Margazhi season: Sid Sriram takes Carnatic to the youth
In his annual Margazhi homecoming, Sid Sriram talks about being a student to his mother, Berklee College of music and experimenting with new genres
With its old world charm and chiming of temple bells, time seems to have stood still amidst the gopurams that dot the Mylapore skyline. It was from here that an 8-year-old made his debut at the Margazhi season in 1998. The wide-eyed boy is now all grown up and even though he’s juggling a lot of commercial projects, he stays true to his classical roots and comes back every year from California to perform at the place where it all started.
Touted to be the find of the last decade, Sid Sriram took the South Indian music circuit by surprise with his heart wrenching melody and the raw emotion and confidence he exuded. With a strong Carnatic background, the singer soon entered the AR Rahman camp and got his first big break in 2013 for the track Adiye from Kadal and went on to win an award for Best Playback singer. From singing the mellifluous and soulful tracks like Thalli Pogathey, Maruvarthai Pesadhey and Macho to delivering power-packed concerts to melting hearts all over, it was evident -- Sid Sriram had arrived.
A carnatic vocalist and teacher, it was Sid's mother Latha Sriram who started teaching him Carnatic music at the tender age of 3. While he didn’t start singing until a few years later, he was always around music and constantly listening to his mother conduct classes at her music school. The nascent stage of his career was dedicated to hours of rigorous Carnatic music practice, his tastes later evolved as he grew up listening to Jazz and R&B. A natural propensity with Carnatic music meant that he was open to experimenting with new music and genres. “Carnatic music is my foundation and fountainhead,” says Sid. “This form is my framework when approaching all other musical experiences. Since I’ve been working with both from a very young age, I am able to weave in and out of both quite seamlessly, without any ambiguity in my artistic or stylistic intentions. I am practicing and refining my craft when it comes to both forms at all times. Also, I’ve realised that the creative and spiritual source for all my creative endeavours are the same.” Studying at Berklee College of Music widened Sid’s perimeter for new music genres and he began to dabble with more soundscapes and genres. “I started working on my first single at Berklee itself and soon released a track named Talk to me in 2010,” says Sid.
As a kid, the singer used to fly back and forth from California to Chennai during the Margazhi season so that he could participate. “What I'm most looking forward to this Margazhi Season is connecting with the audience,” says Sid. “It's very inspiring to interact with young rasikas who are new to Carnatic music. I want to do my part in spreading this form to as many people as possible.” Ask him if the season has seen any kind of change and he says that the December season has in some ways remained the same when it comes to adherence to the classicism of Carnatic music. “But it has also changed with the times in terms of growing number of venues, listeners and performers. Personally, as my fan base has grown over the years, my Margazhi season concerts have allowed me to make an impactful statement in terms of the power and reach of Carnatic music.”
The 27-year old takes us back to the year 1999 where he performed at one of his first Margazhi seasons in Tambaram. He recalls that the performance happened just before his voice broke. “I was was performing with my sister Pallavi Sriram and as the concert got over, it started pouring outside. It felt like the universe was giving us a pat on the back. That memory has been etched in mind since then," says Sid.
Chennai’s music season is said to be a time when several musicians - young and old make their first appearances. With a slight nip in the air, this makes for a perfect time to watch performances while sitting outdoors. Over the last few years, Sid says he has seen audiences of all ages pack out at his concerts. “It’s heartening to see regular Carnatic music listeners swaying along with younger folks who are only now being introduced to the music form.” He speaks with much ardour about Carnatic music and says that it’s extremely dynamic and an accessible music form. “It's very intricate and nuanced, but within this complex form lies some very emotionally engaging music.”
It is an unfair question to ask a singer but we still nudge him about his inspirations and favourites are. “There are many musicians I love to listen to!” says Sid. “TV Sankaranarayanan, Aruna Sairam and Sanjay Subrahmanyam are some of the few people that inspire me. Aruna Sairam is one of my mentors and I look up to her in the sense that she has done so much for the music scene. And single-handedly elevating Carnatic music and making it available to people.” While music is definitely the prime flavour of the season, we foray a little into the various sabhas in the city where decade-old caterers serve up scrumptious ‘sabha food’ and ask him what his favourites are. “To be quite honest, I've slowed down on the canteen/food aspect of the season,” says Sid. “And I really, exclusively appreciate December in Chennai for what it's really about - the music!”
The indie route
It’s not just his commercial and carnatic music that got his attention, but also his contemporary independent albums. In 2000, a 10-year-old Sid discovered a local Jazz station in California where he heard Wayne Shorter’s Footprints for the first time. With his interest sufficiently piqued, Sid’s musical explorations soon extended to singers like Sam Cooke, Luther Vandross, Stevie Wonder, among others. He started releasing singles and EPs. Some of them being Sagetron from West Coast Nightfall, a studio concept EP titled Daydream, A conscious mind; Live sessions, The Heir, Prayer I and Moments of Weakness. He was working on Insomniac Season with DJ Khalil, a multi-platinum, multiple Grammy winning producer and just wrapped up the project. “We are just trying to figure out when we can release the track which will most probably be around February 2018.”