When blessings came in the form of a mesmerizing music

Darba Moideen Koya. The name probably doesn’t ring any bell in your mind. Chances are that you haven’t heard his name. Maybe, you have, if you’re familiar with the musical traditions and local lores of Malabar. But, for those who know this man and his musical journey, his name epitomizes an era, the cultural anthropology of Malabar through the past half century and more. Darba, the man and his music, represents a unique part of the local musical experience of the sixties, of a time and place where singing and dancing marked both reverence and irreverence, plebian pursuits and spiritual journeys that came together to form a new experience that people lived as part of their daily lives. His music could heal. His music could uplift. And, his music could keep the dreams of better days alive even as it helped people stay afloat through the difficult times as a newly-independent country made baby steps towards the promised future.

His music is a reflection of the composite culture of Malabar, of a people and a place that witnessed many upheavals, of the magical evenings where people came together to celebrate music that helped them drown the bitterness and hardships of their hard-fought existence. While the rigours of their daily life provided the depth and robustness to his renderings, the finesse came from the delicate mappila traditions of Malabar. As he experienced life in all its rawness, he developed a music which is bold and subtle at the same time. His music strikes a unique chord with the listeners with its blend of tenderness, compassion, and sheer power.

His repertoire not only includes an envious collection of songs but also a treasure trove of anecdotes that render context and subtext to the songs. While he retrieves the long lost and forgotten gems of mappila song tradition, the anecdotes that he narrates throw light on the history and culture of the land, and add to the experience. Darba was able to liberate his music to take it from the social confines to the vast expanses of the music-loving fraternity that cuts across socio-cultural boundaries. And, here is Darba for you, a few clips from a starry night when blessings came in the form of a mesmerizing music.

(Kozhikode was both the commercial and cultural hub of the Malabar Coast that enthralled many a traveller who set sail in search of the spices. For many people, it still invokes a romantic charm that sets out the wanderlusts in search of the unknown pleasures and treasures across the oceans, sands, and mountains. The travellers brought new things to the shore, new stories, and culture, too. And, music was an integral part of the experience. People knew distant lands and cultures through music, and in turn made others feel their lives and times in Kozhikode through the music of the land.)

Translated from Malayalam by Abhilash Prabhakaran.