A community-driven initiative by local adivasi artisans around Karikiyoor in Kil Kotagiri, has resulted in a revival of local musical traditions, with the elders training the adivasi youth in producing and playing traditional instruments.
The members of the community have started producing traditional wind and percussion instruments in a workshop constructed in the village of Aracode. Local community members said that the use of many of these instruments were disappearing due to an ongoing cultural upheaval among the communities themselves.
Arjunan, a village elder who passes on knowledge of making instruments, baskets, cups, mugs and handicrafts to younger members of the Irula community, said that all items produced at the workshop were made sustainably using locally-sourced bamboo. “All Irula festivals and celebrations are marked by music played on traditional instruments. Unfortunately, due to younger members having to leave the village to work in nearby towns, this tradition is being lost, with not many instrument makers or musicians who know how to play them, left,” said Mr. Arjunan. Currently, more than ten kinds of wind and percussion instruments are being manufactured in Aracode by the community members.
Each instrument that the community would produce, which is personalized and unique, tailored to the requirements of the musician, could take more than a month to produce.
Abhishek K R, Programme Coordinator at Keystone Foundation, an NGO which has assisted the community in setting up a music academy where knowledge of making and playing the instruments is passed on from elders to the youth, said that community members were exposed to different instruments, materials and ideas at ‘Svaram’ – Musical Instruments and Research. The members were given access to knowledge and resources which allowed them to experiment in modifying their instruments, exploring new instruments and were also introduced to techniques that allowed them to be made more efficiently.
“For instance, just making one section of the ‘kwol’ – a flute-like wind instrument, would take around 3-4 weeks. The maker of the instrument would usually spend his free time at the end of the day doing this. We wanted to introduce them to other techniques which they were free to incorporate into their process of making the instruments,” said Mr. Abhishek.
The initiative has led to a shift in how music is played and enjoyed within the community itself. “For instance, the communities did not recreationally play music, but would only do so during specific festivals or events. By expanding this space, we are allowing more community members, including women, a chance to be a part of this process,” he said. Apart from traditional music, the group is working with sounds and music that was not part of their earlier repertoire, and this is leading to a reimagining of music as recreation.
The community members have set up “Porivarai” – a community foundation, which makes the instruments along with other items that they sell at the village.
Vimala, who has been working on producing handicrafts at Aracode for the last two-years, said that the sale of the products has helped community members through the COVID-19 pandemic. “Without having to leave our village and our community, we can make enough money to run our families. This initiative has really helped the entire community, when many of our earning members lost their jobs due to the pandemic,” she said.
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