Rewind 2020: How the Malayalam music industry fared


The music industry came to a standstill during the pandemic-induced lockdown. However, it also turned out to be a phase for musicians from the Malayalam industry to give free rein to their creativity. Social media became performance spaces and virtual concerts became the new normal. Here’s a round-up of the music scene and how musicians continue to reinvent themselves.

Rappers on roll

Although rap music has been around for over a decade now, it hit a high note this year. The rappers, most of them in their late teens or early 20s, sang in Malayalam, English, Hindi and Tamil about social and gender disparities, political undercurrents, the pandemic, the lockdown, mental health, women’s safety and more. Vedan, Fejo, ThirumaLi, Marthyan, A.B.I., VKDKV, Street Academics, San Jaimt…were among those who released new songs.

Rappers gathered online for events such as The MFC YouTube Cypher, Quarantine Conference by Malabar Hip-Hop Movement and Lockdown Rap Cypher by Kala Man Collective. The line-up at these events had both well-known and up-and-coming names. Women rappers such as Aditi Nair, G.I.A., VENO MISS and Laxmi were also in the limelight.

Cover of Neeraj Madhav’s rap track, ‘Panipaali’, which went viral  
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Actor Neeraj Madhav showcased his flair for rap with his groovy tracks, especially ‘Panipaali’ and three songs from his album, ‘Wish Hope Fly’. Playback singer Indulekha Warrier went viral with her work ‘Penn Rap’, which talked about societal barriers on women. She followed it up with ‘Poymukhangal’, which explores the dark side of cyber world. Then there was Shilpa Susan Jacob who grabbed eyeballs with her ‘Mudi Rap’.

Making their music

Lockdown motivated many musicians to tap their potential for creating a different kind of music. The film-music-dependent industry suddenly saw a flood of music videos, both cover songs and original songs, being released by singers and composers. They went for virtual collaborations with the videos being shot indoors. Some of the artistes turned lyricists and composers. There were songs dedicated to frontline COVID-19 warriors and those meant to keep people’s spirit high by musicians Sithara Krishnakumar, Harish Sivaramakrishnan, Mejjo Joseph, Kavya Ajit and Arun Gopan.

‘Chaavunadapaattu’, written by poet Anvar Ali and sung by John P Varkey, hit out at the plight of migrant labourers during the pandemic

‘Chaavunadapaattu’, written by poet Anvar Ali and sung by John P Varkey, hit out at the plight of migrant labourers during the pandemic  
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Muhsin Parari’s ‘Chaayapaattu’ in Sithara’s voice and poet Anvar Ali’s hard-hitting take on the plight of migrant labourers during the pandemic, ‘Chaavunadappaattu’, sung by John P Varkey, focussed on different aspects of the lockdown.

While composers Gopi Sunder and Shahabaz Aman came up with new projects, originals were also released by Jyotsna Radhakrishnan, Vidhu Prathap, KS Harishankar, Gowry Lekshmi, Sooraj Santhosh and Job Kurian. Anna Katharina Valayil made a comeback with two singles that had scintillating videos. Actor Govind Padmasoorya sprung a surprise by turning singer.

Anna Katharina Valayil’s videos broke stereotypes

Going virtual

When stage shows and recordings were paused, musicians went live from their homes. They battled technical glitches such as latency, Internet speed, audio quality and other issues. Some artistes set up high quality broadcasting studios and equipment at their homes to do live sessions. Initially they performed for free and interacted with their fans on their Facebook and Instagram pages and on video-conferencing platforms such as Zoom. Some of them went live on almost all days to remain connected with their fans. There were musicians who hosted up-and-coming talents on their social media pages as well.

Thaikkudam Bridge recorded a concert at a studio in Kochi for a client in the US

Thaikkudam Bridge recorded a concert at a studio in Kochi for a client in the US
 
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After a point they switched over to ticketed shows, via platforms such as Paytm Insider and bookmyshow.com. Among the first such shows was the ‘Intersect’ series, which featured Harish Sivaramakrishnan, Sithara Krishnakumar and Job Kurian in one session, followed by another one featuring Govind Vasantha, KS Harishankar and Chinmayi Sripada. Thrissur-based band Oorali did live-streaming for 100 days besides ticketed concerts.

Once studios were opened adhering to the COVID-19 protocol, artistes did live as well as recorded shows for corporate clients and cultural organisations. For example, Thaikkudam Bridge recorded a concert at a studio in Kochi for a retail giant in the United States for their annual conference.

Singers’ Association Malayalam Movies (SAMAM) came up with a 60-day event on its Facebook page that later got extended to 72 days to raise funds for the music fraternity. Through the live sessions they could collect ₹25 lakh.

From the hills

The voice of the year is perhaps the 60-year-old Nanjamma. Besides a meaty storyline and stand-out performances another takeaway from Ayyappanum Koshiyum was this singer from Attappady in Wayanad. She became a toast of the social media with ‘Kalakkatha’, the title track of the film, which she wrote and sang in her native Irula language. She sang three songs in the film for composer Jakes Bejoy and also acted in the movie as Biju Menon’s character’s mother-in-law.

Nanjamma became a star with her tribal song from ‘Ayyappanum Koshiyum’

Nanjamma became a star with her tribal song from ‘Ayyappanum Koshiyum’  
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Although tribal music has been incorporated in films before, the kind of reception Nanjamma received has been unprecedented going by the whopping number of remixed versions of the song uploaded on social media. The Kerala Police made waves on social media when they danced to this song to spread the message about handwashing to battle the Coronavirus.

Nanjamma is a member of Azad Kala Samiti, which showcases dance and music of Wayanad at various events. With her popularity touching new highs, her well-wishers have started a YouTube channel, Nanjamma Official.

Breaking norms

Eyebrows were raised when singer-composer Sooraj Santhosh “restructured” ‘Aalayal thara venam’, a folk song that we all grow up listening to. Titled ‘Aalayal thara veno?’, it questioned adherence to stereotypes.

Sooraj Santhosh and Shruthi Sharanyam restructured the folk song, ‘Aalayaal thara venam’

Sooraj Santhosh and Shruthi Sharanyam restructured the folk song, ‘Aalayaal thara venam’  
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While a section criticised the need to change the lyrics of a song made popular by thespian Kavalam Narayana Panicker and Nedumudi Venu, Sooraj’s stand was that there was no point in following something “that has been passed down through generations”. Shruthi Sharanyam co-wrote the song.

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