Maverick percussionist Sivamani talks to Nikhil Raghavan about the new challenges in his musical journey as a film music director

What do Tamil films Arima Nambi (directed by Anand Shankar) and Kanithan (directed by Santhosh) have in common? To begin with, both films are produced by Kalaipuli S. Thanu. Secondly, the heroes of both films are sons of yesteryear stars — Vikram Prabhu, son of Prabhu Ganesan is paired with Priya Anand in Arima Nambi while Murali’s son Atharvaa acts opposite Catherine Tresa in Kanithan.

But, the most interesting common denominator in both productions is the music director — well known percussionist A. Sivamani who is making his debut with Arima Nambi. A teaser song, ‘Idhayam’ sung by Javed Ali for the film was released on YouTube recently and has nearly 13,600 hits.

Despite having travelled all over the world, performing with several world-class musicians and playing a plethora of percussion instruments, Sivamani still draws inspiration from the simple things in life. “For instance, when I walk through a restaurant, I tend to pick up a fork and knife to create unique sounds. Many years ago, when I was walking past a swimming pool I was enchanted by the cool, blue waters. I got in and started slapping the waters with my hands and realised that the sound varied in different areas of the pool. I recorded those sounds and used it in a ghazal. Using the same technique, I have composed ‘Neeye Neeye’ for Arima Nambi. When A.R. Rahman heard this, he suggested that Shreya Ghosal would be the right voice and that’s how the track was recorded for the movie,” says Sivamani. The film’s audio was released recently.

So, what is so special about Sivamani that made director Anand Shankar sign him as composer? “ From a very young age I have been a fan of Sivamani and I used to play the drums, too. When I got to do my first film, I had Sivamani on my mind. Coincidentally, producer Thanu also thought of Sivamani. When he broached the idea to me, I seconded his opinion. Apart from the songs, Sivamani’s background score is just right for the action-suspense film. His experience has given him the insight to deliver the best,” says Anand Shankar.

The songs for Kanithan are very different from Arima Nambi. “This film needed more peppy songs,” says Sivamani. For director Santhosh, the experience of working with Sivamani was a humbling one. “I took up direction only recently and I was aware that Sivamani was an experiencedmusician. But, when it came to composing, he had absolutely no hesitation in re-doing sections or even full songs. He would always say, filmmaking is about teamwork. Sivamani’s advantage is that he plays a lot of instruments and his knowledge of most world genres of music helps him in composing. My film required upbeat tunes and his percussion background lent itself well to the music. There are five songs in the film and as of now, four have been recorded,” says Santhosh.

At heart, Sivamani is a Chennai boy, having grown up with the sights and sounds of Kollywood. “Kodambakkam is my university. I draw inspiration from the numerous music directors I have worked for and the talented musicians I have performed with. I find rhythm in everything I see around me. I am a traveller and during my journey to different parts of the world, , I come across various types of percussion instruments — for that is my forte —– and I include them in my performances,” says Sivamani.

Sivamani is a percussionist and performer first and music direction is a natural progression of his quest for unique sounds. “While live concerts bring out the best in me, I’m discovering the joy of composing for films. Every opportunity to create music makes my journey meaningful.”