No. 9 (2009): Acoustic Entanglements: Negotiating Folk Music in Naiyāntī mēlam Performance

Using fieldwork and ethnographic research, it is my intention in this article to privilege the voices of contemporary Tamil folk musicians and show how their performances of folk music often contradict and diverge from the hegemonic tropes of popular music discourse. Focusing on one of the more well-known and ubiquitous folk music genres in Tamil Nadu, the naiyāntī mēlam, I hope to upset the prevailing fiction of folk music as a tradition-bound phenomenon, occupying its own discrete musical space. Listening to the voices of naiyāntī mēlam folk musicians and paying careful attention to their musics will reveal that these folk artists are actively engaged in complex performance practices that cut across cultural categories and resist facile definition.1 In order to please their audiences, these musicians are adept in playing not only prescribed ritual “folk” music but film music and Carnatic music as well. Borrowing and refashioning a mixture of sounds from radio, film, cassette, and CD, the naiyāntī mēlam exhibits a wide range of genres and styles that go well beyond the confines of “folk.” In this article I will argue that both film and Carnatic music are not separate from, but rather central to, the performance of many naiyāntī mēlam groups. In appropriating elements from these various genres, and carefully and cleverly reframing them in performance, folk musicians express multiple musical affinities that extend beyond the boundaries of traditional music rooted in local circumstance

Published: 2009-12-01