#Art + Culture

Who is Nanjiyamma? Kerala Tribal Folk Singer Wins National Award

The 68th National Awards, which took place in the Capital on Friday, honoured several artists from across the country. The awardees list included Asha Parekh, Vishal Bhardwaj, Ajay Devgn and Suriya, among several others. However, folk singer Nanjiyamma, who received her award for playback singing, stood out winning everyone’s hearts at the ceremony. Among the many artists at the Vigyan Bhavan award evening, the 64-year-old folk singer Nanjiyamma, from a tribal area of Kerala received her national award amidst a loud standing ovation.

Nanjiyamma earned her first National award for the powerful rendition of the song Kalakatha in the superhit Malayalam film Ayyappanum Koshiyum which was directed by the late Sachy. The singer walked up the stage, simplicity personified, with a graceful smile on her face and greeted her fellow artists with folded hands before she received her award from President Droupadi Murmu.

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Who is Nanjiyamma?

Nanjiyamma earned massive praise and recognition for her rendition of the Kalakhata song in the popular Malayalam film Ayyappanum Koshiyum, which was released in 2020. The title song, Kalakhata was written by Nanjiyamma herself in the Irula language. Jakes Bejoy composed the song, and it gained massive popularity after its release on the streaming platform, Youtube.

The singer continued to be the star attraction even post the National Awards ceremony as she sat across veteran actor Asha Parekh and sang the beautiful song creating a musical atmosphere in the presence of several attendees from the ceremony.

Belonging to the Irula community of the Attapadi village in Kerala, she is also part of the Azad Kala Samithi group that features artists from the tribal communities in Kerala. Nanjiyamma did not just sing in Ayyappanum Koshiyum but also went on to enact the role of a mother-in-law to the protagonist in the film. Not just Kalakhata, Nanjiyamma has proved her musical prowess by singing a couple of more songs in the film, and people across social media have swooned over her voice ever since the film’s release. Nanjiyamma has a legacy of multiple folk songs that have been passed on to generations, also having sung five songs in the award-winning film Velutha Rathrikal which was released in 2015.

Interestingly, the singer was the first to bring glory to her Irula tribe by singing promotional songs for the Government of Kerala. She sang a song for the state’s housing programme marking it the first time ever that the Irula language was used on a huge scale publicly. Having worked on several short films and projects now, Nanjiyamma’s primary earnings still come from farming and working in the field, and the artist in her thrives because of the love she holds for art, and that’s the legacy she has created today.