CHENNAI: Bridging the gap between folk and classical arts and artists, the fourth edition of Urur-Olcott Kuppam Vizha is all set to kick-start on February 10 where these two art forms that have been poles apart hitherto are to find a common beachside rendezvous.
The art festival would have concerts from eminent Carnatic musician T.M. Krishna, rapper Sofia Ashraf, Parai isai by Friends Kalai Kuzhu, Villupattu by Kattukuppam Bays Troupe among others during the two-day treat for the eyes and ears of the connoisseurs of not just the 'traditional' performing forms but also the rap-folk genre. The Vizha will be held at the Ellaiamman Koil Beach at Urur Olcott Kuppam, Besant Nagar, said the organizers at a press conference here.
“The purpose of the Urur-Olcott Kuppam Vizha is to take the contemporary and folk art forms to the Carnatic sabhas, where the art forms like parai, villu paatu are long considered inferior,” said village head R. Srinivasan, one of the organizers. He said it was "utmost important" to take to the villages the classical art forms such as Bharathanatyam, Kathak and Carnatic music, which are confined to the sabhas and a particular elitist section of the society.
Talking about the recent UNESCO recognition adding Chennai to the creative cities network, social activist Nithyanand Jayaraman said Chennai should support and patronise every art form that brought the tag ‘creative city’. The vizha is one such initiative, he added.The fishermen of Urur-Olcott Kuppam pointed out that the vizha has helped them in addressing their civic problems. “Eastern side of our Kuppam lacks the drainage system, thus posing threat to the dwellers. But one of the elites who visited our village to witness the vizha contacted metro water management and now a project worth `1 crore is in the tender process,” R. Sundaramurthy, another village head, said. Rapper and singer Sofia Ashraf who is famous for her single, 'Kodaikanal won't', said Urur-Olcott Kuppam Vizha has been pivotal in getting new audiences for her art form. "Earlier, only college students and youngsters were my audiences. Due to the tryst of various art forms in the vizha, I am getting variety of audiences now," she said with pride.
According to Deepan of Friends Kalai Kuzhu, the vizha has been breaking caste barriers as art forms like parai is widely considered as the art of the lower caste and the rural illiterate.
“All the members of our group are post-graduates and we are performing just for the sake of the art. Artists and rasikas should see art as art,” he urged.
‘Artiste sans social concern is no artiste’
The Carnatic maestro who broke barriers of elitism and brought the AC hall art form to MTC buses and lent his
classical voice for Chennai's waterways is also in bringing Urur-Olcott Kuppam Vizha to life. Reiterating his oft-repeated plea for artists to be deeply concerned with social issues, Magsaysay Award winner T.M. Krishna says in a freewheeling interview to Rudhran Baraasu that an artist with no concern for social problems cannot be an artiste in the real sense.
QYou are a famous musician and a Magsaysay award winner. What made you step out of the comfortable zone of elitism to sing in Kuppams and buses for the commoners?
TMK: During my initial years, I was also like everyone else, singing, conducting concerts and making money. After some time, I started asking questions to myself, like who are the people in the hall and who are not in the hall? Why is this music not going outside the hall? What is stopping it from doing so? We say art is sharing. But the truth is all the arts are stuck in their little boxes.
Art has to spread its wings. The duty of art is to bring the diverse people together. Art can be performed in a Kuppam, at the beach, a sabha, railway station or inside the bus. The moment we do that, art will be changing and society will be changing. Art also defines the kind of people we are. Then society decides which kind of art is higher depending on the power of you and me. If we mix this up, the difference between you and me will diminish. When we constantly do this, the society will change.
QHow far have you been successful in injecting and infusing cultural leaning and awareness among the common population?
TMK: Every time we discuss arts, we are discussing caste, gender and society. Nobody is able to run away from this truth. Urur-Olcott Kuppam has shown that we need to address these issues and confront it. We can't hide from this. We have to do things to change the way society is structured. Art is a beautiful way and the slow way of sensitising the society. This is a long journey but I am convinced that I have played an important role in changing the way artists and audiences think of these issues.
QHow do you intend to address the issues that are eating into our society?
TMK: Art should get involved in raising social issues, voice opinions and bring up discussion. Politics is not only with political parties. It is every citizen's action. Artists must discuss issues. Only then will society grow.
QFolk art forms consistently raised issues to educate the masses and to question the rulers. Do you think classical art forms have done such challenging contribution to society, raised issues?
TMK: No. the arts of the elite have not addressed social issues. Art changes when audience changes. Also, every art is for art's sake. But what is in that art is the most important question. Social issues can be addressed in many ways. The moment I sang on a bus, I broke the barriers. I may have rendered a song that is 200 years old, but I broke the barriers. It depends on artists' mindset. No one can be an artist without social concerns.
Arts can be used to address problems of deprived, says Nityanand
DC: You have been an environmental activist all along. How come you have now come into this area of art and culture?
NJ: I have never changed my concern over environmental issues. Art is a powerful medium and we are harnessing it for social development now. We have conducted a concert at IIT-Madras titled ‘no more Bhopals’in 1999.
Everyone is aware of the link between arts and social empowerment. So we are using arts for people's sake. During our journey, we came to know that arts are confined to a particular elite sector of the society. We have to release those arts from incarceration.
DC:What is the response to this effort to take folk forms to the rasikas of classical arts like Bharathanatyam and Carnatic music? Is there any resistance to your effort to break the hold of Brahminism over Chennai's Maragazhi Vizha and the sabhas?
NJ: We have received more acclaim than resistance though we are still facing some resistance, mostly from the small minority conservative community. Urur-Olcott Kuppam Vizha is not against the traditional sabhas. We are requesting these sabhas to open their doors to a variety of art forms. Mylapore Raga Sudha Hall has already opened up to folk arts.
Carnatic music is made the cultural face of Chennai because of the influence of one particular section of the society. While approaching art as an art remains relevant, that has been forgotten over a period of time. Now it is reviving.
DC:What are the positive takeaways from the previous editions of Urur-Olcott Kuppam Vizha?
NJ: When audiences from our elite society visit villages to see the art forms they had never come across, our villages will get attention and subsequently this elite society would lend helping hand in rural uplift. Urur-Olcott kuppam is one example where some basic amenities were addressed by the vizha, thanks to such interventions.
Now the elite people started to enter kuppam. When volunteers from outside the fishing village work with volunteers of the kuppam, they tend to share a good friendship. This is also a positive result of the vizha.
DC:Do you think you can break the barrier?
NJ: More and more activists will make this happen over the time. One man and one vizha cannot bring much change. Many activists have started addressing the issue, which is a good sign.