Sid Sriram, a sensational playback singer in South India, is driven by passion
Carnatic music, Jazz, R&B…film songs, independent albums; concerts, music sabhas, popular singer Sid Sriram has left almost no stone unturned. He is latest stint is as a music director for the film 'Vaanam Kottatum', written and produced by Mani Ratnam…
He has been learning Carnatic music since he was three years old, and around the same time, Western music began to entice the Indian American kid. After training in Berkeley Music College, it was legendary music director AR Rehman, who gave him his first break in film playback singing, and Sid Sriram became a sensation in south India. So much so that every other Telugu or Tamil film released in recent times has a song by this maverick, which goes on to become a chartbuster. With his soulful voice and the abandonment with which he sings, he made his way into the hearts of music lovers. This he does while he explores Western music, and continues to religiously practice Carnatic music, every day, constantly gaining inspiration from masters, and from his own experiences, and the different forms of music that he pursues. He says, "The most important common thread between all forms of music is its ability to connect with people in a powerful way. I believe that all humans around the world have some strong universal emotional and spiritual elements at their core. Though different forms of music manifest in radically different ways, I think all music has the ability to resonate with people universally at their core." He shares his approach to music, especially Carnatic music, and his musical interaction with the audience during an exclusive interview.
Excerpts from an interview:
Can you tell us the process, your preparation, mentally and physically, especially for a Carnatic concert?
I practice Carnatic music rigorously every day. I do vocal exercises for 45 min in the morning and then practice for around 2 hours later on in the day. This keeps my vocal, intellectual and creative foundation strong and ever-evolving. I listen to and analyze different forms of music every day, I'm always exploring new forms out of curiosity. This keeps my artistic vocabulary fresh. I remind myself daily to keep the emotional connect of music at the forefront of all my endeavours. My goal as a musician, Carnatic or otherwise, is to connect with audiences worldwide.
As a young kid learning music from your mother to becoming a youngster who discovered western music, what has been your journey like?
It all happened very organically. I grew up in Fremont, California. My parents noticed my natural affinity for music when I was 2 years old and my mother started teaching me when I was 3 years old. I was surrounded by Carnatic music, both in Fremont and during my trips to Chennai. My late grandfather, Sri R Rajagopalan was an outstanding Carnatic musician and film composer/arranger. My time spent with him in the early years is what sub-consciously gave me the mindset to explore new forms. When I was around 10 to 11 years old, I discovered Jazz and R&B and started to teach myself how to vocalise in those forms. From that point on, my journey with Carnatic music and Western forms evolved in parallel. I went to Berklee College of Music from 2008 to 2012 and got my degree in Music Production/Audio Engineering. This is where I experimented and figured out how to bring different forms together. I destroyed the idea that I need to silo the different aspects of my artistic identity.
Who have been your inspiration and favourites in film music and Carnatic? What Western form do you most identify with?
My biggest inspirations in Carnatic music are the legends Sri Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and MS Subbulakshmi. The spontaneity, brilliance and emotional connect they had with the music is so inspiring. I also love the greats such as Madurai Mani Iyer, GNB, KVN, ML Vasanthakumari, Balamurali Krishna, and the list goes on. In film music, my hero is and has always been my guru AR Rahman sir. I grew up awestruck by and completely in love with his music. When I got my first break, singing 'Adiye'/ 'Yaadike' for Mani Ratnam sir's film 'Kadal'/'Kadali', it was a dream come true. Getting to work with AR sir since then has been a true blessing. I'm eternally grateful. The Western forms I identify with heavily are Jazz, R&B, Hip Hop, Alt. rock and ambient/electronic music.
What according to you are your strengths as a Carnatic singer and a film playback singer?
I think my strengths are the same for both forms. I love to let my voice soar, I'm insistent on finding my own individuality through music so I am continuously searching for new ideas, I love interacting with co-musicians and creators on stage and in the studio, and I keep the emotional connect of music front and centre with my music.
You are now most sought-after playback singer in South, how has been your experience with Telugu songs and music directors?
It's been a blessing! I've been so inspired by the music directors I work with. And I am truly humbled by the response that I've got for my Telugu songs. I'm constantly learning more about the beautiful Telugu language as it's not my mother tongue. I look forward to digging deeper into its intricacies and internalising the subtleties.
Can you share your plans for the coming months...your concerts, film music and independent albums?
I have a packed couple of months (Dec/Jan) of Carnatic concerts in Chennai and outside of Chennai. I am debuting as a Music Director for a film written and produced by Mani Ratnam sir titled 'Vaanam Kottatum', directed by Dhanasekaran and starring Vikram Prabhu, Aishwarya Rajesh, Radhika, Sarathkumar and Madonna Sebastian. This process has been amazing as I've gotten to learn so much from the genius Mani Ratnam sir. The audio will be releasing soon, and I can't wait for the world to hear the unique album we've created! I'm slowly starting to work on my next independent album as well.