A cocktail of Indian and Western influences has shaped up his music, says Sid Sriram, the singer of ‘Yadike’ in Mani Ratnam’s ‘Kadali’
Two months ago, when Shakthisree Gopalan sang the haunting Nenjukulle on MTV Unplugged’s special episode with A.R. Rahman, the appetitive for Kadal’s (Tamil) music was whetted. Nenjukulle went on to become a YouTube phenomenon before the album released. A few days after the release of Kadal (Kadali in Telugu), listeners were curious to know who Sid Sriram is. The California-based singer brought in a breath of fresh air to the song Adiye (Yadike in Telugu), folk in content and blues/gospel in its treatment. In an e-mail interview, the singer gives an insight into his grounding in Carnatic and western music, studying in Berklee College of Music and what it means to debut in film music with A.R. Rahman. Excerpts:
You performed in Chennai recently with Rahman for the ‘Thai Manne Vanakkam’ concert. What were the thoughts in your mind as you prepared for the concert?
Performing at AR sir’s concert was amazing, easily one of the best experiences of my life. Preparing for the show, I was just getting myself ‘amped’ while keeping myself calm at the same time. Once I got on stage and Rahman sir hit the opening chord for ‘Adiye’, I got extremely excited and went all out.
How did you get the chance to sing ‘Adiye/Yadike’?
I had received an email from one of AR sir’s engineers asking me to send a demo when I was in Chennai a year ago performing during the Carnatic music season. After that, Sir had me come to the studio, and I sang a little for him. A few months later he told me about ‘Adiye/Yadike’.
How would you describe the song — the mood it attempts to create?
I think ‘Adiye/Yadike’ is unique and fresh, and something new for Indian films. It brings together the blues and gospel feel with Tamil folk lyrics. I think the mixture of different ideas/genres really speaks of the genius of AR sir, and I’m honoured to be a part of it.
We learn that you were initiated into classical music at the age of 3. Do you come from a family of musicians?
I grew up in California, and started learning Carnatic music from my mother, Latha Sriram around 3 or 4; she runs a Carnatic music school in Northern California. My grandfather was also a Carnatic musician, so I learnt a lot from him. My whole family is involved in the arts — my sister is a professional Bharatnatyam dancer and my dad helps me out on the music business end. We’ve all definitely been progressing together; it feels great.
What kind of training did you receive in Indian classical music before joining Berklee College of Music?
Apart from my grandfather and mom, I started learning from Padma Bhushan awardee P.S. Narayanaswamy about 10 years ago, and have been coming to Chennai in summer to learn and December to perform ever since. I started listening to old school R&B artists like Stevie Wonder, Luther Vandross, and Donny Hathaway when I was in 6th grade. That’s how I picked up that genre of music. I started attending Berklee in the fall of 2008, and that’s when I decided music would be my profession, and started writing and releasing my original material. I graduated in August from Berklee with a degree in Music Production and Engineering.
What role did Berklee play in enhancing you as a singer?
Berklee played a huge role in shaping my music. On an academic level, I learned a lot about vocal technique and culture. Since my major was Music Production and Engineering, I got a good handle on the technical and creative aspects of making a record. But, I think one of the most important things about Berklee was the environment. Being surrounded by musicians from such different backgrounds was incredible. I listened to such different music and picked up many influences. Because of my time there, I was able to discover my sound as an artiste and figure out how I wanted to articulate it.
You’ve sung a number of cover versions and your own singles. Now ‘Adiye/Yadike’ has opened up your opportunities in cinema. Would you consider moving back to India?
I’ve been releasing videos on youtube for the past couple years, and in 2012 I released two mini-albums (EPs) — ‘A Conscious Mind’ and ‘Daydream’. Now, I’m planning to split my time between the United States and Chennai, so I can balance my music over there, working with AR sir, and Carnatic music.
How tuned are you into Tamil and Telugu film music?
Since I’ve been spending so much time in Chennai for the past 10 years, I’ve been fairly keyed into Tamil film music. After singing for Kadali, I’ve been more clued into Telugu Film music. I’m sure I’ll continue on to listen more.