I happen to have a playlist in my music player which goes by the name ‘ Pep and Beat ‘. Now that playlist is my vodka for the morning, for it gets me high and energized for the rest of my day. One song in it, which always ends up getting looped over and over again is Signore Signore from Kannathil Muthamittal. Like many million people, however, I would have to wait for quite a few years to hear the voice behind Signore, in it’s magical best again. The song in reference being Anbil Avan (Manasa Manasa in Telugu) from Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa (Ye Maya Chesave in Telugu). And the sparkling vocals belonged to Devan Ekambaram. It was only imperative that I do an interview with Devan, and eventually I did. The following is how it went by…
Hello Devan..Hope everything is super..Now, we’ve always heard you and loved you, but what is Devan beyond the acoustics? Where does your story start? And at point does your tryst with Music start?
Well.. having grown up in the US, in predominantly white neighborhoods, being accepted as an Indian was tough all the way till college. During my 7th-10th standard, I started playing guitar and got a lot of guy fans for my playing.(laughs) Now by 11th-12th I started singing and got lot of girl fans as well. Seriously though, finally I felt accepted and it really helped my esteem I would say. But I’ve loved music since my childhood. Even today if you play a song I will relate it to a year and can tell you what was happening at that particular time. For, music is as important as oxygen to me.
Everyone fell in love with your voice, in Ye Maya Chesave (Vinnaithandi Varuvaaya in Tamil) and Signore (Kannathil Muthumittal). But What was in it, that spoke out to you in a way that you chose to do it? Only a few musicians have the opportunity to collaborate with A R Rahman, so how did it change your overview of music ?
I’ve done 4 Telugu films for AR Rahman. The first being Oh Maria from Premikulu Roju, Shakkalakka Baby from Oke Okkadu, Smiyai from Priyaraalu Pilichindhi and last was Manasaa from Ye Maya Chesaave. Working with AR Rahman is every aspiring singer’s dream. I always look forward to collaborating with him again. Best times in my playback career have always been in his studio.
There are at times, an artistic comfort zone, beyond which very few personlities venture into. Have you, Devan, seen such formation of genre or themes around yourself at any point of time in your career?
In all honesty I’m a singer by accident. I mainly wanted to become a music director but thanks to AR Rahman sir I became a singer. I try whatever style the Music Directors would like to try with my voice. I’m a non trained singer so I definitely would never attempt a classical based song, you know.
Good for us actually…But then since you’ve defined what you wouldn’t prefer, Is it important for a person of Art to find his limitations and bound himself probably?
Yes, I’d say, its better to know what suits your vocal tone and range. And more so the Music Directors need to assess a singers capabilities as well when choosing them. But no harm in experimenting styles..you never know what magic might happen as well
That is actually true. When you say magic, my mind wanders into a simple thought- how important would it be for Artists to propagate their works over social media? And to be active and aware of social media in that context?
It sure is. See, Sid, today Facebook and Youtube audiences are flooded with an overload of talent to choose from not only nationally but internationally as well. And with the overall demise of CD sales you no longer have record labels signing independent artists and producing albums for them. So the internet is a major platform to promote yourself and in today’s short term attention span you need to constantly exhibiting your artistry to the world
Be active on it right? Coming back What is that one song or composition that emotionally drained you or took in a huge amount of effort to get back from?
Well till date my most favorite recording session was Dec of 1999 when I sang Smaiyai for ARR. I sang for almost 8 hrs from 7pm onwards. It was amazing since he gave me a free hand at layering multiple harmony tracks. I felt so content after we finished I walked 8kms back home
Seriously 8 Kilometers ? When you want to go for a number or collaboration, what are the first five things that you want to decide upon?
Collaboration is an amazing experience for any musician, Sid. Main thing to decide is whether you gel well with the person you’re collaborating with. I’ve had a long term collaboration with Bengaluru based composer Ricky Kej and was a vocalist and vocal arranger on his Grammy winning album Winds of Samsara
You’ve lent your talents in both Tamil and Telugu? Is there a difference at all in the way the music is composed are made?
Well its a different taste of the audiences. Other than a Rahman soundtrack I’ve rarely seen a dual language film soundtrack do well in both. In my 17 years of singing I still need to do some self promotion in Andhra because though my songs have been hits most people have no idea its me who has sung.
Before we get off the call, Is there a word of advice that you would like to give to budding artists who want to make it big in the present music universe ?
Well in today’s, here today-gone-tomorrow climate its better that artists have a secondary source of steady income because with the onslaught of reality TV and dozens of singers being introduced every year audiences no longer get time to become fans of a particular singer and also the singer has a very small body of work because of the overcrowded scenario. Have fun, Sid. Stay Blessed.
So that was the wonderful and ever humble singer, Devan Ekambaram. Do check out his works and extend your cheers.
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