Entertainment Music 03 Jan 2017 Vayali: Magic with b ...

Vayali: Magic with bamboos

DECCAN CHRONICLE. | CRIS
Published Jan 3, 2017, 12:00 am IST
Updated Jan 3, 2017, 1:20 am IST
The bamboos came into the picture when a Japanese artiste called Tomoe had come to the Nadaka Kalari in Irinjalakuda and interacted with Vayali members.
 The bamboos came into the picture when a Japanese artiste called Tomoe had come to the Nadaka Kalari in Irinjalakuda and interacted with Vayali members.

That Japanese trip had changed everything. Before that, they were a music group like many others, playing folk music that was precious to their land, Valluvanad. C.R. Rajagopalan, director of the Centre for Folklore Studies, heard their music and called them Vayali, ‘mother goddess of violin’. The name stuck even as Vayali changed sounds and became known for the bamboo instruments they created. From a village called Arangottukara in Thrissur, the band of 10 went places, touring all over India and to the Middle East and now, gained recognition as the first bamboo band from India. Only last month they got featured under that label by the Rolling Stone.

Vinod Nambiar remembers that day in 2004 when the band got formed inadvertently. There was a one-day workshop for folk arts and Vinod, one of the coordinators, got together some schoolchildren who could sing well. They knew the songs they heard from their parents and grandparents. “Kuttan must have been 16 or 17 then,” Vinod says of Sujil Kumar, fondly called Kuttan, who is even now an active member of the band. The bamboos came into the picture when a Japanese artiste called Tomoe had come to the Nadaka Kalari in Irinjalakuda and interacted with Vayali members. He invited them to come over to Japan next year. So they went for the Rhythm Festival in 2007, the year of India-Japan Friendship. "We stayed with Japanese bamboo artistes at Mount Fuji and came back with new ideas," Vinod says.

The first bamboo instruments they procured were a Kokara from Attapadi and Mulam Chenda from Kasargod from the Adivasi tribal people. They found Sunny from Idukki who could make bamboo instruments for them. They sat with Sopana Sangeetham exponent Njaralathu Harigovindan to tune these instruments. “The problem was that the people who made these instruments and the costumes were becoming fewer and fewer. So we began something called Eco Bazar to promote traditional occupations on the banks of the Nila.” The musicians themselves grew up and went on to start working as painters and carpenters. They never got trained in music — all of them except Vishnu who joined them later. But they knew what sound they wanted to hear and began making their own bamboo instruments.   

“The bamboo would come from Wayanad and we’d make with an idea of how we wanted it to sound like. And then we rely on the internet for other innovations,” says Sujil alias Kuttan, who makes these instruments with fellow members Rajesh and Manoharan. Their folk nature also changed when they incorporated music genres from across the world. “We have for instance the Dhan Trunk which is an instrument from Bolivia/Philippines, but made from the bamboo from Wayanad. Then there is the Marimba which is usually made of metal or wood but we used bamboo. We have about 12 to 15 instruments now, and are making three more — most of these percussions. There are two flutes played by Vishnu and Sajeev, and they lead the music,” Kuttan adds. The other instruments played are kikkera, bumbe, thambor, bhagu, short drum, seven holls, kirte, shaker, peepi and timer.

Pradeep, another member, is responsible for the compositions of the band. “It is instrumental music which could be classical in nature or have Western traits. A song called Sarang is in the Hamsadhwani raga,” he says. He is not trained in classical music. It’s just that he happened to compose this song, and someone who was classically trained listened to it and said it’d be Hamsadhwani. “Similarly I am influenced by Beethoven,” Pradeep says, humming the Symphony as he does. The songs he makes have stories too which would be briefed at the beginning. “Our song Walking through the village is about taking a bullock cart and journeying our village. Then there is Flow of tributary on Nila, and Daffodils about dance.” The other members of the group are Sanoj and Ullas.

“Our members used to improvise in the old days but some purists found a problem with that. So we didn't want to disturb traditions and played the music as such, while making our own music on the side. We also play film songs, patriotic songs etc.,” adds Vinod, who is the director of Vayali.

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