In its 20th edition, the Keli Rhythm Festival will put the spotlight on the rare and vanishing Thayambaka temple music tradition from Kerala
While the Keli Rhythm Festival was conceptualised as a platform to boost traditional rhythm music from Kerala, surprisingly 80% of its audience comprises of non-Malayalis.
Panamanna Sasi (in blue) performing Thayambaka
Proving the adage that music can surpass all boundaries, the annual event has also managed to pass the test of time and is entering its 20th year with a three-day celebration of Thayambaka percussion music.
The man behind the cultural festival is Ramachandran K (50), a printer and documentary filmmaker by profession.
"Keli stands for auspiciousness and the focus has always been on offering a platform to classical and performing arts that are in danger of being lost in time.
A performance at an earlier edition of the Keli Rhythm Festival
Over the years, we have also shifted the focus from Kerala and hosted a Hindustani Classical concert and showcased dance forms such as Chhau from Jharkhand," he says.
Nostalgia for age-old sounds
Apart from being an art lover, Ramachandran has always been an ardent fan of rhythm music. "Decades ago, I left Thrissur in Kerala to come to Mumbai for a living but I missed the music that I grew up listening. I met like-minded people and that's how Keli happened," he shares.
The event at Horniman Circle Garden will help music aficionados experience the sounds and rhythms of Thayambaka music. This form of music is usually performed solo using the Chenda, a cylindrical percussion instrument.
It was popular during feudal times and was performed after sunset in temples during festivals as an offering to God. It is nowadays also performed outdoors on open fields and on stage. While it has been a male domain mostly there are a few women practitioners as well.
The Keli festival will feature acclaimed Thayambaka performers including Panamanna Sasi, who is known for his strict adherence to traditional techniques, and Sukapuram Dileep who is known to link diverse styles of Thayambaka.
Music in a heartbeat
"This genre of music can have lots of permutations and requires a lot of improvisation. At the same time, everyone can enjoy it as people can relate to its beats.
Its ups and downs are similar to the heartbeat it starts at a slow pace, scales to medium tempo and ends at a high pitch delivered at great speed," shares Ramachandran.
The three-day performance will include three styles of Thayambaka Chempada Kooru, which has its origin in the dance of the oracle (velichapad); Lakshmi Thalam used in the traditional Sanskrit theatre from Koodiyattam and Pathinja Champa Kooru renowned for its slow tempo.
The duration of the first two performances will be an hour and 20 minutes while the finale will last for an hour and 45 minutes.
Ramachandran also feels that the location at Horniman Circle Garden is apt as the lush green foliage is reminiscent of Kerala and allows the sound to resonate.
While the festival will end after three days, Ramachandran's next plan of sustainable action is to publish two books on the dance form of Koodiyattam and the art and life of 10 musical maestros from Kerala.
From January 12 (Chempada Kooru by Panamanna Sasi and group), January 13 (Lakshmi Thalam by Panamanna Sasi and group) and January 14 (Pathinja Champa Kooru by Panamanna Sasi, Sukapuram Dileep and group), 7.45 pm onwards.
AT Horniman Circle Garden, Fort.
Free passes are available at Rhythm House, Kala Ghoda; Giri Stores, Matunga; and Maharashtra Watch Company, Dadar.