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By Blending Music, Drama & Art, This Kerala Band Is Highlighting the Issues That Matter

Oorali played a significant role in highlighting Kerala police brutality against innocent youngsters under the guise of ‘inquiry’ last month.

Puzhaye ooti, Mannal edhuthu vittu vittu, Mannal vatti pullu ketti, puzha thanne illathayal?

Naad keri keri chennu, Kaadu vetti thinnu thirthal, Maravumilla Mrigavumilla, kaadu thanne illathayal?

Vandi thingi nengi roadu muzhavum niranju ninnal, yanthrangal njarangi mooli, naadu mozhavum pooga nirachal?

Shwasam illathayal, oru cheriya kaate polum veeshadayal?

Vellam illathayal, oru kunju mazha polum peiyathayal?

These lines are from a Malayalam song called Kashtappedum (You will suffer) that raises underlying concerns deeply embedded within each one of us of the atrocities committed in the name of social development. Here’s the translation:

After draining the stream and mining all of the sand from its bed, what if there are no streams left?

After encroaching villages and cutting away all the trees and driving away the animals, what if there are no forests left?

With vehicles clogging up the roads and the horns blaring up collectively, what if the city’s air fills up with smoke?

What if there remains no air to breathe, not even a breeze? What if there remains no water to drink, not even a drizzle?

Kashteppedum is one among the many songs composed and performed by a group of artists based in Thrissur, Kerala who go by the name Oorali or ‘belonging to the native’.

During one of the performances. Courtesy: Oorali.

Bringing together a blend of actors, musicians, writers and visual artists, their music, which they call The Oorali Experience, incorporates elements of theatre, all the while raising one’s consciousness to the social realities around us.

“Calling us a band would be something like isolating us to a single musical genre. Since all of us come from a strong theatrical background, our performances are laced with acts that we improvise according to the audience we have”, says Saji Kadampattil, who plays the guitar.

In fact, they had started out as a performing ensemble under Sadhana Centre for Creative Practice, an art collective founded by Martin John Chalissery, who is also the lead vocalist of Oorali in 2010.

Transforming a bus into a performing space known as Oorali Express, they travelled and performed dramas in various towns and villages in the state before turning to music. Most of these acts were based on social satires.

The Oorali Express at Pondicherry beach. Courtesy: Oorali.

“Through music, we realised that we could reach out to more people. While we remain divided by nationalities and faiths, it is music that unites us. And through our songs and performances, we try to reiterate the idea of one world and hence you would find a universal note in our songs”, he says.

What makes their music garner attention is the themes they deal with—social issues that everyone is aware of but turn a blind eye to.

“That is the credibility an artist has. We can get people to listen to us and through our words instigate change,” Saji adds.

Speaking of change, Oorali played a significant role in highlighting Kerala police brutality against innocent youngsters under the guise of ‘inquiry’ last month.

The element of theatre infused with music. Courtesy: Oorali.

Accused for having long hair and talking to girls, a 19-year-old Dalit boy named Vinayakan was picked up by two police officials in Thrissur and tortured to such an extent that the young boy took his own life.

“Martin, who also has long hair, had been subjected to similar treatment by the police that ended up leaving a scathing impact on all of us. In fact, such incidents have been a common occurrence for quite a long time now where youngsters have been harassed into cutting their hair or picked on reckless suspicion. But, when authorities turn rogue, who polices the police?” implores Saji.

And hence came about ‘Freak Saturday’—a campaign spearheaded by the group along with few other bands at Thekkinkad Ground, inviting anyone and everyone in the city to protest against Vinayakan’s death on July 29.

Source: Facebook.

“Over 3,000 people joined us in our cause which we had announced through social media. Several policemen were delegated to man the area in case of any violence but I guess, never in their life had they been witness to any more democratic and peaceful protest than this. We had to make a point and we did so, through our music”, he states.

Shortly after the demonstration, the Director General of Police in the state not only ordered an express probe into the matter but also addressed the workforce – asking them to deal with issues of greater importance than bothering hapless youngsters who have long hair or look dubious.

Freak Saturday, July 29, Thrissur

സർവ്വരാജ്യ ഫ്രീക്കുകളേ സംഘടിക്കുവിൻ…….Freak Saturday on 29 July 2017 atThekkinkad ground Thrissur.#freaksunite #freaknation #itsmurder

Dikirim oleh Oorali pada 25 Juli 2017

Through the campaign, the Oorali members also managed to collect about ₹1.5 lakh, which they donated to Vinayakan’s aggrieved family. But they aren’t letting the issue to die down that easily.

“We are currently working on a documentary that will address the entire incident so that more people know about Vinayakan. Our idea is to propel a civic society movement and there is no ulterior motive or political agenda behind it. We plan on raising funds for the project through crowd funding,” Saji says.

As for Oorali Express, the band had to temporarily suspend their bus performances due to some permit hassles, which got sorted recently.

Martin through a discourse. Courtesy: Oorali.

“As the days close in on Onam, Oorali Express will be back on track once more,” he adds.

You can watch their music performances on Youtube.

You can reach out to Oorali on Facebook. If you wish to contribute to their documentary project, you can call on 9645789205.

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Written by Lekshmi Priya S

Shuttling between existentialist views and Grey's Anatomy, Lekshmi has an insanely disturbing habit of binge reading. An ardent lover of animals and plants, she also specializes in cracking terribly sad jokes.