CHENNAI: You have the comfort of air-conditioners and cushioned seats, plush interiors, the creamy layer of society. Now, compare it with a cleaned-up stretch of beach, seating on the sandy floor and the surrounding fishing community. As a step towards social inclusion, Urur Olcott Margazhi Vizha aims to push boundaries of a typical December season carnatic concert. Outside the bubble of sabhas and kutcheri tickets, the larger portion of the Chennai populace still go about their daily business. With initiatives like the upcoming Urur Olcott Margazhi Vizha, this bubble hopes to see some expanding.
“It’s generally considered normal that carnatic music is only for an elite few, that it is highbrow. I have written and spoken about it, but being an insider and part of the system, I decided to do something about it,” says T M Krishna, well-known carnatic singer who conceptualised this festival. Krishna has written extensively about the social layers of carnatic music. The staggeringly large number of concerts are mostly geographically nested in and around Mylapore and T Nagar, with areas like North Chennai remain largely alien to this genre of music.
Mulling over the idea of taking the concert to a more inclusive location, Krishna approached environmental activist Nityanand Jayaraman for help, and Urur Kuppam became the chosen spot. With Facebook campaigns, contributions from the public and a beach clean-up on December 20, the festival is all set to take off on December 29 and 30, with a diversity of performances.
With carnatic vocal performances by P Unnikrishnan, violin-veena duo Kumaresh and Jayanthi Kumaresh, villu paattu, karakattam, kattaikuttu and bharathanatyam by a group from Kalakshetra— the concert looks at broadening what the music season stood for.
“We can have Unni singing at The Music Academy in the morning, the kuppam in the evening, and Krishna Gana Sabha the next. It’s great and has never happened before.” He says the idea is about recognising other art forms, not about reducing the importance of carnatic music. So, the carnatic musician should be able to appreciate kattaikuttu just like how a person from the kuppam should be able to walk into a Mylapore sabha and listen to a concert. “We also want the Besant Nagar walkers to stroll into the kuppam, many of whom don’t even know there is a parallel world there.”
Musicians may sing to full houses every year, not realising that it is the same full house, he says. He recalls singing at a temple in North Chennai where he has been performing regularly for a decade, and the audience is so demographically different from a typical sabha. “Some may not know or care who I am, and this is great in a way,” he says
When for musicians it is about the music and not the lyrics, for a new listener, the language becomes a thread of familiarity.
“The artiste generally adapts to the audience. Unni plans to sing many Tamil songs at the festival,” says Krishna.
It could be a start, eventually getting more people into music itself. While social movements that set out to make a statement through music have taken place, like the Tamil Isai Movement, this festival hopes to set a new kind of social statement — where different genres are brought together and treated equally.
So, would he teach a boy from Urur Kuppam, who wants to learn carnatic music? He is quick to reply, “Definitely. That’s what we are setting out to do here.”