I am living my dream: Sid Sriram

Sid Sriram   | Photo Credit: V.GANESAN


“What if he sings Maruvaarthai...?” a Sid Sriram fan wondered aloud. “I just want to see him...,” said another. The young musician, a rage after his back-to-back hits as a playback singer in Tamil, was in the capital city to perform at the 43rd music festival of Sree Neelakanta Sivan Sabha Trust. A small auditorium at Karamana was jam-packed by the time the concert began after an hour’s delay. Prior to that, he was mobbed for selfies and pictures. And, he did sing Maruvaarthai..., a song from Gautham Menon’s upcoming Dhanush-starrer Enai Noki Paayum Thota, sending the crowd into a frenzy.

The singer, songwriter and composer has been on a roll ever since he was introduced to playback by A.R. Rahman through Adiye... from Mani Ratnam’s Kadal. Chartbusters such as Ennodu nee... (I), Thalli pogathey... (Achcham Yenbadhu Madamaiyada), Maacho... (Mersal), Visiri... (Enai Noki Paayum Thota)... helped him soar high in the musical firmament. Alongside, he is a regular at Chennai’s classical music circuit, performs with his band and also makes his own music, especially English numbers.

So half-an-hour was just not enough to have a conversation with such a musician. But that’s all he would give before the concert for he needed “voice rest.” No compromises whatsoever, when it comes to Carnatic music, which he calls “his foundation, his heritage.” He emphasises that it is not right to categorise it as something meant only for a certain age group. “It is a dynamic, exciting form of music, that can access all demographics. I have seen it myself when I sit on stage and see young people in the audience,” says the 28-year-old.

Musical identity

He reiterates that Carnatic music gave him his identity. Born in Chennai, he moved to the United States as a newborn. “I don’t know if things would have been the same if I had grown up in India. I come from a musical family and Carnatic music made up so much of my childhood, my upbringing and my musical transition. Growing up in the US, music became a way for me to find my roots and anchor points. My mom, Latha Sriram, is my first guru. Carnatic music was around me all the time,” he says. When he came to Chennai, he learnt from P.S. Narayanaswamy.

The turning point was joining Berklee College of Music, Boston, in 2008. “I realised that I could pursue music as a career. My dad, Ram, encouraged me to go in that direction. He has been like a life-coach, pushing me to take harder decisions. It is kind of a cliche that many Indian parents, especially in the US, want their kids to become doctors or engineers. But my parents encouraged me to turn to music when they found that I had the passion and talent,” he says.

He did graduation in music production and engineering. By that time, Adiye... had released. “I didn’t know how I was going to pay my bills. But God and the Universe work in funny ways. Adiye... happened right when I was about to graduate. The timing was perfect,” he smiles. Every year, Sid spends six months in the US and the rest in India, with Carnatic concerts, recordings and performances with his band taking up most of his time here. He gave his first stage performance as a three-year- old in the US, singing a Thiruppugazh his mother had taught, and his first concert in Chennai was at the age of 10.

Ask about the energy he brings on stage and he replies that it is a natural process. “When I see the audience, I just take off. That’s what I have really lived for and I think that has stayed with me,” he explains.

He admits that there was a phase where he “felt kind of disillusioned”, trying to understand music more. “Carnatic music is interesting, it is such an improvisational form. I was trying to analyse and internalise the manodharma side instead of just memorising and singing,” he says. It was a painful process. But once I went to college, I started asking questions and went deep to explore raga constructs and more abstract aspects of Carnatic music,” he says.

And he gives credit to his family, mentors and many artistes for shaping his musical journey. Known for his profound observations on music, Sid mentions P.S. Narayanaswamy, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, G.N. Balasubramamaniam and Madurai Mani among others as among his inspirations. “When I listened to them, Semmangudi for example, I found an unbridled joy in the music, there was this abandon. I wanted to know how he did it! I would hit these blocks every time, both in terms of vocal capability and in terms of ideas. It is here that the conversations with my mom, dad and my sister, Pallavi, a Bharatanatyam dancer, helped. Then there were several artistes with whom I interacted when they came to the US, including Sanjay Subrahmanyam, T.M. Krishna and Aruna Sairam. I watched them perform, the fun they had... all that formed by approach to Carnatic music,” he says.

Diction has not been a problem even though he can’t read or write Tamil. “Sahitya is very important. Carnatic music has helped me in handling the language and my mother is very strict that I don’t sound like an American boy. I write the songs in English and then get the phonetics right. I have sung in Telugu, where also Carnatic music has helped a lot,” he says.

Experimental mode

When asked about how he surprised the crowd at a classical concert by singing Nila kaigirathu... from Indira and Maruvaarthai, he says, “That was impromptu, all thanks to Karthik anna [ghatam maestro Karthick]. I believe that if experimentation is grounded in knowledge and well-intentioned, magic happens. At the same time, you shouldn’t dilute either form,” he adds.

How does he divide his time between different streams of music? Sid says he practises Carnatic music for two hours daily. “That takes care of everything because my voice will be in perfect form to sing any kind of song. It also helps me intellectually when I am making my own music,” he says.

So what’s his dream? “I am living it. Everything that’s happening now is a dream. Sometimes I think it is all surreal...,” he smiles.


Love for film music happened because of A.R. Rahman. “My mother introduced me to his music. When she drove me around, she would play songs from Roja. Little did I know that I would sing for him one day! I have always had a thing for melody and his music also has this bounce, which is so natural and organic. My grandfather, R. Rajagopalan, a Carnatic musician, had also worked in films, but he never got his due. So it was always there in the bloodline,” he says.

What inspired him to get in touch with Rahman was his win at the Oscars for Slumdog Millionaire. “Till then, I only wanted to meet him. But his award was a big deal for us. It was the first time someone who looked like me got that level of validation. So I sent him an email with two of my original compositions. He replied in a week’s time and things just took off from there,” he beams.

He considers himself lucky to have begun his playback career with a genre he has been specialising in, R&B. “Sir [Rahman] had this vision in Adiye... and it was pathbreaking. Songs such as Ennodu nee... or Yennai maatrum... (Naanum Rowdy Thaan) also had the same flavour. The first number that showcased my classical side was probably Maruvaarthai... I was waiting for a song like that... It feels modern, but it is also grounded in Carnatic music,” he explains.


I want to sing at least a song for Raja sir [Ilaiyaraaja]. I also want to sing a koothu song one day. I don't know how I will sound with my diction (laughs). I love the style and its energy. When people think Sid Sriram, they won't associate me with the style. So I want to break that notion.


I like Abhishek Raghuram's work. H.M. Bhaskar is incredible on the violin. There are many musicians, both young and old, who are pushing the boundaries. In film music, I am good friends with all my contemporaries, Haricharan, Benny Dayal, Shakthisree...


I haven't listened to many Malayalam songs. But I have worked with Gopi Sunder in Telugu and have requested him to give me a song in Malayalam. I like the compositions of M.Jayachandran sir. I am also a fan of Malayalam movies.


Nila kaigirathu..., Uyire..., Piya Haji Ali..., Naan Yen (Rahman's work for Coke Studio), Bob Dylan’s Mr Tambourine Man...

Corrections & Clarifications: This article has been edited for a factual error

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Printable version | May 10, 2021 7:47:19 PM |

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