This Is A Music: Reclaiming an Untouchable Drum
Producer: Zoe Sherinian
Director: Zoe Sherinian
Year Released: 2011
Length: 74 mins
This ethnomusicological documentary is about the psychological and economic transformation of a group of untouchable (outcaste) parai frame drummers from a village in Tamil Nadu, South India. Through the lens of rarely filmed folk performances and the experience of an American ethnomusicologist who comes to study with them, we see a group of nine drummers trying to eke out a living while negotiating on going discrimination in their village. The Hindu caste system constructs them and their drum as polluted because they play for funerals. As they professionalize however, they reconstruct their performance as music and their identity as worldly. They then get an opportunity to participate in the Chennai Sangamam folk festival where their reception by urbanites further positively transforms their self-understanding. The question then becomes, can they sustain these changes back in the village? Woven throughout the film are dynamic and rare examples of village folk dances, funeral lament, and drumming as well as the voices of the drummers, local activists, who tell the story of the process of working for the economic and social liberation of the oppressed Dalits of India through developing the folk arts.