Dolpat Music – The status of folk

Folk songs, as a cultural artefact, are fast disappearing from modern life. Urban communities, with plenty of music listening opportunities available to them, have musical experiences in private more often than with other people. Passive listening of music far outweighs actively playing or even listening to live performances. Even as music constrains itself to an art to be enjoyed more than experienced directly – with performance and education, folk music upholds not only musical, but community traditions and practises. The hallmarks of folk music are functional as well as structural. In important occasions that dictate cultural practises such as weddings, funerals and childbirth, these songs pass on the moral and ritual values of cultural groups. Songs about daily life, labor, work and relationships remind of the normative nature of hardships and turn troubles into a shared experience. Songs of supplication to god, and pride about the culture or nation, too, incite a ritual experience, woven with cultural values and shared identities.

With the coming of urban life, and the invasions of urban comforts in rural life, folk traditions are slowly changing. Folk songs that existed solely for the purpose of communities coming together, now also exist for commerce. This changes the paradigm, by transforming functional music into a commercial object. This can be seen in almost every state in India – there exists a mainstream commercial musical project, along with an underbelly – folk music, that is written in an old folk style, but is about urban problems, involving poorly orchestrated versions of rich folk songs. These new folk songs are cut into cds and sold in street markets, and their value as a community heritage is diminished by mass production and mass consumption. These songs don’t cut well with urban listeners – who will look up songs from the folk traditions from different languages, and make fun of their humble lyrics and simplistic production techniques. How does folk music undergo this transformation? From being a pillar of rituals and dances that were sung and played by large communities – to being poorly produced and written not to last? Simply put, the value of folk music is not in buying a cd and playing it on your system – but its value is only realised when communities interact with the music together – singing along, participating in practises, writing new songs about unique experiences within the culture. To see a culture that preserves

We first heard Dolpat music in a wedding at Lakshadweep. It is an astonishing artefact that has survived despite television, pop music and mass media from the mainland being present on the islands. This music is untouched by both – the production methods that dictate the use of instruments, and recording methods as they do on the mainland – as well as the classicization and adaptation of folk music to classical music. We find in Dolpat, a unique sustenance of all these characteristics that help fortify a community through the help of music. Not only do these songs serve as essential elements of ritual ceremonies on the island, but the administrative authorities have also participated in this tradition, as the Kurikals are appointed by the governing officers of late, as opposed to being selected by the community. This is a unique feature, and it means that the state takes interest in actively upholding the cultural practises of the region. This music is also completely untouched by musical practises in the mainland, as Kurikal from Kavaratti mentioned about not knowing or being taught the so called classical music from the mainland.

By visiting the islands and interacting with musicians who practise dolpat and other music and dance forms, I hope to gain a comprehensive understanding of this musical tradition, and create an archival repository of their musical material. This way their songs will stay written somewhere for reference, and we can hear their recordings and more. By talking about this unique folk form, we can help preserve this music. Amarras records from Rajasthan has made it possible for practitioners of Manganiar folk music to enjoy enormous success, but more importantly made it possible for many many people to enjoy their wonderful folk form.

More importantly, I wish to learn about the interactions of this musical community and the governing authorities, and how they work together in maintaining this important facet of their cultural life. This model could be useful at other places where folk traditions are in danger. By keeping community musical traditions alive in other places, we can help diversify our knowledge of folk communities, and help these musical traditions find their own ground.

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