A few streets away from Chennai’s sprawling Marina Beach, an anti-caste music-festival is in full swing. Speaking of swing, this event — Marghazhyil Makkalisai — is inspired by Black cultural resistance. Currently in its fourth year, Makkalisai is by now well-known to many Chennaiites. It is organised by Neelam Cultural, the anti-caste platform founded by film director Pa Ranjith. Each year, the event takes place in the Tamil month of Marghazhi (December 17 to January 14). This is also the month that Brahmanical kutcheries — Carnatic music concerts, often criticised for being exclusionary in terms of caste, take place in the city. Pegged as an antithesis to that is the Makkalisai (People’s Festival) event.
Margazhyil Makkalisai was set to take place from December 28 to December 30 in Chennai, but Day 1 of the event had to be cancelled owing to the passing of veteran-actor and Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) chief Viyajakant. The event is being held at the Santhome Higher Secondary School in Mylapore.
Apart from performances by stars like Arivu and The Ambassa on December 30, the festival boasts a line up of hip hop artists like Tharalocal Pasanga, Sollisai Sistahs, Black Boys, and others over two days. Apart from hip hop, the festival features gaana, parai drums, oppari performances — music genres of Dalit, Bahujan, and working class people that have long been discriminated against on the basis of caste.
On December 29, Buddhar Kalai Kuzhu put on an enthralling performance of parai drums and other percussion instruments. The well-known organisation has also been instrumental in defying the casteist view of the parai as something ‘unclean’ and exclusively funereal. The group also trains young aspiring parai artists and educate people on the history of the parai as an instrument that has been played during a wide array of events including weddings and vazhaikappus (baby showers).
Gaana singers including Anthony Daasan and folk musician Andhakudi Ilaiyaraja were also among the performers. Special guests who dropped in at the event included music composer Srikanth Deva, Sarpatta Parambarai (2021) star John Vijay, popular actor Guru Somasundaram, and Attakathi Dinesh.
Earlier this month, Makkalisai travelled to Hosur and Kolar Gold Fields (KGF) for similar performances. Incidentally, Ranjith’s upcoming film Thangalaan starring Vikram is set in KGF.
Also, in a mark of respect to Vijayakant, the actor’s famous dialogues about working-class rights from the iconic film Alai Osai (1985) and the equally beloved song from the same movie — a May Day staple — “Poradada Oru Vaalenthada” was screened. Alai Osai not only spoke up for working-class rights, but was also an early anti-caste film based on Nandan, a mythical Dalit figure.
A full list of scheduled performances can be found on the event’s official Instagram handle @margazhyilmakkalisai.