Trending It With Bamboo

Village artists from Kerala craft new bamboo instruments to evolve a new musical trend

By Sujata Devadas, December 18, 2016

Bottom row l to r: Sajeev CP, Sujil Kumar, Vishnujith Unnikrishnan.   Top row l to r: K K Rajesh, K K Sanoj,  K S Ullas, K V Pradeep, K V Manoharan

All about action

Do you feel maudlin for your childhood fantasies fuelled by folklore tradition? Has it spurred you into action, in a bid to promote its continuity? Dr C.R. Rajagopalan, Malayalam Professor at the Kerala Varma College did.

In 2004, he approached the Thrissur Zilla Panchayat. He knew they were looking for ways to revive and enrich folklore pursuits in Thrissur, the cultural capital of Kerala, India. Select few in India are willing to promote what still survives as folklore heritage. The Panchayat gave Dr Rajagopalan funds to organise a folk art workshop at the Thali village library. Invitations went out all over Thrissur district urging local artists to step up and present their artistic skills beyond their own neighbourhood.

Vayali lifts tradition


Eight youth from Arangottukara village, close to one of Kerala’s main rivers, Bharatapuzha, joined the Thali workshop. They featured mythology with Valluvanaadan folk theatre, songs, Vattamudi and Chozhi dances in their performance.

In the evening, Dr Rajagopalan joined the audience in applauding all youth performers. Nestled in his felicitation was his request that performers form a group using folklore tradition that has endured along the river banks of Baratapuzha, to express their creative talent.

An avid reader of Dr Rajagopalan’s books, software engineer Vinod Nambiar, also from Arangottukara village, was a member of the Thali workshop’s organising committee. He accepted Dr Rajagopalan’s earnest request. “Almost immediately, the ten Arangottukara village performers formed ‘Vayali' meaning ‘mother of paddy fields’ to perform authentic folk art and popularise it,” says Vinod. “I am its director.” 

Rhythm Festival, Japan

India and Japan observed Friendship Year in 2007. That November, five Vayali members received invitations to perform at the Rhythm Music Festival, alongside artists from Japan, South Korea and Mongolia at Mount Fuji, Japan. “We listened spell-bound and with undisguised admiration, to Japanese artists playing music on bamboo instruments that night,” says Vayali’s secretary, K.V. Pradeep.

Hopefully right

Pradeep explains: “On our flight back to India, we were unanimous in our opinion that folk art had staid rules of acceptability, especially if we valued and respected the sentiments of senior folk artists in Kerala. Bamboo music, on the other hand, widened contemporary creative space for youth to experiment with new compositions. Younger musicians might find it more alluring.” This was the inception of the idea to design and make musical instruments using bamboo as Vayali lacked the funds to purchase new musical instruments.

Mulam chenda (percussion), Kokara and Villu thayambaka are bamboo musical instruments that have existed in tribal or Adivasi communities of Kerala. A friend from Idukki district took his cue from there. He fashioned a ‘rainstick’ that mimics the sound of flowing water and offered it to Vayali. Vayali artist T.P. Sujil Kumar studied it at length, then boarded a bus to Wayanad district to purchase bamboo, holding his excitement in check about crafting something new. 

Uniting skills

Vayali now has 12 bamboo instruments, of its own design. Sujil, a television news reporter by profession, is helped by two others - painter K.K. Rajesh and skilled carpenter K.V. Manoharan, both Vayali members - to conceptualise, design and make them.

“Although the Vayali Bamboo Group took form in 2008 with 8 band members, we called ourselves a full-fledged music band only in 2010. It took 2 years for the music band to reach a professional level of performance,” says Vinod.

K.V. Pradeep organises and coordinates each of the band’s musical events. “As musicians, we have a good track record. To expand our artistic horizon, we watch music programmes from across the globe, then develop and integrate new compositions in our own genre.” 

Is this a solution?

The 16 or 17-year-old budding artists who began Vayali, are now adults, and are immensely satisfied with the way their music has evolved and ‘caught on’.

The liberty to present their art throughout India and outside has moulded their conduct, their patience, their open-minded nature, their willingness to listen, their calm and easy disposition and their artistic growth.

“Without Vayali, another ‘faceless’ painter or carpenter or reporter or officer could have wound up an alcoholic or an addict because everyday life is bereft of novelty, pointless and dull.” says Sujil. Instead, Vayali accorded 9 musicians a sense of dignity. Every age group in their village is justifiably proud of the artists who tapped into tradition and crafted a new definition of life.

 Recognitions for Vayali

2008: Changelooms Awards: Given to Vayali as Young Social Change Makers.

2012: The Sangeeth Natak Academy, India’s national academy of performing arts, gave the Keli Puraskaram to Vayali in recognition of their being a great cultural association in Kerala.

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