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The mashup star

The mashup star
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Meet Vidya Iyer, born in Chennai and raised in the U.S, who says blending songs from both countries defines her identity

Type the words, “Taylor Swift, Blank Space,” into a YouTube search bar, and a hundred different covers of the song will pop up before you; some breathtakingly good, some bad, some average. Vidya’s Iyer cover of the hit single falls into the first category, but also stands out in a way no other does; it’s mashed up with A.R. Rahman’s ‘Mental Manadhil’, from the movie O Kadhal Kanmani.

The singer isn’t new to bridging the path between two different sounds, or for that matter, worlds. Born in Chennai, she moved to the United States as a child, where she continued to learn Indian classical music. Today, her YouTube Channel (@vidyavox) has more than 40,000 subscribers, and features mashups of chart hits like Sam Smith’s ‘Lay Me Down’ with ‘Ennodu Nee Irundhaal’ from the movie I, and Ellie Goulding’s ‘Love Me Like You Do’ with ‘Hosanna’ from Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa. “I’ve been singing since I was five,” she says, “I met Shankar Tucker in college, who’s now my band mate and producer, shot a video with him, and I knew I wanted to do this full-time and professionally. For someone studying Psychology and on a pre-med track, deciding to leave that behind scared me.”

Being raised away from Chennai, music became a way for her to connect with her roots, “The mashups are all about my background and where I come from,” she says, “I grew up listening to American pop songs on the radio, but singing bhajans at home. Combining songs from both countries became my happy middle ground and helped me find an identity.”

Describing her sound as fusion, her mashups are formed after carefully calculating and experimenting with different kinds of songs. “The great thing about both Indian and Western pop music is that they’re fast and have a beat,” she explains. I remember I was singing ‘Big Girls Cry’ by the artist Sia and realised that it sounded like ‘Kabhi Jo Baadal Barse’ from the movie Jackpot, and that the two could be combined. We worked on tweaking both the songs, Shankar recorded me singing it, and that’s how my first mashup was born.” The process is almost scientific, “There are a lot of things you have to be aware of,” she explains, “Both songs need to have the same tempo, rhythm and scales. If they don’t match up, that could ruin the song.”

She’s inspired by the works of her favourite artists, Beyonce, A.R. Rahman and Ed Sheeran, but there are times when the harmony doesn’t strike. “I was trying to find a song to fit Nicki Minaj’s and David Guetta’s ‘Hey Mama’, but nothing was working out, no matter how long I tried,” she says. “When you’re frustrated, it’s important just to be able to take that step back, clear your head, figure out how you can approach it from a different angle, and continue to look at the components of the song that inspire you, to bring back your enthusiasm.”

Honesty is what she believes is an integral part of producing her work, “If your intention is pure, an audience will recognise it and connect with you.”

She’s spent the last few years taking her music to different parts of the world, starting with the White House during their Deepavali festivals. “It was an incredible experience to be able to perform there; I even got to meet Joe Biden!” she says, “I’ve gotten to perform in the most beautiful places, like the Nourse Theatre in San Francisco. My favourite part is seeing the medley of different people who show up at my performances; I was in Mauritius for a show with my band, and the audience was French and Indian, some with Tamil backgrounds, all coming together to enjoy a different kind of sound.”Her plans for the future include an original album, where she plans to hone in more clearly on her sound, and also experiment with different artistes for more mashups.

“It might sound corny,” she concludes, “But honestly, it’s worth staying true to your voice. It’ll get you places.”

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Printable version | Jul 17, 2018 2:57:26 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music/meet-vidya-iyer-the-latest-youtube-star/article7565834.ece