Department, Tamil Literature, University of Madras.
“Oppari is as old as the human race. In Chennai, hiring singers for mourning at funerals came about after public gatherings introduced loud speakers,” he says. Oppari songs in Chennai draw a lot of material from gaana paatu, which again is an outcome of the Hindi music influence. “There is no given format for oppari songs, though commonly many singers draw some inspirations from the formula of several folk songs, including thaalatu paatu (lullabies). Songs in praise of Lord Kaathavarayan are another common inspiration for such songs,” he adds.
Stressing on the mishmash of culture that forms the core of gaana paatu, Professor Arasu says that just like the ‘Madras Tamil’ lingo that is a mix of Tamil, Telugu and Hindi, Chennai’s oppari songs draw inspirations from mainstream and popular culture.
Oppari, he points out, is a genre of music that has and will evolve with the times. “Oppari can’t be restricted. Influences will change with times. That will happen for funeral mourning as well. Change is innate in oppari and that is what makes it people’s music,” he says.