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Belonging to music

Hema Iyer Ramani, Feb 5 2018, 11:29 IST
Sid Sriram.

Sid Sriram.

'Ennodu nee irundhaal/uyirodu naan iruppaen...' ( 'If you are with me, I will stay alive' ) - When Sid Sriram sang these two lines as he received the Filmfare award, he dedicated the song and the award to his late grandfather, R Rajagopalan, a musician-composer "who never received his due in his lifetime"(as he expressed on stage). That his music lives on through Sid is definitely there for all to see and it seems miraculous that the lyrics also express his deepest sentiments.

There is an innate charm in the young singer who never forgets his mentors who handheld him in his growing-up years. His maternal grandfather showed him that "pure joy and emotion could be communicated through music," and he states that his grandfather and his mother were the first people to show him "the infinite beauty of music."

Latha Sriram, mother and first guru of the young Sid Sriram, taught by the Bay area when they moved to San Francisco, and Sid was all of one. He grew up listening to and absorbing music as his mother taught, and by the time he was three, Latha knew he was hooked on music.

Lessons began in earnest, but there was "an openness in her teaching," says Sid about his mother. She began with the formal teaching, gently introducing him to other voices which would in his later years have a tremendous influence - M S Subbulakshmi, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Madurai Mani and so on. Semmangudi's rendering of 'Navasiddhi Petralum' had little Sid glued to the cassette player!

Away from the shore

Sid recalls his mother bringing him over to India to spend time with his grandparents, and soon he was spending his vacations in India , where he not only spent memorable times with his family but also absorbed a lot of good music. His love for 'Thiruppugazh' too began during his vacations in summer. When he was about nine years of age, his mother felt the need for him to come under the guidance of a guru who would help him explore the various dimensions of the ocean of Carnatic music. Vidwan P S Narayana Swamy (PSN) soon became Sid's guru, and it must have been Providence that the music he so enjoyed of Semmangudi would continue to enthral him, for PSN was one of the finest disciples of Semmangudi.

Back home in the US, Latha continued her teaching by accommodating PSN's methodology so that there would be continuity in the training and it wouldn't seem 'out-of-touch' when he resumed classes in summer. One day , his parents gave him the best gift - an FM set. As he played around moving from one station to another, he listened to what he calls "beautiful music that drew him closer."

It is true that he was introduced to classical music, but his mother had never stopped him from listening to other kinds of music. In fact, he admits his mother would play amongst other music A R Rahman's hits, and it seemed that it was Providence once again that brought Sid in contact with a musician-composer he so admired.

It was on an FM channel that he discovered singers like Stevie Wonder and he realised somewhere along the line this kind of music actually was a part of him, too, just as Carnatic was. He was a boy of Indian origin who lived on American soil, and it was inevitable that the influences of the country he lived in would also pour into his being. As he grew older, his classes also increased and he began visiting India during its famous Margazhi Season, too. His mother instilled in him the breath-technique along with his open throat exercises.

By the fall of 2008, he started attending Berklee and by then, he had already realised that music was to be his profession. Berklee contributed to his musical persona in a huge way - on an academic level, he learnt a "lot about vocal technique and culture," but since he graduated in Music Production and Engineering, he also understood "the technical and creative aspects of making a record." But the best thing about Berklee was "its very environment," says Sid.

Anchoring self

By the time he graduated in 2012, he began to understand his position in the music world as someone entrenched in two worlds - West and East, and he found he was completely at ease in both these worlds and did not feel as 'an outsider' in either. This openness allowed him to welcome the harmony in chords with a good understanding of melody of Indian music and harmony of Western jazz. He understood that any collaboration would require an intrinsic understanding of the form and being open to intellectually resonate and relate to it. By 2011, Sid had a good fan base globally. One of his videos got a million clicks, and it was the Internet once again that provided Sid the opportunity to collaborate with his Oscar-winning idol, A R Rahman (ARR). Sid sent an email to ARR along with some of his original recordings sometime in 2010. In 2011, he was surprised when he was invited to the studios. Finally in early 2012, while he was still finishing college, he did a long-distance recording, all the time being guided over Skype by ARR. When his song 'Adiye' for Mani Ratnam's Kadal finally released, he discovered that ARR had opened the doors for him into the world of film music. One song led to another - 'Ennodu Nee Irundhaal' soon placed him firmly in the world of film music.

Sid has been making waves on the West Coast with his Kanye covers and original tracks like 'Moments of Weakness', 'Insomniac Season', and videos. Today, this 27- year-old is at ease in not only different genres of music, but also in his varied capacity as vocalist, director, composer and songwriter.

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