Pioneer artiste Manuneethivathy and her music legacy

V.K. SANTOSH KUMAR

Friends from the arts and cultural scene sang and performed at the wake of Singapore's pioneer artiste Manuneethivathy Muthusamy, who died on Dec 9 aged 88.

Several people from the cultural circles and the media also spoke highly about one of the country's first percussionists who shone as a multi-talented personality during a career spanning more than 35 years.

"Madam Manuneethivathy was a talented and highly accomplished musician, composer and teacher," said Singapore Indian Orchestra and Choir's music director and conductor Lalitha Vaidyanathan, 72.

"She was an admirable lady who excelled in several music instruments like the harmonium, tabla, mridangam, veena and violin.

"She was the inspiration for my music career. She would bless me before my shows, which meant a lot to me. She also used to teach students free of charge which is a good characteristic that I am following."

Madam Manuneethivathy's contribution as a dance and drama artiste in Singapore is far-reaching.

From the 1950s to the 1970s, she was the only female Singaporean artiste who excelled in the mridangam, an Indian percussion instrument of ancient origin which is the primary rhythmic accompaniment in a Carnatic music ensemble. She presented several radio and stage concerts and was an accomplished harmonium player, who accompanied ghazal musicians from India during their performances in Singapore.

Madam Manuneethivathy, who was a prominent feature at major events such as the Tamilar Thirunaal harvest festival and National Day, was also a melodious singer who was a distinguished member of the Gemini Music Party.

On the strength of her talent as a percussionist, Mrs Radha Rajah, a relative, formed the Ladies Orchestra.

Madam Manuneethivathy was also a member of Mangal Chotta Singh's musical group Ramakrishna Sangeetha Sabha which was established in 1939 and was the first Indian orchestra in Singapore. She also composed music for TV events, stage dramas and dance dramas.

From the 1980s onwards, she concentrated on passing on her music knowledge to students.

As someone who learnt religious songs from the Hindu spiritual teacher Kirupanandha Variyar, she also taught students the Devaram and other Hindu devotional songs.

Madam Manuneethivathy's tutor in music was the famous stage musical artiste A.K. Kaleeswaran, after which she went to India and learnt to play the harmonium and the tabla.

She also learnt from her mother Ranganayaki and her late father Amuthar Thambaiya Pillai, a pioneer stage artiste who before World War I brought Tamil drama artistes to perform in Malaysia and Singapore.

Talent coursed through Madam Manuneethivathy's family.

Her late husband Muthusamy was a bulbul tarang and harmonium player and a drama artiste, while her two sons and two daughters are all involved in the arts scene.

"As someone whose ambition was to give Indian arts a lasting identity, mother taught many students for free," said her younger daughter Vicknesvari Vadivalagan, a noted Mediacorp Vasantham artiste.

"She lived to see the arts scene thrive here and was a recipient of many awards."

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