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Hitting the right note

sangeetha devi dundoo
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chat A cocktail of Indian and western influences. That’s how Sid Sriram, singer of ‘Yadike’ in Mani Ratnam’s Kadali, describes his music

Two months ago, when Shakthisree Gopalan sang the haunting Nenjukulle on MTV Unplugged’s special episode with A.R. Rahman, the listeners’ appetite 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 was. 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 was in your mind as you prepared for the concert?

Performing at AR’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 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’s engineers asking me to send a demo when I was in Chennai a year ago performing during the Carnatic music season. After that, AR 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 the blues and gospel feel into Tamil folk lyrics. I think the mixture of different ideas/genres really speaks of the genius of AR, and I’m honoured to be part of it.

We learn that you were initiated into classical music at the age of 3.

I grew up in California, and started learning Carnatic music from my mother, Latha Sriram, when I was 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 Bharatanatyam dancer and my dad helps me out with the music business. We’ve all 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 in December to perform ever since. I started listening to old school R&B artists such as 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 different backgrounds was incredible. Because of my time there, I was able to discover myself as an artiste and figure out how I wanted to articulate that sound.

You’ve sung a number of cover versions and your own singles. Now ‘Adiye/Yadike’ has opened up 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 and Carnatic music.

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