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Music gives him joy

Besides owning 2,500 musical instruments, Joseph Fernandez is a musicologist with a rare depth of knowledge and technical expertise.

SIXTY DIFFERENT types of just one instrument? It may seem astounding but it is a fact that India can boast of as many as 60 different kinds of the veena. And what's more, Joseph Fernandez aka Joy of Kunnukuzhy, Thiruvananthapuram has 40 of them in his personal collection. Equally amazing is the fact that there are 200 different `charatta' (coconut shell) vadyams? And Joy has all of them.

What started as a search for traditional instruments required by Peter, an American research scholar, has now made Joy richer by a collection of 2,500 musical instruments, not just from India but from all over the world. Though building up this collection has cost Joy a fortune, there is always the hope that he may find a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.

"There may be one or two countries from which I don't have a vadyam," declares Joy, a diploma-holder in Western music and a self-taught musicologist.

What is so remarkable is that Joy has mastered the technique of making musical instruments. Give him a drawing of any instrument — be it stringed, wind or percussion, and he can craft it to perfection. He claims that he knows to make as many as 7,000 instruments.

Perhaps Joy's unusual talent for music can be traced to his family background. His father was an artist, photographer and interior decorator in the Thiruvananthapuram palace, which played host to several visitors from abroad. Joy's uncle, Johnson Lobo, an outstanding student of music, has earned a reputation worldwide for his expertise in repairing musical instruments. It was he who helped Joy learn music. Joy has conducted several exhibitions of his collection of instruments, besides organising seminars on music in various parts of Kerala. He is chairman of a research centre in the traditional arts.

Joy has been manufacturing and selling instruments for the past 25 years. But, of late, his interest has veered more to collecting rare instruments. From the Onavillu ( played during the Onam festival and believed to be the oldest musical instrument in Kerala) to the Pan Flute (said to be the first musical instrument in the world, originating in Africa), Joy's collection is truly amazing.

He recalls how he learnt to make the Kidupidi, played today only in the Guruvayur temple, from an old man in Thiruvambadi. Some instruments like the Elimooli, were used by the tribal people to chase away wild animals and some like the Gopi Ynatra of Bengal, the Kingiri of Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra and the Nanduni of Kerala were used in ancient times while narrating stories from mythology and folklore. Joy has learnt to make these instruments from the tribals themselves and so knows precisely what materials to use.

He has even been approached by Australians to make the Didgeridoo, an instrument that is unique to the aborigines of that country, and which is fast disappearing from the musical scene. Quite often, visiting musicians request him to make instruments for their performances, which they gift to him when they leave. Some make presents of rare instruments from other countries to their `friend in Kerala.' From the rare Spanish lyre, to the Chango Drum of Korea to the Kigini Ariva , a sickle tied with bells used by farmers... Joy's collection is diverse. What's surprising is that he knows to play most of them.

Besides making instruments, he has amassed historical, geographical and technical information about them, which he has compiled into a book. However, because of financial constraints, Joy has not been able to publish it. His burning ambition now is to set up a museum to house his collection.

Joy brought a small part of his collection to the exhibition of folk musical instruments, which was held in Chennai as part of the folk festival organised by the National Folklore Support Centre.

LAKSHMI VENKATRAMAN

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