Challenging Conventions Through Music: The Inspiring Journey of Keela Naren and Navya Rudrappa

Two young musicians from Karnataka – Keela Naren and Navya Rudrappa – are challenging preconceived notions about music and caste in southern India. In a collaboration that is now two years old, the two artists have set out on a cultural exploration of the music and instruments of marginalized communities to show that music transcends boundaries.

Navya Rudrappa, 29, a Bengaluru-based sitar player, and Keela Naren, 26, a multi-instrumentalist from Karnataka’s Bangarpet specializing in parai, an instrument traditionally linked to marginalized communities in the caste hierarchy, have formed a unique partnership fueled by their shared passion for music and a desire to challenge its social and political boundaries.

“The first time Naren and I performed together, the most common response from people was that they had never heard or seen the sitar and parai together ever before,” says Rudrappa.

A passion for percussion that was ignited by local festivals led storyteller-musician Naren to master instruments like parai, thamuku, and dholak. After honing his skills independently, he joined a professional troupe called Budhar Kalai Kuzhu. Naren embraced music as a career, training over 500 parai artists and co-founding Adavi Arts Collective. His work extends beyond music; he is also a published writer focusing on parai, tribal music research, theatre, and music.

Rudrappa has for over the past 14 years learned Hindustani music under the guidance of gurus. Prior to dedicating herself entirely to music, she pursued a career in architecture and education.

“Our conversations about music and the politics of music led us to think of collaborating,” says Rudrappa. This desire for collaboration was further strengthened by a grant from the artists’ collective, Fishes At Offstream, in 2023. “We decided to document musicians from marginalized communities,” she explains. Their journey has taken them to remote villages across Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh (Solagar Doddi, Alanganallur, Kothacheruvu) where they met and documented musicians from Dalit and Adivasi communities.

This inspiring duo is not just creating beautiful music but also breaking barriers and amplifying the voices of marginalized communities through their collaborative efforts. Keela Naren and Navya Rudrappa’s journey serves as a beacon of hope and inspiration for aspiring musicians and advocates of social change alike.


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