Konnakol is the Carnatic music (South Indian classical) performance art of vocal percussion. Basically, Konnakol is the drum language from South India.
The practice of konnakol has been around for years. In southern India the terms Solkattu and Konnakol are used to describe the vocalizing of rhythmic and drum syllables.
Apart from Western Classical music, most traditions are essentially aural, with music being passed on from generation to generation by ear. The use of mnemonics (the vocalisation of onomatopoeic sounds) is particularly a feature of African and Indian drumming, although also used in many other cultures, where sounds are verbalised in order to embed learning.
Whereas Western music puts more emphasis on harmony, Eastern musicians start with rhythm studies. Many Eastern musicians even spend years working with konnakol before even progressing to an actual instrument. It is one of the best ways to gain knowledge of complex ryhthms, odd time, polyrhythms, etc.
The syllables and phrases resemble the patterns played on the drum. Loosely referred to as “Indian Beatboxing”, konnakol is how teachers verbally communicate patterns to their students for teaching any musical instrument.
Konnakol helps the percussionist understand the minute beats by leveraging certain joins between the timing and pattern. Complex patterns involve combination of phrases and measured pauses (silence) and have “off” beats though the entire pattern adds up to the number of rhythmic cycle used.
It is a comprehensive language of rhythm which allows the composition, performance or communication of rhythms in any style or tradition of music from anywhere in the world.
It is a language with a strictly defined grammer and syntax, and yet it is completely abstract. It’s beaty is almost purely mathematical.
How it is done
Konnakol lessons start with vocalizing the beginning beats and phrases, later leading to simple kinds of compositions called theermanams, korvai and mora. Further along in the course, the simple compositions are vocalized in various time cycles followed by advanced level korvais. In parallel, you will learn the different vocal sounds that resemble the same drum sound to provide better effects for concert phrasing. Also, You will learn what syllables to stress in a composition for maximum effect and adjust pitch when vocalizing with a percussion group.
2 = Ta ka
3 = Ta ki ta
4 = Ta ka di mi
5 = Ta ka Ta ki ta (2 + 3)
6 = Ta ka di mit Ta ka (4 + 2)
7 = Ta ka di mi Ta ki ta (4 + 3)
8 = Ta ka di mi Ta ka jo ne (4 + 4)
9 = Ta ka di mi Ta ka Ta ki ta (6 + 3)
Many musicians from a variety of traditions around the world have found konnakol useful in their own musical practice.
This art of rhythmic recitation has developed into an exuberant and engaging musical form being integrated into a great deal of contemporary Indian rock music and ‘global’ fusion music.
The leading artist in this craft is T.H. Subash Chandran who is considered the “King of Konnakol”. He is one of the few remaining artist practicing this craft.