What music from your country do you think every foreigner should listen to at least once?

I’d love it if each song would come with a story.


Answer by Raakhee Venugopal:

I am from Kerala, a state in the southern part of India.

I am a big fan of our traditional percussion music that is conventionally played at the annual festivals held at most Hindu temple in the state. It is called chenda-melam or simply melam.

To quote Wikipedia,

Chenda is a cylindrical percussion instrument used widely in the state of Kerala, Tulu Nadu of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in India. Chenda is an unavoidable musical instrument in all form of cultural activities in Kerala.

The making of a chenda and the way it is instructed to students is still done in the traditional way…the way it has been done since centuries. If interested, you can read all about it here → Chenda

A “Chenda Melam” means percussion using Chenda. Of the seven types of melams, my favorites are the thayambaka, panchavadyam, and panchaari melam. The feverish fervor with which onlookers enjoy the melam is one that has to be seen to be believed.

To quote Wikipedia,

Thayambaka is a type of solo chenda performance that developed in Kerala, in which the main player at the centre improvises rhythmically on the beats of half-a-dozen or a few more chenda and ilathalam players around.

You can read more about it here → Thayambaka. This is a thayambaka performance by one of it’s maestros, Padma Sree Mattannoor Sankaran Kutty Marar.

To quote Wikipedia,

Panchavadyam, literally meaning an orchestra of five instruments, is basically a temple art form that has evolved in Kerala. Of the five instruments, four — timila, maddalam, ilathalam and idakka — belong to the percussion category, while the fifth, kombu, is a wind instrument.

Much like any chenda melam, panchavadyam is characterised by a pyramid-like rhythmic structure with a constantly increasing tempo coupled with a proportional decrease in the number of beats in cycles. However, in contrast to a chenda melam, panchavadyam uses different instruments (though ilathalam and kompu are common to both), is not related very closely to any temple ritual and, most importantly, permits a lot of personal improvisation while filling up the rhythmic beats on the timila, maddalam and idakka.

You can read more about it here → Panchavadyam. This is a part of a panchavadyam performance. The whole set can last to well over an hour.

To quote Wikipedia,

Panchari Melam is a percussion ensemble, performed during temple festivals in Kerala. Panchari Melam (or, simply, panchari), is one of the major forms of chenda melam (ethnic drum ensemble), and is the best-known and most popular kshetram vadyam (temple percussion) genre. Panchari melam, comprising instruments like chenda, ilathalam, kombu and kuzhal, is performed during virtually every temple festival in central Kerala, where it is arguably presented in the most classical manner.

You can read more about it here → Panchari melam. This is a panchari melam performance led by one of it’s maestros, Peruvanam Kuttan Marar at Tripunithura Sree Poornathrayeesa Temple’s annual Vrischikolsavam festival.

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