Melappadam by Mattannur Sankarankutty

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A friend, an ethnomusicologist, recently said to me, after reading a handful of my posts about South Asian and Southeast Asian music, “It’s great that you can see these regional styles live!”

“I try,” I told her. “The diversity of Asian performing arts on display here in Singapore is amazing. And not only in ‘professional’s  paces like The Esplanade, but at community gatherings, religious events, and such.”

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On Sunday, we traipsed to Siglap South Community Centre to see Padma Shri Mattanur Sankarankutty, an Indian percussionist who plays the chenda, a traditional cylindrical Kerala drum (above), and his troupe. The event was sponsored by Mudra Cultural Society, who, in years past, has brought Kathakali, classical dance from Kerala, and Koodiyattam, Sanskrit theatre from Kerala, to Singapore.

Melappadam is an elaborate percussive-vocal composition and, traditionally, serves as a prelude to a Kathakali performance. Here, the musicians pushed and challenged each other, within a framework of rhythmic and vocal variations, to greater and greater heights in singing and drumming and displayed extraordinary virtuosity, dexterity, and creativity.

“Truly spectacular,” was my in-laws’ verdict. (They are currently visiting Singapore.)