Chennai Sangamam: Taking performing arts to the people

Festivals bring people together, says Lok Sabha member K. Kanimozhi,  the brain behind the cultural event.

Published : Jan 17, 2023 18:47 IST

Motta Maadi Music performing during Chennai Sangamam.

Motta Maadi Music performing during Chennai Sangamam. | Photo Credit: By Special Arrangement

That festivals bring people together was evident at Chennai’s Besant Nagar beach on January 16, where a crowd of at least 7,000 people sang along as Motta Maadi Music, a local band that has become a cult of sorts, played. Chennai had never seen something similar, with everyone singing along as the band merely played the background music. It went on for over two hours, long after the scheduled close of the day’s events. In the end, the crowd wanted more!

For those unfamiliar with Motta Maadi Music, “motta maadi” means house terrace. For Tamil people, the terrace signifies a lot of things. From eating “nila soru” (rice under the moonlight) to drying clothes and “vadagams” (rice crisps) to flying kites, the terrace is an integral part of life. Rethinking the idea and utility of such a space, Badhri Seshadhri, a musician from Chennai’s Nanganallur neighbourhood, set out to perform songs with his band on his terrace.

What began as a small experiment in 2018 has grown to become Motta Maadi Music (MMM) today. As Badhri continued jamming more, people started gathering in neighbouring terraces, and became participants in his model of a music concert. The audience is the performer here. As the crowds swelled and terraces could no longer host them, Badhri and his team moved to music halls, expanding the band’s footprint. The band has toured several States and many countries too.

A scene from Chennai Sangamam.

A scene from Chennai Sangamam. | Photo Credit: R.K. Radhakrishnan

Gamut of Tamil performing arts

From popular tunes on stage to classical music to parai (a percussion instrument largely employed in funerals), “Chennai Sangamam-Namma Oor Thiruvizha” showcased the entire gamut of Tamil performing arts and culture spread over five days: from January 13 to January 17. “Sangamam creates a space of learning about our history and culture for the audience, and a space of nurturing for the artists,” K. Kanimozhi told Frontline.

The performances were held in 16 arenas across the city as one of the event’s primary aims is to set a stage for people from different walks of life to engage with an art form, making very personal connections with it. There was also wide interaction between artists of different hues.

A bommalattam (puppetry) show at Chennai Sangamam.

A bommalattam (puppetry) show at Chennai Sangamam. | Photo Credit: B. JOTHI RAMALINGAM

Kanimozhi said: “This confluence is important to society. Another important aspect is the openness and respect that Sangamam ensures that the artists receive. This will be a catalyst for them. Film music director Santhosh Narayanan, who performed in the opening ceremony of this year’s Sangamam, was one of the finds of previous editions.”

Chennai Sangamam was last held in 2011. After the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) came to power in 2011, the event was wiped off Chennai’s arts calendar. With the AIADMK winning a second term in 2016, folk artists had to wait for another five years before they got such a massive stage to perform. Only after the DMK government came to power in 2021 was it decided to revive Chennai Sangamam.

Owing to the gap of a decade and with the impact of COVID-19 in between, the selection of artists for this year’s edition posed a huge challenge. But since government machinery was involved and the Tamil Nadu government decided to foot the bill for the event, it was easier to spot talent and bring all the artistes to Chennai. The curation process was meticulous, an official said.

Traditional musicians performing at Chennai Sangamam.

Traditional musicians performing at Chennai Sangamam. | Photo Credit: B. Jothi Ramalingam

Thangam Thennarasu, Tamil Nadu’s Minister for Culture, said: “We identified some art forms that were not present in the previous editions and made recommendations to introduce them. The process had been going on for a few months.” In all about 600 artists performed in the five-day event.

Thought for food

This year’s Sangamam also provided an opportunity for many in Chennai to get a taste of Tamil Nadu’s rich and varied cuisine. Thennarasu, a food buff himself, made it a point to request some of the best traditional meal makers from across the State to participate in the event.

“Hotbreads” Mahadevan, who has helped set up nearly 400 restaurants across the world—including iconic brands such as Saravana Bhavan and Anjappar, and others, from Tamil Nadu—was the key pointsperson to bring known standalone traditional restaurants to Chennai.

Among the brands that came to Chennai were the caterer Nagaraj from Madampatti, with his brand of millet-based dosas and snacks; Thottathu Virundhu, a restaurant from Erode that specialises in non-vegetarian delicacies; and Sri Lankan cuisine from a group of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees who run a restaurant in Thoothukudi.

Many artists told this correspondent  that were thankful that the State government had taken the decision to hold the event, since the lockdown and subsequent events had drained all their savings. They hope that Sangamam turns out to be a stepping stone and that they get to do more events from now on.

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