He reiterates that Carnatic music gave him his identity. Born in Chennai, he moved to the United States as a newborn. “I don’t know if things would have been the same if I had grown up in India. I come from a musical family and Carnatic music made up so much of my childhood, my upbringing and my musical transition. Growing up in the US, music became a way for me to find my roots and anchor points. My mom, Latha Sriram, is my first guru. Carnatic music was around me all the time,” he says. When he came to Chennai, he learnt from P.S. Narayanaswamy.
The turning point was joining Berklee College of Music, Boston, in 2008. “I realised that I could pursue music as a career. My dad, Ram, encouraged me to go in that direction. He has been like a life-coach, pushing me to take harder decisions. It is kind of a cliche that many Indian parents, especially in the US, want their kids to become doctors or engineers. But my parents encouraged me to turn to music when they found that I had the passion and talent,” he says.
He did graduation in music production and engineering. By that time, Adiye... had released. “I didn’t know how I was going to pay my bills. But God and the Universe work in funny ways. Adiye... happened right when I was about to graduate. The timing was perfect,” he smiles. Every year, Sid spends six months in the US and the rest in India, with Carnatic concerts, recordings and performances with his band taking up most of his time here. He gave his first stage performance as a three-year- old in the US, singing a Thiruppugazh his mother had taught, and his first concert in Chennai was at the age of 10.
Ask about the energy he brings on stage and he replies that it is a natural process. “When I see the audience, I just take off. That’s what I have really lived for and I think that has stayed with me,” he explains.
He admits that there was a phase where he “felt kind of disillusioned”, trying to understand music more. “Carnatic music is interesting, it is such an improvisational form. I was trying to analyse and internalise the manodharma side instead of just memorising and singing,” he says. It was a painful process. But once I went to college, I started asking questions and went deep to explore raga constructs and more abstract aspects of Carnatic music,” he says.
And he gives credit to his family, mentors and many artistes for shaping his musical journey. Known for his profound observations on music, Sid mentions P.S. Narayanaswamy, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, G.N. Balasubramamaniam and Madurai Mani among others as among his inspirations. “When I listened to them, Semmangudi for example, I found an unbridled joy in the music, there was this abandon. I wanted to know how he did it! I would hit these blocks every time, both in terms of vocal capability and in terms of ideas. It is here that the conversations with my mom, dad and my sister, Pallavi, a Bharatanatyam dancer, helped. Then there were several artistes with whom I interacted when they came to the US, including Sanjay Subrahmanyam, T.M. Krishna and Aruna Sairam. I watched them perform, the fun they had... all that formed by approach to Carnatic music,” he says.
Diction has not been a problem even though he can’t read or write Tamil. “Sahitya is very important. Carnatic music has helped me in handling the language and my mother is very strict that I don’t sound like an American boy. I write the songs in English and then get the phonetics right. I have sung in Telugu, where also Carnatic music has helped a lot,” he says.