Twenty-nine-year-old folk singer Suganthi K’s whole life has been about music. “I am not sure if it is genetic but I used to see my grandmother and mother sing and that just passed on to me,” she says. While their performances were limited to temples and small village gatherings, Suganthi has presented her tunes all over the world.
She is now set to perform at the second edition of Margazhiyil Makkal Isai on Saturday, December 25 in Chennai.
Tracing her family’s tryst with music, Suganthi says despite their interest and experience in music, they never got a chance to perform on a stage. “As a Dalit, my grandmother did not have land of her own. She would travel to different villages to pick up small farming jobs and when there, she would sing songs that she’d come up with.”
Suganthi’s own knowledge, however, is not limited to folk music. She is also well-versed in Carnatic music and was a contestant in season seven of Vijay TV’s famed singing competition Super Singer.
Hailing from the village of Vilanur in Pudukkottai district, Suganthi began to sing when she was in Class 10 under the tutelage of her mentor Aranthangi Alex. She credits him with teaching her about the various styles of music. “He taught me the difference between Carnatic music, movie songs, and folk songs… I didn’t even know that there was a difference between them,” she says.
Suganthi, who has a Master’s Degree in Music, points out that folk songs vary from place to place. Speaking from both her experience and a project that she had worked on while pursuing her degree, she says the style of music differs in various parts of Tamil Nadu.
Her recitals are a blend of solo and group performances, and include all kinds of songs. She has sung about the NEET exam, the farmers’ protest in Delhi, and even about Rohit Vemula’s suicide.
Suganthi believes that folk music is the best medium to convey these social messages to the audience, and to this end, she believes that these songs should be accessible to all. “We sing songs in a language that everyone can understand. Only then people can become aware of what’s happening. Educated people might already know about these things, but the lesser-privileged folk need to know this information too.”
“This kind of message would not come across in classical music or in a melody. Only folk music can deliver this type of message because in other forms, the tune and the rhythm gain attention,” she adds.
Suganthi’s passion for the art has taken her all over the world. She has performed in Singapore, Muscat, and the United States of America. Within Tamil Nadu, she sings wherever people are willing to listen to and appreciate folk music. “A typical performance is about an hour so but sometimes, it can go up to three hours depending on the audience,” she notes.
For her upcoming performance at Margazhiyil Makkal Isai on Saturday, Suganthi’s practice is on in full swing. She also performed at last year’s festival along with folk singer VM Mahalingam. However, at the moment, the practice sessions are happening separately. The group coordinates the song schedule and is practising for the festival by themselves.
Asked about the songs that they will be performing at the event, she simply says, “All the songs will have a message.”
(This profile is part of an ongoing series of articles on various indigenous artists across Tamil Nadu who will be performing at Margazhiyil Makkal Isai starting December 18. Silverscreen India is a media partner for the event. Featured image art work by Shajan Kafka)