Close this search box.

Sandeep Narayan: Crafting Melodies Beyond Boundaries

Step into the vibrant world of Sandeep Narayan, a Carnatic and fusion maestro who seamlessly blends genres, from classic rock to hip-hop. Raised in a melodious home with a vocalist mother and rooted in rich musical traditions, Sandeep’s journey is a harmonious blend of versatility, passion, and innovation. Join us as Score delves deep into his musical odyssey, revealing the magic behind the melodies.

You have had an early start in music. Can you tell us about your most cherished memories?

I started formal training at an early age. But even before that, I used to attend my mom Shubha Narayan’s classes at her music school (which is still active today). I used to hum geethams and my parents realised that I was grasping a lot of music on my own. By the age of 5, I was participating in Thyagaraja Aaradhanas and other community events. Also, my two elder brothers Nikhil and Nirmal are also into music and my father K.S. Narayan was actively involved in organising concerts. So, I was exposed to a lot of Carnatic Music from an early age.

When was your first stage performance?

During Thyagaraja Day, I was on stage for the first time. I think I must have been around 5 years old and I sang the song Raminchu Vaarevarura

Were you nervous singing on stage at such a young age?

Not really. At such a young age, we don’t feel any fear nor worry about what the audience might think. We tend to be fearless because there is no tension about being judged. 

Your recent EP Arul is amazing and we loved the track named Tradition. Could you take us through the creative process in composing the track?

I collaborated with a Toronto based mridangam artist and producer Yanchan. He has a lot of exposure to Carnatic Music as well as a strong background in Hip-hop and Afro beats, and I had not done anything in those genres. I saw a lot of his work during the pandemic time and I messaged him saying let’s collaborate. He sent me a sample stem and asked me to sing Manavi Aalakincharadate over it just to see whether it would work with Hip-hop and it was a lot of fun. 

The track ended up very groovy and worked out well.

A lot of people started liking songs these days where different genres are blended together. So we realized the potential in this area and worked on this project during the pandemic, finally releasing Arul in November 2023. We were nervous about how people would receive it, but the reception has been fantastic. Many of the tracks have gone viral on social media and it has been overwhelming to see such a response. 

Tell us about your daily practise routine

As it is the margazhi music season now, the routine is different. A lot of my focus is on concert preparation and voice care, so I do my vocal warmups through the day and keep my voice hydrated. I keep thinking about which ragam or pallavi I should sing for upcoming concerts. As my wife Radhe is a classical dancer, we both share the duties at home while also focusing on our own creative work. We also love to just sit back and relax at home when we get a chance, during non-margazhi time that is. 

Can you tell us your thoughts on the evolution of classical music in the global arena?

These days, any genre that goes slightly away from Carnatic music is termed as “fusion.” If I am on stage with anything other than violin and mrindangam, then people call it fusion and get a different curiosity. It’s not that I have learned everything there is to learn in Carnatic music. After all, we can spend a lifetime diving in this ocean of Carnatic music, and barely make a dent. But when branching out from one’s comfort zone, I always feel artists should introspect and recognize their inspiration behind their musical explorations. Personally, I grew up listening to rap and hip-hop, so I was drawn to blending that with Carnatic music. My goal is for Carnatic music to reach more individuals worldwide. Right now, when I go abroad and tell people I’m an Indian vocalist, people ask whether I sing Bollywood music. So I try to explain about the style of the Carnatic genre, and I hope people will get quite interested in Carnatic music, and that it should reach wider audiences.

Speaking of making people more aware of Carnatic music and what is your take on global exposure?

I think it is more on digital platforms now, and of course more people are active online. Reels and short videos reach faster to a wider audience, though the attention span is going down.

The Eps of today are only 2-3 min tracks. Don’t you think so?

True. These days the tracks are maximum 2-3 minutes and that is the trend now. Most producers are not looking at more than three minutes.

Being a Carnatic musician how do you balance the fusion and multiple genres and blend them in style?

When I started doing fusion shows and experimentation like with the Mahashivarathri performances in Coimbatore, my mother used to ask if I might forget my Carnatic music! Even when I take a heavy raaga like Thodi or Bhairavi, I am in a different zone. I stay true to the essence of the krithi and ragam set by the vaageyakaras such as Thyagaraja or Dikshitar.

It is more about the stage I am performing on. If I am performing in a sabha, my mindset is different, and if it is a fusion concert, then my thinking is different. My initial releases such as Gopala Gopala and Nannu Vidachi were purely Carnatic, but the arrangements with guitar and other instruments made it different. In fact, I was quite nervous on how the audience would receive it. But people received it quite well and I still get messages appreciating those tracks.

How do you balance teaching music and your stage performances?

I actually don’t teach much. That’s the only way to balance for me (laughs). Teaching is a huge commitment and I always knew that. My mother still teaches in Southern California and she used to ask me to teach some of her younger students. I found it very tough to teach from the fundamentals or basics as that involves a lot of time and commitment and dedication and that is why I work on guiding intermediate to advanced students now. I just have a few students around the world, and sometimes they just send me whatsapp audio clips and I send them feedback. Otherwise I try to give them weekly class, but due to my concert schedule it can get difficult. With my busy schedules and tours, I feel having a handful of students is better than having 100 students without being able to give them proper commitment of my time.

Vocal health is quite important for a performing artist. How do you keep your voice healthy?

There is something that we call vocal hygiene, where voice care and hydration is very important. Warm water with honey is good for me as I am prone to allergies. I keep sipping water throughout the day and I have a friend who is a voice specialist that guides me whenever I need any help. Vocal exercises are very individual and every singer should follow what works for them. There are no hard and fast rules for voice maintenance, especially during Margazhi. With weather change and cyclones and with concerts throughout, we need to adjust to the circumstances, while taking care of whatever our voice and general health requires.

You do a lot of videos and Instagram reels. How much do you think visual storytelling is important in music? How do you integrate visual aspects in your videos?

Visual presentation is quite crucial and powerful to reach audiences. For me, the best thing I get during my performances and traveling is connecting to new people. Social media lets people know how I create music. Good visuals capture people and make them understand about the mood of a song and meaning of a song. It can also take them behind the scenes, as much as you are willing to share as an artiste. But that part is also important because the connection with people is my ultimate goal.

Three gadgets you cannot live without in daily life?

Obviously, phone is the number one gadget. Headphones for listening to music while I travel. And third is speakers for my thambura to practice music. I have used a variety of speakers over the years. I used Bose for a long time but now am currently using the JBL Flip 6.

Being a singer, which stage and studio mics do you prefer?

I usually am not particular about studio gadgets because each studio is different and I leave it to the sound engineers and producers. On stage I use to use the Sennheiser E-945 but I recently changed to the higher end Sennheiser MD- 435, that captures me better as I move around while singing. This was recently suggested to me by an LA based sound engineer. 

Your favourite studios to record at?

There is a studio in Isha Coimbatore that I find comfortable. In Chennai, I usually record at Off beat or JamDub – they both have good engineers with knowledge in Carnatic music and excellent equipment. 

What was your most challenging situation on stage with respect to the equipment?

Just a few weeks ago, I performed in Hyderabad and the thambura speaker was low on charge.  The moment I started the concert, the speaker started showing red but I was confident that I can manage with the charging cable. But halfway through, the speaker stopped. I plugged in the charger and it was not charging! It was going on and off but luckily there was a manual thambura and I managed by putting a mic on the manual thambura. Because of this, the concert got delayed by a few minutes and immediately after that concert, I ordered a new JBL Flip 6.

What is the nonmusical thing that you enjoy the most?

Food and fitness. But maybe I enjoy food the most (laughs).

The most unique concerts that you wished you watched live?

There was one concert by Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer Mama that has been dubbed the “airport concert” which I have heard hundreds of times, and I wish I was able to have witnessed it live. There is another video of an intimate chamber concert by Bhimsen Joshi-ji where I wish I could have been. In the non-classical genres, I wish I could have gone to a Michael Jackson concert back in the 90s or Simon and Garfunkel’s famous concert in Central Park. The list is endless — I am a big fan of the band Queen as well and wish I could have seen Freddie Mercury live.

Songs that you like to secretly hum but won’t sing at your concerts

I hum stuff like Bhaja Govindam but never sing it in concerts. Enna appan allava is a viral hit that I get requested a lot. I usually don’t sing it in concerts though, as that song has a certain vibe that needs to be performed with a bigger band and certain set up.

Common misconception on Carnatic music you would want to change?

One big misconception is that Carnatic music is only for certain audience. I think it has to be changed and the genre should reach a bigger audience. Yes, it is technical and can be complex, but we have to somehow package it in a way that can reach more ears, and generally change the ecosystem around it. 

Related Posts
Share this


Sign up to our

Get every issue straight to your inbox for Free

Subscribe now