Kerala's popular musicians croon to beat coronavirus lockdown blues

Kerala musicians croon to beat corona lockdown blues
Clockwise: Sithara Krishnakumar, Ishaan Dev, Indie musician Ago from Kochi's 'Ab Ki Yeh Subah', Sachin Warrier and co, and Bijibal and son.

On April 15, 1912, somewhere in the middle of North Atlantic Ocean, RMS Titanic, the majestic British Passenger Line with 2,224 passengers onboard, hit an iceberg and sank, leaving behind nearly 700 survivors. The three hours the ship took to sank witnessed many panicky moments and several acts of bravery, the most unbelievable one being a non-stop performance by an eight-member band led by Wallace Hartley, who kept playing to keep the passengers calm to the very end. None of the band members survived, but those who did recall it as their immortal requiem which will enjoy undying fame.

Music and its power to heal in the times of crises have always been proven in history. When the whole globe reels under the COVID-19, musicians in Kerala have joined hands, (well, not in the literal sense), through virtual jamming sessions and gigs, calling for unity, and having a soothing effect on people who stay indoors looking for a distraction.

Ode to health workers

Recently, state-award-winning singer Sithara Krishnakumar and her friends from their band Project Malabaricus released ‘Song of Valor’, an anthem for survival during the lockdown period. The song, according to its makers, is an ode to the medical professionals, health workers, police force and government machinery who work round the clock for public safety.

“It’s a period of uncertainty and people are looking for hope. Music is the hope that keeps the world going through tough times. Music has always been able to connect people and maintain peace. Just look at the number of 'anthakshari' games and impromptu gigs happening on social media. There’s no doubt about the healing power and mood-lifting properties of music,” says Sithara.

Bringing out the ‘Song of Valor’ wasn’t easy, recalls the singer. Composed and rendered by Sithara at her Kochi home, the song’s lyrics were penned by Manu Manjith and featured band members Vijo Job, Liboy Praisly, Srinath Nair, Ajay Krishnan and Mithun Paul, who performed from their own homes and recorded the videos. The song, mixed and mastered by Midhun Anand, had its visuals edited by Aswin Krishna.

“There were technical difficulties as all of us had to record on our mobile phones using selfie sticks and with the help of family members. Manu sent the lyrics and all of us performed at our homes. The footages were of different quality and for mastering it, we sent it to Aswin. I recorded the song on my phone using headphone by sneaking into a cupboard, which served as my ‘studio’,” she says, laughing.

Sithara’s father Krishnakumar is stuck in Dubai and her husband Sajish, a doctor, is at work, and they are all doing their part well. “My dad is staying indoors and offers online classes to his students, and my husband is at the hospital. I am doing my bit with music, trying to keep people engaged at this difficult time,” she says.

And she is well aware that what lies beyond is a bleak future. “It’s not a happy time for the entertainment industry. Artistes can be back on their feet only after ensuring that everyone else is back on track, leading a life of normalcy. Most of the artistes are daily-wagers; this crisis has affected their daily bread too. Only after all turns well can we afford to turn out art into our means of livelihood. Till then, we make music to inspire others and ourselves. Our songs are our prayers for you. There are people who ask how we can sing at this hour of pandemonium. Why shouldn’t we? If people can watch movies, make trolls, post on social media or read a book, why can’t there be songs? If not now, when,” she asks.

Ishaan Dev's attempt

When musician Ishaan Dev decided to musically embrace each of the 21-day lockdown, he decided to name it ‘Pootti Itta Dinangale Paattilaakkuka’ (Make Songs and woo the days of lockdown). Singing cover versions of many popular melodies in Tamil, Malayalam, Hindi and English, mostly film songs, Ishaan enjoys a great fan following. In fact, he admits to having seen a 400-time increase in his fan following in the past few days.

Unlike his contemporaries, Ishaan’s videos do not lack professional quality. Speaking from his home in Saligramam in  4 Chennai, Ishaan reveals the secret behind that: “My home is located very close to my studio, which is my greatest advantage at this time. I walk to my studio every day, sing the song, play the instruments, do the mixing, record it and upload. I am a one-man army!”

However, quarantine is something he has always been in, he adds. “I prefer working alone and most of my composing are done at nights, alone in the studio. So, this is a normal activity for me. But what makes singing special at this period is that I am able to motivate people who are in a panic about COVID-19. I consider myself very lucky as I could engage everyone staying at home. And the music keeps me engaged.”

His versions of ‘Thaane Poovitta Moham’, ‘Swaasame’, ‘Kanaka Munthirikal, ‘Please Forgive Me’ and ‘Laal Ishq’ have won plenty of praise. “Even Jassie Gift shared my songs,” he says.

Ishaan’s song ‘Karalurappulla Keralam’ composed after the floods as a tribute to Kerala that survived all odds are still doing the rounds on social media. “I am glad that my song still energizes people and the feedback is very motivating. We are strong-willed people, we will survive this too.”

Bijibal's 'Songs of Hope'

Another lockdown song series is by musician Bijibal and his children Devadutt and Daya. Titled ‘Songs of Hope’, Biji and kids sing and play various Malayalam songs that evoke nostalgia, love and tranquillity, at the setting of their home. The songs rendered by Bijibal include his own compositions ‘Kathayamama’, ‘Manikyachiraku’ and ‘Thirike Njaan’, whereas Devadutt has lent voice to evergreen classics ‘Surumayezhuthiya’ and ‘Paaduvaanaay’. Little Daya has sung the Raghu Dikshit composition ‘Aaraaro’ from ‘Koode’.

The list goes on...

Harish Sivaramakrishnan has also joined the club by not just rendering songs, but sharing the songs of lesser-known musicians he has discovered in the virtual world, making the best of the quarantine period.

Joining him are singers Veetraag and Pushpavathy, who render ghazals in Urdu and classics in Hindi, Tamil and Malayalam. 

Sachin Warrier took to Instagram to share a video of a gig with his wife Pooja Pushparaj, whom he describes as an extremely reluctant singer who agreed to do it after months of persuasion. The couple performing to ‘Iktara’, composed by Amit Trivedi is an absolute delight to watch!  

Singer-couple Mithun Jayaraj and Indu take online music classes for their students.

Upcoming stars too hog limelight

Other than these celebrity musicians, there are upcoming performers who uploaded videos of their jamming sessions from quarantine days. Here are a few of them:

Violinist Vishnu R Varma and his brother’s rendition of Misirlou from Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction in Carnatic tuning has taken the internet by the storm:

Here’s Quarantine Korvai, a lockdown jamming by Vivek Prabhakaran, Jemil Mathew and Prathyash Padman:

Indie musician Ago from Kochi’s ‘Ab Ki Yeh Subah’ recorded from the kitchen at his home:

Vishnu Varma’s rendition of Ed Sheeran’s Photograph and Daniel Caesar’s Best Part: 

Anju Brahmasmi’s Facebook page has her ‘bathroom singing’ sessions: 

Guitarist Ebi Michel’s lockdown sessions: