These offspring of famous musicians are making a name for themselves as they explore different sounds and open up to new genres. By Mrinalini Sundar
IT IS hard to avoid the spotlight when your father is music royalty and in the film industry. Ask singers like Yuvan Shankar Raja, SPB Charan and Vijay Yesudas who created a niche for themselves in the film world, despite the media attention and resultant pressures. The newest generation of singers with famous musicians as dads include a young girl who is barely 10. There are other musicians in the making – think music maestro A R Rahman’s son, Ameen Rahman, who performed at the 10th Chennai International Film Festival and Shivam Mahadevan, who sang for movies like Dhoom 3. Classical pianist, Anil Srinivasan, observes, “There are just a handful of musicians who want to join the music industry like their father and even when they do, they want to make something very different from what their father did.” Independent musician Paul Jacob agrees, saying,“One gets better opportunities when their father is in the industry. But only a few have lived up to expectations, like Swetha Mohan. If one does not have talent it will immediately show.” Here are some of this year’s brightest:
On the one hand you have a ghazal singer rendering Jhoom Le and on the other, an EDM enthusiast spinning the latest Deadmau5 track. Wonder aloud if Padma Shri Hariharan and his son Akshay have ever had musical differences and the latter, 28, says, “He was always very supportive. I like all the genres but EDM is my favourite.” Having composed music for a Marathi movie, Kokanastha, directed by Mahesh Manjrekar, Akshay is busy working on his untitled album that will release this year. “The album will have a mix of electronic music combined with Indian classical music. It is a completely new attempt and will blend fusion, EDM with earthy Indian renditions. It will feature artistes like U Srinivas, my father Hariharan and Ashwin Srinivasan on the flute,” shares Akshay, who is also composing music for the Kerala National Games. Observing that his strength lies in genres like EDM and trance, he continues, “I also like dubstep. But I think ghazals are a dwindling art and all it needs is better packaging.” Besides discussing work and music, the father-son duo has also started a company, Magic Records, that aims at providing a platform for independent artistes. ‘‘We want to promote non-film music on YouTube and get into distribution as well,’’ says the young composer. Their first project will be his album. But Akshay, who married interior designer Amrita Parekh last year, has not forgotten his Carnatic roots. “I learnt music from my grandmother. I like Hindustanti music as much as I like the other genres. Music is in my head. It is not like I cannot sing but I do not wish to exert myself as a singer. I need to work harder on that, whereas composing comes easily for me,” he reasons. Akshay has been influenced by A R Rahman and Michael Jackson. “I like the values of A R Rahman and I liked how technical MJ was. There is a reason why he won 13 Grammy Awards,” adds the composer, who admires his father for his strong raagas and his impeccable Urdu.
Ayesha Elizabeth John
Ayesha Elizabeth John caught the media’s eye when she performed alongside her grandmother Usha Uthup and mother Anjali Kurian at the INK (Intelligence and Knowledge) Talks held in Kochi, November last year. The video of the trio crooning a mash-up of Diamonds by Rihanna and Tum Hi Ho from Aashiqui 2 soon went viral, but this was not John’s first time with Usha Uthup. “I’ve been singing with her since I was born, literally. And whenever she had shows, she’d call me up onto the stage once in a while,” begins the 14-year-old. They went on to perform again at the GiMA (Global Indian Music Academy) Awards in Mumbai in January 2014. “Before being anything else, she is my grandmother and I feel the best when up on stage with her!” she insists, admitting that her life revolves around music. “But I’m also really scared because people expect so much from me and there are so many people my age who sing better than me,” she shares. The flamboyant grandmother disagrees. “There is substance in what she does. She’s really pitch-perfect and is learning to control her voice,” Uthup says, adding that her favourite songs by her granddaughter are David Guetta’s Titanium and Rihanna’s Diamonds. The hard-core Chelsea FC fan says she wants to build her own performance theatre someday so she can channel all her talents into one venture. “So basically ‘work’ becomes doing everything I love, be it writing, music and art,” she enthuses. Right now, it’s all about academics, athletics and, of course, football for this Kochi-based teenager. “But I’m singing more now. I download karaokes and put them on CDs. I practise them and I’m planning to make YouTube covers. I just feel so, so sorry for my neighbours,” John sums up.
Two famous numbers by A R Rahman catapulted Sharanya Srinivas, 23, into the big league. Both Kanaave Kanaave and Kalaarasiga from the movie, Ambikapathy, the Tamil version of Raanjhana, still get a lot of air time, but Sharanya says her first career option was to be an accountant. “I meticulously went and purchased my Chartered Accountancy books and studied for a week. After which I gave up,’’ she begins. While her father, singer Srinivas, is one of the more encouraging judges on the reality show, Airtel Super Singer on Vijay TV, the graduate from Stella Maris College insists he isn’t generous with praise when it comes to her. “When I make an effort and ask him, he will reply with a simple, ‘ya good job’,’’ she chuckles. “She is a good singer but she has just sung one or two songs. She has to keep at it and improve herself,” adds Srinivas, allowing that his daughter has talent. She admits that her father is a stickler for lyrical discipline. “He hates it when I get my pronunciation wrong and insists that I learn the lyrics first,” she explains. Srinivas, who has at least 2,000 songs to his credit, knows the industry. “So many singers come, but it is very difficult for them to make an impact. You need a lot of luck and your focus on music is important. One has to be musically satisfied,” he says. Currently busy doing corporate shows, Sharanya has also sung for director Samy’s movie, Kangaroo, to music composed by her father. “My father just wanted a voice to check how the tune has turned out. He told me I would get no special allowances. But lyricist Vairamuthu heard the song and suggested I sing the complete track,” she recalls, sharing that she is trying to create her own identity. Popular among new music composers like Ved Shankar and R Prasanna, she adds, “We are all good friends and we jam a lot.”
A popular name in the Carnatic music industry and the independent music scene, Raghavendra R is better known as Sean Roldan (he changed his name recently after his first movie, Vaayai Moodi Pesavum). The 26-year-old’s mother, vocalist Padma, his maternal grandfather, Tamil writer Sandilyan, and his father, the veteran mridangam player Srimushnam V Raja Rao, are well known in Carnatic circles. “My parents are traditional musicians and I am happy I have got their music gene in me. It is only because I have my roots in Carnatic music that I could explore other genres,” says Roldan. He will have three movie releases in the next six months – Mundasupatti, Aadama Jeichomada and Sathuranga Vettai. The singer says his new name has been coined from his grandfather’s, Sandilyan. ‘‘Roldan came out of Google. All your life you are stuck with a name and you are rooted to that identity, this sudden change gave me energy and was positive,” says Roldan, who is deeply rooted in Blues and Jazz.
The ease with which Uthara Unnikrishnan, 10, takes on a difficult classical rendition like Azhage Azhage in the movie Saivam is proof that here is a star in the making. Versatile national award winner Unnikrishnan P did not think his daughter would enter the film industry at such a tender age. “G V Prakash wanted a very young voice and Uthara’s matched the character in the movie. We are very happy she got this break but this is just a stepping stone,” says the proud father. Quiet and easygoing Uthara’s first brush with fame was when she sang for Airtel Super Singer. ‘‘She enjoyed that sudden attention and then showed keen interest in music. Now, she says she only wants to be a singer,” says Unnikrishnan. The Lady Andal School student enjoys devotional music. “I’m talkative only with friends. Until I sang for the movie, not many knew me,” says the little girl, admitting that she enjoys recording in music studios and meeting music directors, like A R Rahman. “Carnatic music is the base for everything. If you are strong in Carnatic, you get to adapt other genres very easily,” concludes Unnikrishnan.