Although a proposed hydropower dam in India’s Kerala state, which would harm the natural environment and a Kadar village, was recently stopped by the national government, citizens continue to protest. A recent article describes a unique form of protesting against the dam on the Athirappilly River carried out by a group called the Pakkanar Bamboo Music Team. The band is trying to promote appreciation for the natural environment of Kerala through its performances.
An article last Sunday in the Deccan Herald, a leading daily paper from southern India, includes a photo of a bamboo instrument along with the story about the performing style of Unnikrishnan Pakkanar, the lead singer for the group. He starts a performance with a prayer: “Our Bamboo / Our music / Our Planet / Save Bamboo / Save Athirappilly / Save the Western Ghats.” The group accompanies all of the folk songs they sing with instruments made out of bamboo.
The 10 members of the group are from the Thrissur District of the state, near the site of the proposed dam on the Chalakudy River. They have been trying to create environmental awareness through their performances for ten years.
The group has created 80 different instruments out of bamboo, and named them for the different sounds they make. They also have developed several types of tunes with their instruments, such as a song of nature, a tune of god, and a song for the environment.
Unfortunately, four different YouTube videos with the title “Unnikrishna Pakkanar and His Bamboo Band” all require viewers to subscribe in order to watch them. Other videos of his bamboo music are available, however, such as one, also in YouTube, titled “Bamboo Music by Unnikrishna Pakkanar 1.” It has a bit of narration in one of the Indian languages, but most of the six-minute video shows the musicians playing on percussive and wind bamboo instruments. Another YouTube video, titled “Bamboo music-MULA PADUM RAVU1st in India,” provides additional samples of his unique songs.
The Deccan Herald article indicates that he lives in the forest and is especially attuned to the sounds of nature: birds, bees, raindrops, waterfalls. He was inspired by natural sounds; he developed his orchestra as a way of joining the existing chorus. His music, and its basis in nature, prompted him to try and save the river from the unwanted dam.
“We believe that nature is our mother. We therefore joined the battle against the power project through our bamboo music. We voiced our messages through songs,” he said. One of his detractors accused him of hypocrisy, due to the fact that he was using bamboo wood for his instruments. He responded that the bamboo plant quickly produces more stems when it is cut, so it is not harmed.
He says that when his group is giving a concert for an environmental cause, the performance is free. But he does charge admission to concerts that are purely for entertainment. “I’m happy with two meals a day,” he says. “The rest of my time and money is for nature. We take money from private enterprises. They want our music for entertainment whereas conservationists use our services to spread awareness.”
His website provides a lot of additional information about him and his music. He is obviously a tireless champion of the natural environment. The cause of preserving communities of endangered peaceful societies needs just as effective a champion.