With guns silent, Jaffna drums up music festival

Saturday, 26 March 2011 00:50 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Cheranka Mendis reporting from Jaffna

The much anticipated Jaffna Music Festival 2011 started its three day saga yesterday celebrating the almost forgotten beats and rhythms of the peninsula and the neighbouring cities.

A sister event of the biennial Galle Music Fest, the 2011 festival champions the multi ethnic and multi cultural identities of Sri Lanka through sound, dance, music and folk art. The event would help re-establish the nearly dying art forms of the ‘nearly destroyed’ parts of the country while giving the Jaffna village folks a taste of additional forms of music via performances from other provinces of Sri Lanka as well as from other countries of the globe. The event is held adjacent to the Duraiappa Stadium in Jaffna.

Decorated in style with a massive structure, typically Tamil with the various poses and forms of the deities they believe in, the festival ground is hard to miss.

A large open space has been transformed into a cultural camp like atmosphere with every nook and corner is filled with little edifying treasures. The people, decorated by their signature smiles and the red and white pottu’s they adorn so religiously on their foreheads guide throngs of villages, foreigners and media personnel in haltering English and Sinhala. But before that they ensure that the passersby are also blessed by placing a pottu, almost a visual sign of bridging gaps between cultural and ethical differences.

While the dust swirls almost alluringly if not for the constant sneezes you would hear, the air is filled with soft notes of music followed by almost frantic beating of the drums and sounding of flutes. While the impossibly hot air and scorching sun burns those walking around, the music and art makes up for it with its soothing presence.

The event is one of the biggest ever held within the city and the fact is evident by the extravagant saaris and vetti’s that adorn the body of the men and women. Their excitement is evident and what is also noted is that like the ancient records say, the Jaffna people love their music. Heads sway, feat tap the burning sand and smiles play their tune.

A large number of folk groups are scheduled to perform during the three day period. From the upcountry dancing and traditional singing from Warakapola, kohomba kankariya and bali natum from Kandy, kolam dance from Mirissa, the famous puppet shows from Ambalangoda, Daha ata Sanniya from Denipitya and the Sabaragamuwa folk dance groups have come down from other parts of Sri Lanka to be a part of the very first Jaffna Music Festival 2011.

Audience members will also get a feast to watch the diminishing art of Baila from those who originated the show itself, Kaffirs or Afro-Sinhalese community who were initially brought to Sri Lanka by the Portuguese for labour purposes. The group performing the baila is called ‘Kaffer Manaja’ and was initially established in 1980. It is a 12 member group with members between the ages of 23-60. The group is said to have recently formed ‘Community based Organisation’ or CBO called ‘Kaffer Stella’ in their language, is named ‘Kaffir stars’ and is said to be depositing a fraction of what they earn performing all over the island in various hotels and events to do a big Kaffir Cultural  Show in the coming year. Their efforts have been recognised and appreciated by the organisers of the Jaffna Music Festival. This brings into focus the motive behind organising such a festival, to rekindle the dying arts of Sri Lanka and to give the struggling artists a platform to do just that.

Performances from and around Jaffna are also many. From Akkaraipattu is a troup performing ‘Kali Kambattam’ a distinctive performance by the Muslim community of Akkaraipattu with the use of sticks, ‘Paparavaham Koothu’ practiced among the Tamils in the Chulipuram area which is being performed after 2 years, Koovalan koothu from Mullaitivu that has been passed down for the last seven generations as well ‘Sinthunadai koothu’ from Neervely, Vasantha koothu from Kadduwan, and Karman koothu from Norwood. Furthermore there will be performances by folk artistes from Nagar Kovil, Amban, Achchuveli, Alavi, Batticaloa, Pulloppalai and Vavuniya.

Contemporary Sri Lankan folk groups headed by the well respected Prof. S. Maunaguru from Batticaloa who performed after a lapse of 28 years at the Galle Literary Festival 2011 will perform yet again alongside famous folk singer Rohana Beddage (Horana) and Saman Panapitiya and Mathra from Colombo.

Several groups have also travelled from other parts of the world to partake in the first ever Jaffna Music Festival. Among these groups are those that travelled from Rajastan India, Nepal, Palastine, Norway and South Africa.

The festival that will wrap-up its show on Sunday has been funded by the Royal Norwegian Embassy and USAID and has been implemented by Sewalanka Foundation, Concerts Norway and Aru Sri Art Theatre. The festival leads simultaneous performances on all three days from 9 a.m to 1 p.m followed by main stage performances from 4 p.m to 10 p.m.