YouTube channels provide a platform for rural folk artists

‘Manavai’ Madhan, 25, is a graduate engineer studying Carnatic music at Kalai Kaviri College of Fine Arts in Tiruchi. Thanks to the YouTube channel, Palamaarneri Panjayathu‘, he lives an alternative life as an online star, writing and singing Tamil folk songs which earn him millions of views in India and abroad.

With nearly five lakh subscribers, the online channel Palamaarneri Panjayathu (PP) and its sister company Graamathu Galata TVwhich has over three lakh followers, has served as a platform for homegrown comedians and singers in Palamaarenri village, Thanjavur district and beyond.

A. Kalaiyarasan, 32, a videographer who runs a studio in the town of Thirukattupalli, keeps it all together. “I come from a farming family in Palamaarneri and have always been interested in choreographing cultural objects for village stage performances,” Mr. Kalaiyarasan said. The Hindu.

“In 2014, to add a touch of novelty, I turned to pre-recording sketches and dances on camera and broadcasting them live during village festivals. But when people overseas started asking for program tapes, we decided to put them on YouTube. My background in visual communication and photography came in handy for that,” he said.

Initially dependent on movie songs and re-enactments for content, Mr. Kalaiyarasan created a talent pool among the villagers. “They were a little shy at first, but followed my instructions once the camera was on. As most people in Palamaarneri are full-time farmers, I could only have them for a few hours in the morning or evening for the acts” , did he declare.

Amateur performers have become “superstars” in their social circles as videos of their acts have gone viral.

Despite the good number of viewers, the channels only started making money after the productions moved away from the movies. “We didn’t know that using copyrighted material without permission was wrong. Once artists started coming up with original content, we started monetizing our productions,” Mr. Kalaiayarasan said.

He now aims to produce a web series featuring teams of comedians from the village. “Novelty is key to surviving online.”

The chains earn around ₹20,000 a month, which Mr. Kalaiyarasan saves to sponsor events at village fetes.

At least 75 folk singers in the region have made their breakthrough through the PP, said Mr. Kalaiyarasan, who subsidizes production costs with his earnings as a wedding videographer. “Folk music is experiencing a revival thanks to reality TV shows. Palamaarneri Panjayathu launched rural artists who may not have the resources or the ability to travel to a big city for their debut,” he said.

Singer Madhan hopes to join Mr. Kalaiyarasan’s team once he finishes his studies. “Learning Carnatic music has helped me build my singing and songwriting skills. And through exposure on YouTube, my work is being recognized in places like Malaysia,” he said.

“Although folk tunes have become popular in films and other media, the body of original Tamil music has still not been documented. It would be nice if online companies could think of archiving folk music for posterity,” he added.

Raymond T. Helms