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It's raining music notes

Kerala-based Folk music band, Karinthalakoottam, transfixed a global audience at the just concluded Rainforest World Music Festival in Malaysia. As the lone Indian act at the event, the group exposed all to the traditional ritual notes of Kerala. Ruchika Kher spoke with them at this unique music stage

Karinthalakoottam means generation in Malayalam. A Folk music band from a small town Mala in Kerala’s Thrissur district, aims to apprise the next generation with their home state’s rich culture and traditions. “We sourced old ritual songs from our parents and grandparents, and began performing in 1994 to make the younger generation aware of our traditions, music and culture. Our performances are a way of passing on our rich cultural legacy to the ones younger than us,” informs Vijeesh Lal, the vocalist and percussionist of the band.

Pics courtesy/ Sarawak Tourism Board
Pics courtesy/ Sarawak Tourism Board

After 20 years of performing mostly in south India, Karinthalakoottam got an opportunity to make the global audience groove to their tunes at the Rainforest World Music Festival in Malaysia in the last week of June.

A member of Karinthalakoottam performing Theyyam, a traditional ritual dance from Kerala
A member of Karinthalakoottam performing Theyyam, a traditional ritual dance from Kerala

Overwhelmed by the experience, Lal admitted that they felt lucky to represent India at a big music festival. The group that injected a fresh life into traditional music through their performance at the event, performed with eight members. They unleashed their musical energy by using traditional instruments like maram, chenda, thudi, vadichilambu, kuzhi thalam
and otta.

Members of Karinthalakoottam
Members of Karinthalakoottam with Arup Roy (standing third from right), the director of Song of Soul India

“We work hard to keep the audience on their toes. We all have day jobs, and do this because it’s our passion,” shares Lal, who is a commerce teacher. Other members include Ramesh PR (group leader, vocalist), a bus conductor;  Prasad MV (percussionist), a driver; Prasad CK (vocals/percussionist), the owner of a small business; Binesh PK (percussionist/dancer),  who works at the Cochin shipyard; Ranjith MS (percussionist), a carpenter; Subhash EB (singer/percussionist), a clerk and Shivadasan, a full-time Theyyam artiste.

The world is their stage
So, how did a band, active in south India and specialising in temple music, reach a global festival in Malaysia? Lal shares, “An organisation in Kolkata, Song of Soul India, promotes Folk music bands across India. In 2010, we performed at the Kolkata International Music Festival. They spotted us and began promoting our acts. They facilitated our coming to Malaysia as well.” The band has plans to perform in Kuwait and Delhi.

The Rainforest World Music festival
The festival started in 1998 and takes place at the Sarawak Cultural Village (inside a rainforest, at the foot of Mount Santubong, which is about 45 minutes from Kutching, the nearest city from the venue). Usually held in July, the dates were shifted to June this year, as July is the Ramzan fasting month. Organised by the Sarawak Tourism Board, supported by the Ministry of Tourism Malaysia, the event showcased performances by 23 bands including Blackbeard’s Tea Party (England), Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino (Italy), Dakhabrakha (Ukraine), Kalakan (Basque) and Jamie Smith’s Mabon (Wales), among others.

Members of the Spanish band
Members of the Spanish band, Kalakan,  performing at the event

Get there
By air Kutching is well-connected by air to Kuala Lumpur. The flight from KL is about two hours.
By road you can also board a bus from the neighbouring state of Brunei Darussalam. The journey takes five hours.
Getting around Kutching is simple with easy accessibility of buses and taxis. Taxis are mostly available in front
of major hotels and shopping malls.

Kutching planner
Eat:
Don’t miss out on Laksa, a popular spicy noodle soup with tamarind, garlic, lemongrass and coconut milk, topped with omelette strips/chicken strips/prawns/fresh coriander and lime. Mee Kolok, another noodle dish with meat toppings is very popular and delicious. For a sweet indulgence, dig into their rainbow colour layered cakes. It is said that no one comes back from Sarawak without a layered cake.

Laksa
Laksa

Explore: Visit the Gunung Gading National Park that houses the Rafflesia (world’s largest flower). You can also visit Semenggoh Orangutan Sanctuary (the best place in Sarawak to view orangutans), and the cat museum (Kutching means cat in Bahasa Malaysian, so it is considered the city of cats). If time permits, head to the Matang Wildlife Centre, Bako National Park and Jong’s Crocodile Farm. Sign up for a cycling heritage tour of the city that is conducted by Paradesa (www.paradesaborneo.com).

Several city walls depict the creativity of a Spanish artist
Several city walls depict the creativity of a Spanish artist

Shop: Sarawak is known for its intricate crafts and souvenirs. One of the most popular crafts are the Sarawakian beads. Another must-pick is the Pua Kumbu textile, which is a hand-woven fabric. Main shopping spots are Main Bazaar, Kutching Waterfront Bazaar, Sarakraf Pavilion, Sarawak Handicraft Centre, Jalan Padungan, Sanday Market at Jalan Satok, India Street and Jalan Penrissen.

A mug with traditional beads.
A mug with traditional beads.Pic/AFP

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