78-year-old V M Kutty is the uncrowned prince of Kerala Muslim folk songs called ‘mappila pattu’, which are an integral part of the culture of Muslims in the northern Malabar region of the southern Indian state of Kerala.
The headmaster turned singing sensation and ‘mappila pattu’ scholar has been coming regularly to the UAE for almost four decades, doing at least a couple of stage shows every year. He has been a ‘mappila pattu’ singer and composer for over six decades and still had the energy and charisma to enthrall thousands of people who had assembled at the Sharjah Indian Association Hall last Friday.
V M Kutty who hails from Pulickal near Kondotty in Kerala’s Malappuram district was here last week during the Eid celebrations. Even though he is old and sick, he had come to the UAE as a judge for the grand finale of a mappilaipattu reality show (Eshel Mehjan 2013) organised by Radio Asia. Forty participants took part in the month-long reality show on the radio station, and eight contestants were short listed for the grand finale.
“I have been coming to the UAE to perform stage shows from the 1970s and I hope to come back next year too. I have crossed 78 but I have been coming here regularly. I started performing in the 1960s,” Kutty, who has written many books on the Muslim folk songs, told Emirates 24|7.
His autobiography ‘Kanivum Ninavum’ and other books are authentic books on the subject of mappila songs on themes of religion, love, heroism, fighting and sailing laced with Arabic, Hindi, Persian and Urdu words.
The folk songs are believed to have originated in the 16th century. Many of these songs reflect the woes and worries of migration and events in the history of Kerala’s Muslims.
“The energy to sing smoothly even at this age is given by my audience, especially the Keralite Muslim community in the Gulf, who are my huge fans. They have encouraging me since the 1960s. An audio cassette of my first performance of in the Gulf was produced in the UAE and sold extensively in Kerala,” he said.
The V M Kutty-Vilayil Valsala partnership was popular among ‘mappilaippattu’ enthusiasts in the Gulf and members of Kutty’s orchestra would stay for two months in the UAE to perform stage shows in the past.
These folk songs were confined to certain Muslim pockets in the Malabar region, but with the arrival of V M Kutty and his female singing partner Valsala, these songs gained popularity, especially after singer Yesudas sung one of his numbers in a cassettthrough released by the recording company Tharangini.
His eldest son, Ashraf Pulikkal, who lives in Sharjah told Emirates 24|7: “By the grace of God, he is still singing smoothly at this age. Just before coming to the UAE for Eid celebrations, he was undergoing treatment for spondylitis. He just stopped the treatment because he did not want to break his regular visit to the Gulf to perform. Even though he came as a judge for a reality show, he accepted the demand from the audience to sing a song. After the first song, the audience demanded one more, making him sing a song that he had composed and sung in the 1960s. Later Yesudas too sung the same song, making it popular.”
Leaving the stage, he went to the crowd that had sung along with him and encouraged him with claps and shouts. “My father’s dream is to die while performing on stage amidst a huge crowd,” Ashraf added.
He and four other children, who are doing business in Sharjah, forced him to go back to Kerala immediately after the show because he needs to take rest. “Though he is suffering from old age related ailments, he maintains his voice by controlling his diet and avoiding many kinds of foods,” said his son, who currently organises his shows. “He will either sing on his own or his audience will make him sing the popular songs,” he told Emirates 24/7.
“When I was a child, I could not see my father for months because he used to be busy with stage shows in different parts of Kerala and other cities of India. I used to wait in the railway stations to have a glimpse of my father whom I could see during his travels by train from one programme to another. Ever since I came to the Gulf, he has been coming here regularly and his five children are happy because he usually lives with us in Sharjah for one month,” said Ashraf.
“The audio cassette of his first Gulf performance was made by a UAE-based recording company and it created more awareness about mappila songs here and back home,” he added.
V M Kutty started singing mappila songs in 1950s at a young age during festival seasons, weddings, deaths and other special occasions and gradually became a professional.
“His energy to sing smoothly even at this old age is given by his audience, especially the Keralite community in the Gulf, who are his huge fans. They have encouraged him from the 1960s,” said Naser Bepur, an author who has written ‘Ishal Then’, a book about mappila pattu. He said many of the popular female singers like Vilayil Valsala and Mukkam Sujata were groomed by V M Kutty’s family.
“Ishels (tunes) are folklore songs brought originally by the Arab sailors who reached Kozhikode for trade and the music is similar to Arabic music. Musical instruments used for Arabic songs are used in Mappilai Pattu too,” Naser told Emirates 24|7.
“V M Kutty is an encyclopedia of mappila pattu. He has written extensively about mappila pattu and introduced many new singers like Vilayil Valsala (who later became a Muslim and took the name Vilayil Faseela) and Sajitha. He is a living legend and authority on mappila songs,” said I John, Radio Asia sound engineer who has worked with Kutty for several years.