Spotify says Malayalam music consumption grew by 5300% in 5 years: Here’s why

Industry insiders think music from the small state of Kerala in south India are ruling the charts in Spotify for a variety of reasons, from a vibrant indie scene to filmmakers collaborating with younger artists for more inventive music.
Indie Malayali artists Dabzee, Malayali Monkeys and Baby Jean
Indie Malayali artists Dabzee, Malayali Monkeys and Baby Jean
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James Thakara, one of the members of the popular Malayalam band Thakara, believes now is the best time to be a Malayali indie artist. “Look at artists like Dabzee and Baby Jean, especially their Spotify numbers. They have grown really fast! Filmmakers are also open to the idea of collaborating with indie artists for soundtracks in their films. I think this is very cool and I am excited to see how this will progress,” he says.

James’s opinions ring true with the data shared by Spotify, a Swedish music streaming app, which said that Malayalam music has grown the fastest on the app, ever since it came to India five years ago. The consumption of Malayalam music grew by a whopping 5,300%, followed by Telugu, Tamil, Punjabi, and Hindi, according to Spotify. Industry insiders think music from the small state of Kerala in south India is ruling the charts in Spotify for a variety of reasons, from a vibrant indie scene to filmmakers collaborating with younger artists for more inventive music. 

Habish Rehman, popularly known as Baby Jean, is one of India’s most prominent indie hip hop artists at the age of 23. Like Arun, he too believes that the music industry in Kerala saw a shift after 2022, when close to 20 songs from indie artists went viral. “People not only from Kerala, but across the country were listening to these songs. We caught on to this trend and continued to consistently make good music, which is why we were able to grow at this rate,” he says.

The band Malayali Monkeys, for instance, was formed in 2022 after three independent artists – who have performed and composed music individually under different stage names – decided to collaborate to make music. The members of the band have been extremely private about identities and wear masks in their music videos and while performing live. The trio released their first song ‘Oombalum Kanjiyum’ which went viral in September last year, even bagging the second spot on Spotify India’s ‘Viral India’ playlist in 2023.

Besides, with Malayalam cinema gaining a nationwide following in the past few years, it does not come as a surprise that the music in these films have also garnered a similar audience. 

Rex Vijayan, a guitarist in the popular Malayalam rock band Avial, points out that even the music composers who make music for films are now from a younger generation, and are more inventive and experimental compared to their older counterparts. “Earlier, only one music composer would be involved in a film. Now, filmmakers would invite an artist to compose maybe just a single song for the movie, even if there is a music composer creating the rest of the songs. The filmmakers are also open to experimenting with newer genres of music in their films, which the audience often find appealing,” he says.

Hip hop artist Mohammed Fazil, more popular as Dabzee, shot to fame after his song ‘Manavaalan Thug’ in Khalid Rahman’s Thallumaala (2022), starring Tovino Thomas, became a huge hit. The rest of the songs in the movie were composed by Vishnu Vijay, another young composer in the industry. In an interview with The New Indian Express, Dabzee said ‘Manavaalan Thug’ was meant to be a part of his independent album, but his friends who were a part of the movie wanted it to feature in Thallumaala and he agreed. While he continues to make independent music, Dabzee also recently composed the song ‘Kotha Raja’ for the Dulquer Salman movie King of Kotha (2023), in collaboration with other artists including Jakes Bejoy, Asal Kolaar, Roll Rida, and Resmi Sateesh.

Similarly, the music for the recently released Manjummel Boys, including its gripping background track, was composed by Sushin Shyam. But the film’s introductory song ‘Kuthanthram’ was a collaboration between rapper Vedan and Sushin Shyam, which was treated as a single rather than a track from the movie. The song even got its own poster featuring the two musicians before its release, while the name of the movie was relegated to a corner. The song was released before Manjummel Boys, and it quickly clocked lakhs of listens and views on streaming platforms. 

A demand for new music

James Thakara says it is not just the filmmakers who are on the lookout for new music, but the audience too have similar expectations. “People in the film industry now ask ‘what’s new?’ when it comes to music, which was not the case five to ten years ago. Back then, the audience too were keen on only listening to artists whose work they were familiar with. But now, the scene has changed such that even if indie artists release music without any videos or promotions, people tune in as long as it is good,” he says. 

The artists also emphasise on the role played by apps such as Spotify in helping indie artists get more visibility. With Spotify, music has become more accessible. If someone wants to find a song they heard on an Instagram reel or from a movie they recently watched, they can simply search for it on these apps. Besides, indie music tracks also often get featured on the playlists that get recommended to listeners on the app, says Baby Jean. “If a song is ‘trending’ or becomes viral, people will actively search for it on apps. This virality helps people find these songs and create their own playlists,” he adds.

SR Praveen, a journalist at The Hindu, says the Spotify data on Malayalam music consumption is actually a surprising statistic, considering how music from Kerala, barring a few exceptions, is not as popular in other states. “Tamil or Hindi music receives wide acceptance in Kerala, and in comparison Malayalam music typically doesn’t get such reach,” he says. But he points out that Kerala’s shift to Spotify was rather late, owing to which it is still fresh, while music from other languages might have begun to become a little saturated. 

“For independent musicians too, streaming platforms such as Spotify have come as quite a blessing, as it ensures that their music reaches more people. A decade or two ago, artists had to depend on physical CDs sold at concert venues, as it was the only method to take their music to more people,” says Praveen.

With Malayali artists getting experimental with their music, people also become accustomed to genres they were perhaps previously unaware of. Rex says younger indie artists have now tapped into a vacuum of pop and hip hop music, which was missing from Malayalam music for the most part. “Earlier, Malayalis had to resort to English or Hindi songs to listen to pop or hip hop music, but not anymore. More people are now exposed to lots of different genres because of YouTube and social media. So when you produce stuff like this in Malayalam, it gets people interested,” he says.

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