Thrissur: Kalamandalam Hyderali did to Kathakali music what K.J. Jesudas did to popular music in Kerala. Battling indigence and shaking off socio-religious shackles, they rose to be icons in modern Kerala's cultural renaissance and experiments with communal tolerance. In this battle, the only arms with the duo were their supreme musical skills. They effectively used these and found their way into the hearts of people.
Being the first Muslim to be a Kathakali musician, Hyderali fought rigid social structures and a tradition-bound cultural system. "I was neither a caste Hindu nor good-looking. Imagine my plight!" Hyderali told an interviewer once.
In central Kerala, the outer wall of a shrine was demolished and a stage constructed in such a manner that Hyderali could sing from `outside' the temple.
Hyderali was blessed with a voice that could tackle anything in Kathakali music. With equal felicity, he sang romantic verses, lullabies, devotional lyrics and fast-paced battle songs. His voice conjured up the romance of Nala and Damayanti as effectively as it did the vileness of Kali or the fierceness of Duryodhana and Ravana. His voice weaved magic into passages such as `Vijane Batha,' `Mariman Kanni' and `Ajitha Hare.'
His solo rendering of the lyrics of `Nalacharitham IV' at a performance in Kottayam was so appealing that veteran Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair told him, "In future, I don't want you to be supported by another singer when you sing these lines."
`Karnasapatham' had a special place in Hyderali's oeuvre. Having faced troubles for no fault of his, the singer had perhaps empathised with Karna.
There was extraordinary onstage chemistry between Hyderali and actor Kalamandalam Gopi. It was a treat to listen to Hyderali sing the phrase `Enthiha Man Manase Sandeham Valarunnu' in the raga Hindolam.
"The bhava in his music was out of the world. No one sang with such perfect understanding of mudras and theatre. I feel I've lost my voice," said Kalamadalam Gopi.
Along with Kalamandalam Sankaran Embranthiri and Kalamandalam Haridas, Hyderali re-invented Kathakali music in the latter part of the previous century, enriching traditional musical structures with progressive ideas. Clarity of lyrics and bhava-rich expression were their specialty. The criticism against them was that they borrowed a lot from the Carnatic idiom, thus shifting the focus from lyric-oriented, abhinaya-friendly expressions to musical showmanship. Hyderali's generation countered the criticism, contending that improvement of the musical language did not affect the totality of the dance-drama.
"Changes are slow and mostly frowned upon the world of Kathakali. Hyderali dedicated his life to bring about such changes. Kerala has rarely seen such great singers. He was my childhood friend. I will miss him," said Sankaran Embranthiri.
Hyderali was born at Ottupara in Wadakkanchery as the son of Moidutty, an exponent of mappilappattu. Wadakkanchery took note of young Hyderali's musical talent when he topped an NES Block competition, singing the song `Kalle Kariville'. The vocalist was accompanied on the tabla by future cine artiste Oduvil Unnikrishnan.
At the age of 11, Hyderali joined Kalamandalam and learnt Kathakali music under Neelakantan Nambisan, Sivaraman Nair, Kavungal Madhava Panicker and Kalamandalam Gangadharan. His parents who struggled to make ends meet could not pay admission fee. Hyderali's dreams would have been shattered but for the timely help of a well-wisher, C.P. Antony. Kathakali tales have happy endings. But Hyderali's story doesn't. A freak accident has robbed Malayalis of one of their dearest singers.
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