THE name c is synonymous with the percussion instrument chenda to Keralites. A recipient of this year’s Padmasree honour, Mattannoor created a new identity for the chenda, a little known instrument outside Kerala.
Instead of sticking to conventional schools, Mattannoor created a rhythmic world of his own with his unparalleled control over the instrument. Mattannoor's unorthodox style popularised little known art forms like the Thayambaka, the melam and other forms rooted in typical Kerala percussion culture. Mattannoor’s first revolutionary performance in the conventional percussion ensemble of Kerala was the staging of the Sruthi Panchari Melam which used two sticks, instead of the conventional one stick and left palm.
“With my experience with stalwarts like Patturath Sankara Marar, Karekkatt Eachara Marar and Achutha Marar, I could recognise the rhythm of the Panchari Melam,” Mattannoor said in a chat with Express. “But I was not at all satisfied with the tonal contribution of the kurumkuzhal in the Panchari Melam. So I decided to redesign the Panchari Melam with a kurumkuzhal of the same size and tone. “ Mattannoor recalls the rejuvenating beats which emanated from the Panchari Melam when combined with the uniformly tuned kurumkuzhal, kombu and valamthala (drums providing the basic rhythm). “When I presented the melodious Panchari Melam, it created an open dais for healthy debate. Mattannoor recalls the series of articles which appeared in the Samakalika Malayalam weekly on the subject. “Though the connoisseurs from orthodox streams opposed my move, I still believe that my experiment was a success,” Mattannoor claims.
Then came the entry of the duo - Sreekanth and Sreeraj - sons of Mattannoor. The performance of the three-member group at the thunderous Thruthayambaka (triple thayambaka) presented unforgettable moments for spectators on the temple premises. With regard to the thayambaka, Mattannoor specifies the need for adopting the good elements from both schools - the Malamakkavu and the Palakkadan. “A purist approach is not practical,” he observes. He proved this by moulding a new style mixing his own inimitable style with the attractive elements of both. Mattannoor never missed a chance to explore the possibilities of this divine percussion instrument, whether by means of a fusion with Sivamani’s beats or as an accompaniment to the character Kunjunni in Mohanlal’s Vanaprastham.
Though he was busy with these experiments Mattannoor was always an inevitable part of any temple festival in Kerala. He was also involved in welfare work for thousands of traditional percussionists who lead a pitiable life offstage. “When we started the formal functioning of the Vadhyamithra, the brain child of the late Thamaramkulangara P Vinayakumar, Sankarettan wholeheartedly supported the move, which aimed at helping the poorer section of the melam artists,” said Puliyanoor Dileepan Namboothiripadu, president of Vadhyamithra.