Tamil Features

Margazhiyil Makkal Isai: Singers Senthil and Rajalakshmi Say Folk Music Will Always Be Their Identity

Husband-and-wife duo Senthil Ganesh and J Rajalakshmi shot to fame when they participated in the reality show Super Singer 6. Senthil emerged as the season’s winner, while Rajalakshmi was honoured with a special award. Recently, they have also gained popularity for singing the viral hit songs in films like Charlie Chaplin 2 and Pushpa. However, they say they are happiest when on stage singing naatupura padal or folk music.


“It is mixed with our emotions and will always be our identity,” they say, terming folk music, “makkal isai” (music of the people).

As they get ready for their performance in the second edition of Margazhiyil Makkal Isai in Chennai on Friday (December 24), the duo reminisces about the excitement they felt after witnessing the scale of the event last year. The opportunity to perform at the music festival by director Pa Ranjith’s Neelam Cultural Centre this year makes them feel proud, they add.

Senthil, who was born to a farming family in Kalabam, a village of 70-80 households in Pudukottai, was eight when he felt an inclination towards folk music. Folk tunes had a larger presence in his village compared to film music. “My upbringing is the reason for my interest in singing and this music. Be it kummi or songs sung during auspicious or sad events, everything was rooted in folk music. This is what people enjoyed the most. Famous artists like Kalaignar, Kidakuli Mariyamma, Arumugam were big names in folk music and were all influences when we were growing up,” he says.

Senthil adds that Kalabhavan Sella Thagaiya, his brother-in-law, was the first to guide him when he decided to pursue a career in folk singing.

Rajalakshmi, who hails from a weaving family in Dindigul, says rural film songs were always part of her family’s routine. “When I was in tenth standard, a person called Natarajan taught me makkal isai. After six months, I gave my first stage performance,” she adds.

When the couple participated in Super Singer, they sang mostly folk songs throughout the competition. The two eventually went on to sing in the same genre for films, with Chinna Machan from Charlie Chaplin 2 and Rajalakshmi’s Saame Saame (Pushpa) turning out to be huge hits.

On Friday, the couple will be performing folk songs that focus on human relationships as well as some popular cinema songs. “There will be a few songs that people have not heard. We will be singing one song on our relationships with our grandmothers and another on fathers. We also usually narrate a story during our performances. We plan to sing 10 songs, including ones on deities and politics,” the couple says.

Speaking about how folk songs often emphasise human relationships and a good life, the artists say, “In English, you have one word, either aunt or uncle, for different relationships. But in Tamil, you have a whole range of terms – one for each specific relation. Our songs on relationships highlight what they actually mean.”


Rajalakshmi notes that they have always taken pride in their career and were determined to become acclaimed folk musicians before fame came their way. They are going to be singing for long, they add.

Speaking about the importance of festivals like Margazhiyil Makkal Isai, Rajalakshmi says they work towards equality. “No music is inferior or superior. The hierarchy in art is now disappearing and it is pure pleasure to witness this. This festival also bridges the gap between artists and audiences who are not aware of such music.”

(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.)