This is a music [electronic resource] : reclaiming an untouchable drum / a documentary by Zoe Sherinian.
- Other Title:
- Academic Video Online.
- [Place of publication not identified] : Sherinian Productions, 2011.
1 online resource (73 minutes)
- Dalits -- India -- Tamil Nadu -- Music.
Caste -- India.
Social mobility -- India.
Folk music -- India -- Tamil Nadu.
Funeral music -- India -- Tamil Nadu.
- Documentary films.
- In English.
- System Details:
- data file
- This ethnomusicological documentary is about the psychological and economic transformation of a group of Dalit [formerly called outcaste or untouchable] parai frame drummers from a village near Paramagudi, Tamil Nadu, South India. The internal shift in the self-perception that these drummers undergo includes three interwoven threads of musical identity: the identity of the drum, of the music they play, and of the status of the drummers. Through the lens of rarely filmed folk performances and the experience of an American female ethnomusicologist who comes to study with the group Kurinji Malar, we see a group of nine drummers trying to eke out a living while negotiating ongoing caste discrimination in their village. The Hindu caste system constructs parai drummers and their drum as polluted because they play for funerals. As they have professionalized, however, they reconstruct their performance as 'music' and their identity as worldly. The film also explores the economic options of these musicians as laborers. Two of the best drummers are tempted to limit their drumset performances to auspicious festival occasions because they are able to make enough money and gain social status as construction workers. Other members who work as field laborers or shepherd goats are completely dependent on drumming to supplement their income. The narrative of this film focuses on the cultural debate among these drummers over whether they should reclaim the term parai (associated by many with the drummer's degraded caste name Paraiyar) or they should continue to use the English term drumset, which carries middleclass status. When the drummers get an opportunity to go to the large cosmopolitan city of Chennai to participate in the Chennai Sangamam folk festival, they experience very different treatment at the hands of both the festival organizers and the multi-caste, multi-class urban audience. On their way to the festival they are shocked to find the extensive use of the term parai-attam or parai dance in all of the festival advertisement. One of the drummers asks, Why do they still associate us with the Paraiyan caste? Why won't they let us walk freely in society? When we interview them soon after they arrive and then at the end of their festival week in Chennai, we see, however, that their overwhelmingly positive reception has greatly shifted their self-perception and value of village based folk artists. Further, they decide to (re)embrace of the term parai. It becomes clear that experiencing this appreciation helps the Kurinji Malar drummers reinforce a sense of pride in their drumming as valued music where as previously it was easy for them to internalize these practices as degraded. The question then becomes; can they sustain these changes back in the village? This film shows that changing how parai drummers identify their art reflects the process of changing self-identity through musical performance possible for those still considered by many as untouchables. However, this case ultimately shows that complete change in presentation of self in the village context is difficult because of the economic dependence of outcaste drummers on the village middle castes who continue to practice casteism. Woven throughout the film are dynamic and rare examples of village folk dances like karagattam, kummi and oiylattam, oppari funeral lament, stick fighting, and drumming as well as the voices of the drummers and local activists, who tell the story of the process of working for the economic and social liberation of the oppressed Dalits of India through the folk arts.
- Title from resource description page (viewed May 25, 2017).
- Sherinian, Zoe C., screenwriter, producer, director.
Alexander Street Press.
- Other format:
- Original version:
- Access Restriction:
- Restricted for use by site license.
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