The halo effect proffered by the tunes exemplifies the pounding of hearts, evocates the deepest of fears, voices the majesty of hopes and shares the splendour of vivid dreams. Music envelopes us in such an euphoria of emotions that only a musician is blessed to unravel.
Every achiever has a wonderful story associated with them that can inspire us. Sreekanth Hariharan, the Super Singer fame who has melted hearts through his melodies, speaks to Chennai Insider about his childhood, musical journey, travelling and beyond, read on!
Tell us about yourself. When did you start learning music formally? Were you forced into a class because everyone in the family was a talented musician?
I was a very disinterested kid when it came to music. My mother used to say that I was a big critique even as a child. My parents were a little sad that I showed no interest in music, especially since I had a sister who was super-duper interested in music. I was never pushed into music classes or anything at all except for a one month Piano class during one of my summer vacations. I first picked up a violin when I was in 4th grade which my father brought home from my grandparents’ house and just tried playing it. I still remember sitting on my bed and trying to play it and seeing my parents being a little surprised to see my interest. As I moved to Trivandrum from Chennai along with my family in my 5th grade, I was enrolled for Violin Classes under Prof. Easwara Varma in Trivandrum. That was my first official music class. Much recently when I asked openly to my parents as to why they did not make me learn music at a very young age, they mentioned that they never wanted to push me into something I wasn’t interested in, though they were sincerely hoping I do get interested in music at least at some point. And yes, being in a family of musicians is beautiful. I don’t remember a single day that went without me listening to music in my house. An artistic family is always wonderful I guess, isn’t it? It gives a sense that there’s always something more wonderful about life that just the physical realm. So even though I didn’t learn music formally from a young age, I have definitely been listening so much since then, which sure would have been helping me in many ways. I deeply realized this to be a blessing only during my 10th grade or so when I became extremely interested in music. So I took my own sweet time to figure out my priorities and that helped me stay surefooted in it.
How did your surrounding influence you to strive to be a better person and musician that you have grown up to be?
I should say I was born into a middle-class home where we definitely were not financially abundant during my childhood days. I could see my father keeping aside his passion for arts and working in a bank to run the family. I could see my mother in her own journey in the music world. But both my sister and I were showered with lots of opportunity to be open and frank by both our parents which gave both of us a very steady idea of life right from our childhood. Maybe that’s the reason I’m so used to hearing many people say that I’m pretty mature even during my school days. And I clearly knew how my father and mother carried their love for arts so sincerely and so relentlessly. Those were the most basic lessons I have etched in my mind. Basic values like respect, sincerity, striving for quality and all such aspects were learnt from my family and I still look forward to see that I follow them sincerely every single day. So many such subtle aspects are what I suppose influenced me the most. Being level-headed and acknowledging and understanding greatness was always part of our family discussions. So did the guidance and care I received from all my Gurus. I think all that has helped me. I wish, pray and work to remain as grounded as I can with all awareness.
You have pursued architecture as well and I can’t help but connect the dots as to how interesting it is, that both architecture and music that have been your pursuits are blended beautifully into being able to visualize something artistic. So did you answer “What do you want to be when you’re grown up’’ as ”A playback singer!’’ since childhood or it happened organically?
I had always wanted to be an Automobile Designer since the age of 4 or 5. The only gift I ever wanted was a Car Magazine and maybe a couple of Toy Cars. I had a minimum of over 100 random car designs in MS Paint before I finished my 4th grade. I was that crazy about it. But slowly in my school life, say around 10th grade, I realized I have interest in music and as well had some unpolished talent. I did not want to leave music. But if I had to do a proper course in Automobile Designing, I had to leave India which I did not want to as I wanted to explore my interest in music. After several deep discussions, my father reminded me as to how I had helped him make designs for a house and how deeply I was interested while doing it. Since none of us were sure of how intensely I would be involved in music, the idea of having a stable profession alongside my passion was decided upon. My 5 years of pursuing Architecture was the turning point of my life I should say. It changed my perspective of life. It enhanced my music. It brought light onto what I loved the most – Life & Music. I was juggling music and college like crazy during those five years but I completed it with the most sincere effort I could put in with the support of my friends and faculty. I’m happy I did my bachelors in Architecture. I feel anything you do in life reflects in every other aspect of your as well. My stint in Architecture has immense resonance on my Music.
How supportive or judgmental was the world around you when you stepped into reality shows? Was there any moment of insecurity? How did you overcome that?
I was an immensely shy, secluded and an insecure kid. I had zero confidence in me. I never imagined I could overcome all that and take up music as my profession. If you ask me, I really don’t know how the tables turned. It was all of a sudden. There were judgmental people but nevertheless, most were supportive of it. The first reality show I went to was during my 10th grade and that’s when I even realized I had some interest in singing. I still have a couple of videos of me singing there and I can see how insecure and shy I was – shrugged shoulders and so so nervous. I used to gobble up litres of water before every performance. After that, I again went for a reality show in 2011 which was a life changing experience mainly because that’s where I met my dearest guru, Roopesh sir. He has ever since been my guiding light. I don’t know how exactly I overcame my fears and insecurities but if I can try summing it up, it’s by embracing who I am, by accepting and facing my fears and by trying to be more aware of life’s every single moment.
Looking back, how would you sum up your journey of reality shows? How did you handle the limelight and what is your biggest take-away?
Personally, it has been an enlightening journey which helped me understand who I am, which made me go through many circumstances which otherwise I would have been afraid to. I don’t see it as something that gives me opportunities alone. It is way beyond all that. It is a powerful space. People have expectations, judges can judge you and the audiences judge you and criticize you. You may even be overly praised many a times. You may see exaggerations, moments of underplay. I could know what I truly am and what I truly am not. I learnt how to embrace the opinion of others and take in what is needed and what is not. Moreover, I got to meet and get close to some of the best musicians and isn’t that such a blessing? You get to know what makes them what they are. In Super Singer especially, I feel humbled to get to know the four wonderful judges up close and get their guidance and see how they pursue life & music as well as to be a part of a wonderful crew that has grown more like a family now.
What is the one moment you felt re-assured about your talent to pursue it full-time?
I think it was sometime during the latter years of my college. I was composing a song and I remember I was tirelessly sitting and working over it without an iota of rest, not feeling to take a pause even. I was so lost and immersed in it and the creative phase just felt so soulfully connected to me. I had my own confusion till then but that experience changed my perspective and I became pretty much sure that I have to take my life forward with music being the main axis.
What is your perception of success? Do you think competition is important or that each person needs to compete with one-self alone?
Absolute happiness in whatever I do, being aware of what I do and if it can also spread love & joy, that’s what I would classify as success. Otherwise in reality, there is no success or failure. Success to you can be a failure to me and vice versa isn’t it? For me, Competition is when we feel we just need to get better than someone or something. If we are aiming for the ultimate, then where is competition? I don’t believe in competition. Of course there are moments I feel jealous when I listen to a musician who is super crazy but I always try to convert that jealousy into a curiosity to know why and how that person could achieve it. I always try to improve myself but also give respect to the incompleteness or short-comings in me. That has only eased my ways to improve.
How can the reality of career as a musician be different from the typical expectations?
For me, moments I look at music merely as a career are maybe the moments I feel insecure about it. Most other moments, I just enjoy the activity. It reveals to me a lot about myself. It’s the way I can express myself in an audible way. I spend time and energy understanding my voice, understanding myself, getting to know its character, behavior, its mood and likes/ dislikes. Right now, music is more like a companion I would say. Career is a happening. And those moments of desires, insecurities, the deep need to expand and gain more wisdom is what helps build a career. For each, their own unique way. I think this is the best way I can put.
What is the one song that you can never get tired of performing?
For now – O Vennilla and my own composition titled ‘Kannamma’
What gets you excited about travelling and performing live shows? Any favourite venue?
Travelling is beautiful mainly because I cannot stop wondering how nature and human beings are in such different ways in different parts of the world, creating such unique cultures and traditions, habits, languages, ways of life, food and what not. I love walking and try exploring the streets whenever I can. I like observing things real close, looking at how the streets of a city or town or a jungle speak volumes about the place and people. I like having lonely long walks.
Speaking of venues, I would love to perform at the Esplanade in Singapore, Royal Albert Hall, London, then for sure in some huge Music festival with a humungous number of people. And I would like to have two more dreamy venues – one, a green space with plenty of animals and birds around me with me singing my heart out there for the nature around me. Maybe they won’t even notice, but it’s just for my happiness.
And another, some festival where people in large numbers can sit and listen to the music alone in utter darkness. I have read about a couple of venues like that. I want to be in such a situation where just the music and the energy of both the audience and musicians interact and not anything else. I would love to experience such life to life intimacy through music.
What do you like to do when you are not practicing or performing? What keeps you engaged and grooved?
I read a bit. Then, I love writing notes and thoughts. I sometimes also have my scribbling book. Or I would rather go take a long walk. Sometimes I might watch a movie. Or I would even go for a good drive for I love cars and doing long solo road trips.
According to you, how important is humility when one climbs the ladder higher?
I love the Zen saying ‘Empty your cup’. You can term that as humility maybe. The ladder can be of two types – external ladder like fame, success, money and opportunities – and an inner ladder – wisdom, experience, skill and understanding – though both seem to be interconnected. The changes in the external situations have been triggered merely because something soulful or useful within has touched people around. I can only be grateful about the fact that one passionate little thing I do is being enjoyed and appreciated by so many people. And there is always someone around who has explored and understood a facet of life that I haven’t realized has existed. Life is always humbling. It never ceases to put in front of you things that simply make you sit back and wonder ‘How the heck is this even possible’! So I don’t know how else to look at life. There is so much I don’t know and there will always be so much that I may never know.
Does fame scare you? Excite you? Do you shy sway or embrace it?
I have been scared about it long before. But I have slowly been learning to embrace it. The difficulty is when people don’t address you or look at you the way you think you are. It did take time for me to get over this. But I get so many more people to reflect myself upon and it surely is a great learning experience. I think I’m now just allowing it to happen the way it is.
Tell us about your recent collaborations and releases. What are you looking forward to currently? Musically and otherwise?
My next release is going to be a beautiful melody from the movie Pon Manickavel starring Prabhu Deva and composed by D Imman sir. I have also recorded for some movies in Tamil, Kannada and Telugu and am looking forward to their release. There are a couple of Youtube releases that I’m looking forward to. I have also been trying to spend time writing my own songs which I would love to bring it out sometime soon.
Musically, I am looking forward to learning more, travel around and perform, collaborate, record and work with more musicians and also to work on my original compositions. Otherwise, I want to go for a family vacation, maybe also one long solo trip, buy some interesting music gear and do things that can possibly have a positive social effect. These are my aspirations as of now.
What message do you wish to share with people who are excited to emulate your journey?
The only message would be to not emulate it. Because there is no point in it I believe. I can say only something that has worked for me in my life. And considering my age, you know my experience background isn’t the best. I would say keep learning whatever you are passionate about with patience and perseverance. Keep conversing with it. Listen to yourself. Spend enough time and be intimate with it. And never let your own logic take over your capacity to imagine and be creative.
Where words take a pause, music begins.Where words fail, music speaks.
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