Drumming up beats

Drumming up beats


Drumming up beats

International percussionist Anandam Sivamani feeds on music. At the age of seven, he picked up the drum sticks for the first time. At 12, he was playing in front of a live audience. As he immerses his soul into Heartbeat 2, the second season for his concerts with Ustad Zakir Hussain and Shankar Mahadevan, I grab a few minutes to learn about his musical journey. “Mahaleela, my first solo album in 35 years, is the result of my soul’s yearning for music,” he starts.

He has poured in his experiences, travels and personal life into this work of art. “I recorded the first wail of my daughter Varshika when she was born. I brought in this precious sound into my first composition, Infinity in Mahaleela,” he says. The genesis of his remarkable music and genius is rooted in Chennai.

“My early years were spent performing at concerts in rural Chennai. We used to wait to get a bullock cart free at night, and make it stationary by stashing bricks underneath. That was my stage. I accepted Rs 5 as fees per concert. I used to play through the night on my drums and the next morning, I used to trudge to school, swollen eyed. The brightest point of the day was when I used to play on the desk for my classmates, and later, as part of the school band,” recalls Sivamani.

Recognising his eldest son’s deep passion for music, Sivamani’s father, S M Anandan, an established drummer in the South Indian film industry, involved him in recordings at studios. “It was the turning point of my life,” says Sivamani. “My first studio break came when I played for maestro K V Mahadevan.

Later, I started performing at road shows and was lucky enough to be groomed by S P Balasubramaniam. Of course, international greats like Noel Grant and Billy Cobham inspired my music. But I have been extremely fortunate to be associated with maestros like Ilaiyraaja, A R Rahman, Ustad Zakir Hussain and Louis Banks.”

Sivamani has no formal training in the art of percussion and despite being talented, it took him time to be recognised. “For over 25 years, no one knew me. Then, Ilaiyaraaja, A R Rehman and Zakirbhai started giving me credit for our work together. I played with Zakirbhai at shows in the US, Europe and Singapore. Louis Banks helped me perform in Russia. This helped me to reach out to people with my music,” says Sivamani.

Siva, as he is popularly known, brings rich textures to music. Right from the crucibles of African rhythms to Chinese chants to Vedic verses and Japanese hymns. He has the power of making surfaces speak — conventional cymbals, timbale, batajon, shells, conches, kadais and suitcases. “I have played on pots, pans, bottles and all kinds of instruments but nothing beats the drums,” he says. There are no favourites though, as he keeps picking up instruments on his worldwide sojourns.

Sivamani shares an immeasurable bond with his parents. His immense love for his mother manifested itself in his first album, Amma. Unfortunately, it never saw the light of the day as all his recordings, zipped up in a suitcase, were stolen at a concert. “Unbelievably, at the studio too, all back-ups had been erased,” he recalls. “I was shattered at that point and did not know what to do. Yet, one tune I had created lingered on and I played it for international artist James Asher. That is how we collaborated on the album Drums on Fire,” reveals Siva.

From Taal to Jodha Akbar, Siva has been churning out masterpieces. He credits a part of this success to God. A spiritual individual, Sivamani prays before he picks up the drum sticks on stage. “I also practice a form of sound-based yoga called ‘Naad Yoga’ that transcends me to another plane, suffusing me with energy,” he explains.

Over the years, the flamboyant drummer has perfected the art of showmanship too. Though no two shows of his are ever the same, Siva always enthralls his audience. How does he get into the groove with foreign artists, especially when he has never played with them earlier? “I listen to their music and follow it first, then I add my own masala,” he says, laughter shining in his eyes. “I bring in my own combination of jazz, rap, hip hop, folk music to add that newness to the music piece,” he adds.

What next? “I am working on the DVDs for each of my compositions in Mahaleela while Mahaleela 2 will be out soon,” he says. “What I would also like to do is to be involved in a television show where I can share percussion techniques with young artists, explain how one can develop a regimen for regular practice, and help them develop on speed,” he adds.

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