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Dalit Musical Tradition and Kerala folk songs

December 12, 2011

This is bit of a misleading title. In that, I know next to nothing about the following topics: music, Dalit musical tradition, Kerala folk songs and the links between them all. I do , however, know there is a social, cultural and political story here — a worthy exploration above and beyond this particular blog post.

[Sidenote: If you, unlike me, do know something feel free to share information, links, and resources.]

And while my mind lacks knowledge, my heart knows music and beauty and poetry in the way that it lifts up and tries to listen harder using arteries and blood.

The sound that I make
ears do not hear –
it breaks out
like hidden music.
Knocking, it doesn’t strike
chords on the heart –
like a volcano
it streams flame,
kindling forest fires.

The sound that I make
does not ferment
like milk
and become butter –
as if smashing rocks
it beats,
cracked walls
tumble down harshly.

The sound that I make
does not deceive politely
or bury itself in the mouth –
it’s a dazzling sword
brandished and
swung at earth.

The sound that I make
doesn’t cool the eyes like sheet lightning –
like thunderbolts
it flashes
all inhuman
and conditions.

— By Mudnakudu Chinnaswamy, translated by Prof Rowena Hill.

Which brings me to Preesetha, whose hand I plan to ask in marriage as I have helplessly fallen in love.

Her sound is one that “does not ferment like milk and become butter – as if smashing rocks it beats, cracked walls tumble down harshly.”

Rupesh Kumar, an award wining documentary film maker, had this to say about her:

With her voice and body she shakes all the established textualities and performances of malayalam music scene. She even shatters the body revolutions by Rimi Tomi and Renjini Haridas and shows the power of black dalit women body and these energy is nothing but from the Dalit work force. Hat off to Praseetha because her performance is Political and I read she is at present a dalit political musical text.

Again, I will grab my ignorance for an alibi and say that I don’t know whether I agree with this or not. But does Preesetha feel powerful? Yes. And is that power political? No doubt.

Here’s one more. (A song that will always fill me with the memory of a dark moon beckoning the black sea. And to that one who I insist sing me this song over and over again.)

It’s a love song, by the way — a joyous, love song about un-married women. That’s not what patriarchy looks like, it’s what subversion of patriarchy looks like.

Preesetha’s audacity is remarkable in this space of stiff, Malayali patriarchy, a tradition based on inequality and silencing. Her insistence that she has a spirit that will not remain within any confines (be it stage or prison — or class or caste, for that matter).

She will dare you to see her joy — and you can either dance and sing with her or sit very still, trying to un-tap your foot.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 20, 2013 10:40 pm

    There is definately a great deal to learn about this topic.
    I really like all the points you’ve made.

  2. manu permalink
    August 21, 2014 6:48 pm

    Although highly influenced by the populist tradition of Kalabhavan Mani, Praseetha stands out as the only hope for equality.

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