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Queen of folk music

M.L. NARASIMHAM

Folk music lovers celebrate as Vinjamuri Anasuya Devi completes 80 years of singing career.


God willed me to popularise lalitha sangeetham and janapada geethalu. My early moorings in classical music did help me to a great extent.

Photo: R Shivaji Rao

Vinjamuri Anusuya Devi.

Nakkalolla chinnadaanni Nanyamaina chinndaanni

Simple words sung in a mellifluous voice accompanied by a melodic tune that captivated a generation of radio listeners. This folk song and several others were first introduced to the Telugu music lovers over All India Radio and on stage by the incomp arable Vinjamuri Sisters – Seetha,Anasuya. The eldest among the two – Anasuya Devi, a contemporary of Gangubai Hangal completes 80 years of singing career this year.

A woman of many talents, Dr. Avasarala (Vinjamuri) Anasuya Devi is a singer, music composer, musicologist, author and expert in playing harmonium. Above all it was she who introduced folk music, first in her light music concerts way back in 1929 when both the genres were looked down upon by the pundits and exponents of Carnatic music. A child prodigy, she has cut her first gramophone record at 8. It was the famous folk song Ayyo Koyyoda that was later used in that equally famous film song, Yeruvaaka saagaro ranno chinnanna… just speaks volumes for the singer-composer’s talent. There are several other instances where her tunes were utilised by some of the big names in the industry to churn out hit numbers.

Born in a family of littérateurs, musicians and artistes on May 12, 1920, Anasuya Devi learnt Carnatic music from her guru Munuganti Venkata Rao. “But God willed me to popularise lalitha sangeetham (light music) and Janapada geethalu. My early moorings in classical music did help me to a great extent.” She has perfected the art of folk music and literature from her guru Valluri Jagannatha Rao.

Her father Vinjamuri Venkata Lakshminarasimha Rao was a poet and her mother Venkata Rathnamma edited a literary magazine Anasuya in 1914.

A harbinger of the Renaissance Movement in Andhra Pradesh, Anasuya Devi introduced light music and folk music in her concerts from 1928 and over All India Radio, Madras from 1938. “Her voice has a peculiar and profound rustic timbre that blends naturally with folk songs,” says her daughter Seetha Ratnakar, assistant director, Doordarshan.

Rare distinction

Anasuya Devi has the rare distinction of singing on various occasions, before luminaries such as Gandhi, Subhash Chandra Bose, Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajendra Prasad and S. Radhakrishna. Besides she has several firsts to her credit- the first woman music composer and musicologist in Andhra Pradesh and also the first woman film music director in South India. She has composed tunes for - Vikata Yogi and Vanjikottai Valiban (Tamil) and Rojulu Maarayi, Malleeswari, Bangaru Papa, Aggi Ramudu, Penki Pellam, Kanaka Durga Mahathmyam, Oka Oori Katha (Telugu) and Raj Tilak, (Hindi). She worked as a music director for Mahatma Kabir (Kannada) and Bommalata (Telugu).

At 88 she is vibrant and grace personified. Till the age of 20, Anasuya was giving solo concerts. “I trained my younger sister Seetha Devi and from 1940 onwards we started singing together. I collected many folk songs that helped my sister to get her M. Lit degree,” she recalls. On a fellowship from the Central Sahitya Academy in 1982-83 she along with her sister toured several districts in A.P to collect and restore folk songs.

“It was a learning experience. I found most of the folk singers do not want their children into this profession. They said that their children should not suffer like them and are sending them for academic education. That set me thinking that we have to preserve our rich folk music for posterity. I published seven books,” she informs.

Two of the books – Bhava geethalu and Janapada Geyalu will be released at a function to mark the completion of 80 years of Anasuya Devi’s contribution, in Chennai on April 12. S.P. Balasubrahmanyam and Sailaja will render the songson the occasion. Two days later she will be in Hyderabad to receive the Prathibha Puraskaram on April 14.

The last time she received a major title ‘Kalaprapoorna’ an honorary doctorate from Andhra University was in 1977. She has won Lifetime Achievement awards in U.S.A and hailed as the ‘Queen of Folk Music’ in Paris.

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