Maddale: The Perfect Percussion Back-Up Singer

Karnatak and traditional South Indian music have a heavy emphasis on the beat.

With a great selection of drums all coming from the mridangam family of percussion instruments, there are a lot of options to choose from.

Maddales are double-sided drums that are similar to other popular drums in the region like the pakhavaj. But this one is special because players can hit the right tone regardless of where they hit on the surface.

Who Plays Maddale Drums?

Maddales are the primary percussion instrument in Yakshagana ensembles. Yakshagana ensembles play music in a form of traditional theatre from India’s Kannada districts. The musical ensemble in Yakshagana performances are called the himmela, and they play as the mummela dance or talk. Himmelas include the lead singer, or bhagawata, and people playing various instruments including the maddale, a pipe called the pungi, and the harmonium. Some groups also play chande, or loud South Indian drums.

What Do Maddale Drums Look Like?

Maddales are double-sided drums that look like barrels. Made from jackfruit wood like a lot of their cousin percussion instruments, maddales also have drum heads made from goatskin and are covered in leather straps that can adjust and tune the maddale. Each drum head is shaped slightly differently so one produces a deeper sound than the other. The left-hand side produces the deeper sound, and the right-hand side includes a circular disk — called a karne — that produces harmonic sounds when the drum head is tapped.

What Makes Them Different from Mridangam?

If you’ve been researching different types of drums from South India, a maddale might sound a lot like a mridangam. The difference is the tonality: maddales can produce more complex sounds. The karne harmonic disc also makes the maddale sound very different from the mridangam. Maddales are also specifically tuned to align with the bhagawata’s, or the Yakshagana singer’s voice before every performance.

Ghatam: Ancient Drum with a Renewed Future

The ghatam is an ancient percussion instrument consisting of a clay pot reinforced with brass, copper and iron fillings.

Some players are so dedicated to ensuring a pure sound from the ghatam that they play with their shirts off in order to avoid dampening the sound.

Different from Other Drums

The ghatam is unique compared to other drums as it doesn’t have any type of membrane placed over the mouth of the drum. Instead, the ghatam players place the drum against their stomach. The surface of the drum is tapped, and the pitch and resonance are changed by applying different amounts of pressure against the stomach.

The drum produces a metallic sound and the pitch of the drum will vary depending on its size.

Preserving History

Ghatams are incredibly ancient with a long history in the Carnatic music tradition. The drums are predominantly made in three locations in South India: Devanahalli, Chennai, and Manamadurai. The Manamadurai ghatam drums are believed to be sturdier and to have a unique metallic sound.

There is only one family in Manamadurai that has been making the ghatam for the last century. U.V.K. Ramesh gave up a job in Singapore in 2000 to return to Manamadurai to continue the family tradition of ghatam-making. Ramesh, along with his mother, are the only two master ghatam makers in the region. Ramesh’s mother, Meenakshi, was awarded the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi award in 2014 for her ghatam-making skill before passing away in 2017.

The art of ghatam-making is likely waning because it isn’t a highly profitable business. The family supports itself by making other clay products that are sold at a local market. To help the family’s continued commitment to the ghatam, a member of the India Foundation for the Arts started an online funding campaign. These additional funds have allowed them to experiment with using an electric kiln while creating the ghatam.

The global campaign raised almost $8,000 thanks to a number of prominent musicians and artists sharing the cause. The global support allowed the family to manufacture a modernized, custom kiln. This outpouring of support will allow the ghatam to be modernized for the future while preserving its legacy of the past.