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‘I’ve even tried to play underwater’

Percussionist Sivamani drums up a conversation with Nikhil Taneja.

music Updated: Dec 13, 2008 19:48 IST
Nikhil Taneja
Nikhil Taneja
Hindustan Times

Percussionist Sivamani drums up a conversation with Nikhil Taneja

Why has your debut album released 35 years since you began playing?

As a child, I'd visit recording studios, carry food for my father who was a percussionist. It was all meant to be fun but became serious when SP Balasubramaniam took me under his wings. It’s taken me 35 years to understand the nuances of music from him, Zakir (Hussain) bhai, Louis Banks and even from street musicians. That’s why I call the album a journey.. a Mahaleela.

What have been the high and low points of your career?
Every live concert was a high point. And there are no low points. I live for music and I’ll die for it. I came into the industry with Rs 5 in my pocket. I will always remember that.

The album is my gift to the next generation of musicians. Before he passed away, Abbaji (Ustad Alla Rakha) had played a rhythm for me that I had recorded. I collaborated with Zakir bhai for the album and can you believe this? Unknowingly he played the same rhythm!

You have dedicated each song of your album to different personalities. Which song would you dedicate to yourself?
It would have to be Infinity. When my daughter was born, I recorded her first cry. I have captured the magic of that moment.

What reactions have you got from the music community?
Everyone has been gracious.. but what H Sridhar said means the most to me now. He was the main engineer who mastered the album. He told me that he could hear the 35 years of experience in each of the songs. I released the album on my birthday.. and that’s the day he passed away.

What plans do you have for your label KKVM?
I had approached some companies in U S and India for my albums earlier. They didn’t give me positive energy.. so I launched my own label. I want to release my own work and bring talented kids to the forefront.

How come we don’t know the names of contemporary drummers in India?
Because in India, musicians have been acknowledged in the credits only recently. I played for 25 years for all kinds of movies but no one knows about that. Only Ilaiyaraaja and A R Rahman would give me credit.

It’s terrific that the media has begun to acknowledge musicians. When I’d watch TV as a child, there were programmes till 7. 30 pm on Doordarshan, after which there was white noise. But today, you have all kinds of world music on television.

Which are the best songs that you have drummed to?
The songs for my first movie, Hum Paanch, the opening percussion in Taal’s theme song and all the songs in Lagaan.. I played for the drummer’s character.

Whom would you still like to drum for?
My dream was to work with Frank Zappa.. but he passed away long ago.

Which is your favourite percussion instrument?
I have played on pots, pans, bottles and all kinds of instruments.. but nothing beats the drums.

Which has been your toughest session?
Laughs) I’ve even tried to play underwater.. but after I placed my percussion instruments in water, I realised that it’s not possible!

Will we have to wait for another 35 years for your next album?
(Laughs) No, now that I’ve launched my label, I’ll be out with another Mahaleela very soon.

So who is the greatest percussionist in the world?
Lord Shiva.. we all dance to his beat.