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'We move around like brothers'

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RHYTHMIC BEATS Sivamani and U. Shrinivas Photo: Mohammed Yousuf
RHYTHMIC BEATS Sivamani and U. Shrinivas Photo: Mohammed Yousuf

Padmasri Mandolin U. Shrinivas and percussionist A. Sivamani talk about music, cuisine and their concerns

There's some power when I am playing with Srinu Sivamani Both are maestros in their field of music. If one is into Carnatic classical music, the other drums a different rhythm of funky contemporary stuff. But that hasn't stopped Padmasri Mandolin U. Shrinivas and percussionist A. Sivamani from creating a bond that is enduring. From being a child prodigy to being the youngest to win the Padmasri, Shrinivas's life has been an interesting concoction of music. The soft-spoken 37-year-old has played along with some of the greats in both Carnatic and Fusion music. As has Sivamani, who is a personal favourite for many music directors, including A. R. Rahman. Zakir Hussain once described him as a phenomenon that walks through this planet, once or twice in a century., The two sit down for a chat after a lively practice session along with Vijay Ghate, Uma Shankar and legends Padma Vibhushan Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia and Pandit Jasraj, as Mangala Ramamoorthy records. Sivamani: You know I always had this dream of playing along with you. I remember, every time I met you at the airports, I would ask when and how I would get to play with you. The issue was that you played classical and I am more oriented to western and fusion, and we didn't know how to bring the two together. I think it was a dream comes true through Shakti Foundation. Shrinivas: Definitely. It was they who bought the band Shraddha together, along with you, me, Shankar Mahadevan and Louis Banks. Sivamani: And I feel that the very first concert we played together was magic. There's some power when I am playing with you on the stage, Srinu. I would say it is very divine.Shrinivas: I am telling this not just because you are in front of me, but I would tell this even otherwise. But I admire you not just as a good musician, but as a very good human being as well. There are many things I can learn from you, especially the way you take care of everyone who's playing along with you. (After a pause) When playing together, the most important thing is coordination. I think it comes to us naturally. We never have to say anything to each other. (Sivamani nods in agreement) The best percussionist is one who doesn't think about himself but gels with the music of the main player. Anna is just like that. But when your chance to play solo comes, you are a completely transformed person. You are so spontaneous that I don't think you know what you are exactly playing. Do you? If someone asks you how you played, you wouldn't even know.Sivamani: Yeah that's true. I really don't know what I am doing. I think it is a gift that I am able to play this way. Shrinivas: But it's really fun watching you perform like this. But, I think we enjoy performing together more because we don't move around like musicians. We are more like brothers or may be more than that. Sivamani: Because of this there's lot more energy on the stage. (Suddenly) Anna I always wanted to ask this, what is the best combination to have along with gongura and rice? Shrinivas: (Smiles) I think the best combination is onion. Sivamani: I am asking this because when I was in Washington, I was eating gongura, as usual, mixed with rice and sambar and I was told that gongura is best had with onion and ghee. I even had it in Chennai recently and want to take some for my home in Mumbai as well. Shrinivas: Other than music, one more passion that we share together I think is food. I am as much a foodie as you. I love spicy food, though I don't eat them much now. If you love Andhra food, I have my favourites in Tamil cuisine as well like veta kozhyambu, rasam and mor molaga. Sivamani: Talking of vengaya veta kozhyambu, I love having it at Vikumama (Vikku Vinayakam's) house. (Shrinivas goes wow) Ok, food apart, there's one particular piece you played for Shraddha, Madhuvanti. Wow, what a piece you composed? Can you tell me how the feel of that raga was? Shrinivas: Actually, when Shakti Foundation asked me to come with something new, this raga suddenly came to my mind. And I thought it would be nice and I tried it at home. But I sincerely feel that the piece gets more colour and life when I play it with you. Now, let me also ask you one question. You have played with so many great musicians like A. R. Rahman and Illayaraja. How was the experience like? Sivamani: Every stage is an experience. The plate is one, but there's a lot of variety. With Rahman, it will be full of energy and rhythm, but with Illayaraja as a percussionist, it's more of organising yourself with other. During my early days, I used to go overboard with my music when playing along with other musicians. That's when I observed Zakir and the way he moves along with others' music. It's from then that I learned how to play with a control when with others and have a blast when playing solo. Shrinivas: There's one thing I have noticed about you. You are a shopaholic. You cannot even imagine the way he shops. Not that I don't shop, but not the way he does. (Sivamani laughs)Sivamani: Ok, I agree I shop a lot. But there are times when you have done some shopping for me as well. It was really nice of you to get the instrument I wanted when you were in the U.S. for a concert. All I had to do was make a call. Shrinivas: Anyway I am glad, we have a lot to look forward in the future with the number of projects we are doing together.

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