Innerviews, music without borders

Selvaganesh
Accentuating honesty
by Anil Prasad
Copyright © 2017 Anil Prasad. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution, No Derivatives license.

Selvaganesh V. Selvaganesh Selva Ganesh

Selvaganesh Vinayakram is on a mission. His goal is to have his instrument, the kanjira, a South Indian hand-held frame drum, integrated into as many musical and educational contexts as possible. And he’s making excellent progress.

Preferring to go by his first name, Selvaganesh is the son of T.H. “Vikku” Vinayakram, the legendary Indian percussionist best-known for his ghatam work in the pioneering acoustic fusion group Shakti with guitarist John McLaughlin. From 1999 to 2013, Selvaganesh performed in Remember Shakti, a successor to the original group, together with McLaughlin, tabla master Zakir Hussain, vocalist Shankar Mahadevan, and mandolinist U. Srinivas. Selvaganesh has also worked with bassists Jonas Hellborg, Kai Eckhardt and Tony Grey, guitarist Shawn Lane, and saxophonist George Brooks on projects combining rock, jazz, heavy metal, and Indian classical influences.

“Selvaganesh is exciting, knowledgable, progressive, and dynamic,” said Hellborg, who has recorded five albums with him. “He’s a virtuoso who never leaves you hanging. He lifts you up when you need him to and flies when he has the space to. He knows everything there is to know about time and rhythm. My view is he’s the greatest percussion player on the planet. I’m blessed to have played with Selvaganesh as much as I have.”

Selvaganesh created pathways towards collaborating with many Western musicians via his work with Hussain’s Masters of Percussion ensemble—a group of North and South Indian percussionists—and Remember Shakti. Prior to his international career, he worked with major Indian musicians, including vocalists M. Balamuralikrishna and M.S. Subbulakshmi, and violinist/vocalist Lalgudi Jayaraman.

He has released two major recordings to date under his own name, 2005’s Soukha and 2016’s Kanjourney Volume I. Soukha is an all-star recording featuring his father, Hussain, Mahadevan, McLaughlin, Srinivas, and sitarist Niladri Kumar. It highlights Selvaganesh’s many musical approaches, including Indian classical duets, larger Carnatic ensembles, Carnatic-meets-Hindustani hybrids, and jazz-fusion. Kanjourney Volume I is the world’s first solo kanjira album. It’s designed to showcase the versatility and energies the instrument is capable of. Selvaganesh has also served as the leader of three volumes of the Beat It album series, which focuses on Indian fusion.

He recently formed a group known as Arka which explores rock with jazz and Carnatic elements. The band also features drummer Gino Banks, guitarist Santhosh Chandran, vocalist Karthik, flautist Ravichandra Kulur, and bassist Mishko M'ba. It released its debut album And a Half in 2015.

Selvaganesh has worked extensively in the soundtrack world too, having composed scores for a dozen Indian films. He has also contributed to several Mychael Danna soundtracks, including Kama Sutra, Vanity Fair, Life of Pi, and Monsoon Wedding. Selvaganesh even stepped into the director’s chair for 2012’s Bodhai, a Tamil film dealing with various forms of addiction.

One of Selvaganesh’s key focus areas is establishing the Vinayakram School of World Rhythms in multiple countries. The institute is named after his father, who wishes to bring his borderless approach to music to players at every age and experience level. While its emphasis is on Carnatic music, the school’s approach is one of genre cross-pollination. Teachers from across the rock, jazz, pop, and world music realms will be part of the school, which is currently in its kick-off phase. Selvaganesh’s father, as well as his brothers, ghatam virtuoso V. Umashankar, and vocalist V. Umamahesh, are serving as the school’s key faculty.

Innerviews met with Selvaganesh at Bay View Studio in Richmond, California, where he was working on Kanjourney Volume II, together with keyboardist Osam Ezzeldin.

Selvaganesh Vikku Vinayakram Selva Ganesh

Tell me about your desire to establish Vinayakram School of World Rhythms campuses worldwide.

Starting the school is a dream for both me and my dad. My grandfather, T.R. Harihara Sarma, started the Sri Jaya Ganesh Tala Vadya Vidyalaya school in Chennai, India in the mid-‘50s. It was a free school created because he wanted the music to spread into different places, so the traditions wouldn’t die. My father took over the school, but it’s no longer free, because we now need tuition in order to provide a valuable experience. Our motive is the same though: to express and spread this music at a very high level. As my dad says, “If you learn this rhythmic concept and language, it makes it easier to understand any music.” Konnokol really can be a bridge between any genre or culture.

I really want to fulfill his dream of establishing the school in other countries. We’re starting with Berkeley and New York City, Germany, and Japan. Doing this is really the only thing I can give back to my father. He and my uncles are my teachers. Now that I’m a professional musician with a name, I have to think “What did I do for my guru?” When people ask me who I learned from, I can discuss him, and that’s a good thing. But starting a school devoted to his teachings is a much bigger acknowledgement.

Describe your journey as you learned and embraced this music growing up.

I started learning from my grandfather first. Soon after I was born, I would be in his lap as he was teaching. At six months, I was already hearing the rhythms. My family said I was always moving my legs or hands with the rhythms when they were playing.

The first instrument my grandfather gave me was the kanjira. Typically, in South India you have to learn mridangam first to get the rhythmic concept, then you choose whatever instrument you want. But for me, kanjira is what I started with. I followed whatever my grandfather said. My father supported the idea of me becoming a musician, but he said music cannot be forced and told me to choose whatever I wanted to do in life. As a kid, I didn’t really have any idea about that. My father’s career was a real motivator. He was rarely in India when I grew up until the age of 16. I was born at the time he joined Shakti in 1972. I didn’t get a chance to learn from him much. It was my uncle T.H. Subash Chandran who taught me a lot. My uncle was also busy performing with L. Subramaniam.

One thing I thought about as a kid seeing what my dad and uncle did was “Wow, if I am a musician, I get a chance to see the world. I can tour and go all over the place.” It was a childish thing, but it also motivated me. So, that’s how I got very seriously into music.

What sort of practice regimen did you engage in to develop your skills?

At the beginning, it was two hours a day and lesson-based. But when things became serious and it was time to prepare for concerts, that’s when a lot of major practicing started. I would practice six or seven hours a day minimum, sometimes going seven hours straight. My dad said “You have to take it one syllable or sentence at a time when you practice.” He would emphasize three things: control, fluency and concentration. The main thing is concentration. If you don’t concentrate, you can’t make it happen. There are also the techniques of the mind, heart and feelings. A good teacher will tell you how they are all related.

Some people believe the Internet has impeded the development of virtuosos, because people are so distracted by it. Others believe it has democratized access to the music and as a result, it’s easier and faster to develop the core skills. What do you think?

The first part is true, but it depends on the person. I do see a lot of kids getting really serious about this music who want to play it as well as they can. It’s a challenge with so many other things they can do now. When I was learning, I didn’t even know what was happening in different parts of the world. I didn’t know what jazz or African music were. I didn’t even know other countries had music as a child. I thought only India did because I didn’t get a chance to hear anything else until I started leaving the country. But now? It’s all at your fingertips. If I say something like the kanjira was invented in 1952, the student will say “No sir, it was 1948.” [laughs] It’s all on their devices. The kids also know what’s happening in the rest of the world. There are eight-year-old drum virtuosos who are amazing. Others play Mozart concertos. Other kids see that and say “I want to do that too. I want to be on Facebook and YouTube.”

There are a lot of prodigies now. But what does the word prodigy mean? To me, it means someone in a previous life that was a virtuoso. They finish that life and with their new birth, they continue what they were doing. Everything they practiced is still there. Look at U. Srinivas. When he was six, he was already flying on his instrument, playing Carnatic music like an 80-year-old musician. He was already there. How was that possible? By the time he was 16, John McLaughlin saw him play and wanted to perform with him.

That’s not the only way things can happen. The feel and experience has to be gained over time as well. That’s how it was with me. The way I played 20 years ago is totally different to the way I play now because of experience. Every day, I learn and change.

At what point did you decide to pursue becoming a professional musician?

In India, temples have music and want percussionists, but they can’t afford big names, so they ask students to perform. A temple would come to my school and ask for mridangam and kanijra players. I would always go play and they would give me five to 10 rupees each time. As a kid, that meant I didn’t have to ask my mom to give me pocket money. My mom would also say, “You can’t keep 10 rupees, so give me five.” So, I was even providing money back to my home, as well as taking care of my own expenses. It was those moments that made me decide to become a professional musician.

I started working with top South Indian musicians, such as M. Balamuralikrishna, M.S. Subbulakshmi and Lalgudi Jayaraman. They asked me to perform with them because I was a kanjira player. If I had been a mridangam player, it wouldn’t have happened that quickly, because the competition for mridangam was much larger. There are very few top players on kanjira. There was G. Harishankar and V. Nagarajan. They were the giants of kanjira. So, when I came up, I got to play at a lot of concerts. It made up my mind to decide “This is my profession. I’m busy. I have 15 concerts a month and every one of them is a learning experience.”

Zakir Hussain Selvaganesh Selva Ganesh

What was the big break that enabled you to pursue an international career?

My first big opportunity was playing with Zakir Hussain in 1990 in Europe. My father had played with him for a long time. G. Harishankar was working with Zakir bhai, but suddently he couldn’t make it for one tour. So, Zakir bhai was searching for another kanjira player. G. Harishankar told Zakir bhai “Why don’t you use Vikku’s son?” Zakir bhai called my dad and said “I understand your son plays kanjira. Why didn’t you tell me before?” My dad said to Zakir bhai “You didn’t ask me.” [laughs] My dad doesn’t tell people to play music with his sons. He said we have to stand on our own legs as we come up in the music field.

Since then, I’ve been playing with Zakir bhai. It was a breakthrough in my life and helped me reach a different level. When I previously traveled with Indian musicians, I only got a chance to meet other Indians. I didn’t get to meet international musicians in different genres. When I started play with Zakir bhai, everything opened up. I got a chance to hear so much more. He would say “You’re like my family. I will explain the different genres of music. Here’s what rock is. This is who Mickey Hart is. Here’s who is in Planet Drum.” Zakir bhai also introduced me to Jack DeJohnette. Zakir bhai said “Jack is a jazz musician. You have to listen to him and start getting the feel of jazz.” Zakir bhai also gave me albums by Miles Davis. Next, he introduced me to African music and then other genres.

Working with Zakir bhai’s Masters of Percussion group is how many people got to hear me. When I was touring with them, I would also do workshops with people like Terry Bozzio, Luis Conte, Rick Latham, and Omar Hakim. Again, all of this was because of Zakir bhai. I got to meet and play with all of these important musicians and it deepened my experience.

What were your first recordings?

The first two were the Together album with my father and brother V. Umashankar and Mangalam’s Funk Mahal, which was a project with a guitarist named Rikhi Ray. Then I made a duo album with the tabla player Anindo Chatterjee and Impressions, a duo album with my dad in 2001. After that, I did a lot of fusion music which were put out as three albums called Beat It Volumes 1-3. The big project after that was my international debut album under my own name called Soukha in 2005.

Reflect on the making of Soukha.

That album shows the story of my life through music. The first piece is solo kanjira. The second is kanjira accompanied by flute. Then it goes into a duet, which we call a jugalbandi in India, with Zakir bhai. Then there’s a piece composed with Niladri Kumar. From there, it goes into a fusion piece with John McLaughlin. John composed a piece with an upbeat tempo. In between the pieces, you’ll hear sounds from a Chennai fish market and street sounds. The album reflects all of my connections that brought me to that point. It goes from solos to duets and from classical pieces into the world of fusion. I wanted it to be a journey and have it speak something about where I came from and where I arrived.

Describe the key to incorporating kanjira into so many musical contexts.

I really want to make this instrument popular. My dad is the one who made the ghatam big and I want to do the same for kanjira. I want to take the instrument everywhere and have it mingle with different genres. The good thing about the instrument is that it is so adaptable. Mridangam and ghatam both have a scale, but kanjira has two tones, which are “dom” and “ta.” There’s no scale, so it works like a typical drum. So, it goes together easily with any music.

Jonas Hellborg and I are going to release a duo album soon. When you hear just kanjira and acoustic bass together, you’ll hear the full depth of how both instruments come together from these different traditions.

You recently released Kanjourney Volume 1, a solo kanjira album. Tell me about your goals for this recording.

I had wanted to do a solo album like that for a long time. I realized there wasn’t a single album of solo kanjira in existence. A lot of fans also search for me on YouTube and will find live solo performances, but they aren’t in good quality or professionally recorded. So, I decided to make this album. It’s kanjira with tanpura. I played for 38 minutes across different movements, similar to how classical music works. It’s in a four-beat cycle, but has movements from several ragas. I recorded it in New York and mixed it immediately after. I played one run through and that was it.

I had two more hours booked in the studio, so I decided to record part of Kanjourney Volume 2 as well that day. It has different talas, structures and movements. It will also have Osam Ezzeldin on piano, who did his overdubs at a studio in Richmond, California. So, whereas the first album is a totally traditional, South Indian approach, the second album has some jazz elements too. Osam and I are walking down the road on the same path, but each looking at different sides.

Kanjourney Volume 3 will be a duet with me and my son Swaminathan Selvaganesh. The culture of North India has a tradition of jugalbandis or duets. But we don’t in South India. However, my father has a group with four ghatam players performing together. So, I want to do this with my son. He also plays with my father. I want to show that two kanjiras can sound great too.

Remember Shakti Selvaganesh Selva Ganesh John McLaughlin

Describe how you became a member of Remember Shakti.

It’s amazing how that happened. When the original Shakti toured in India during the ‘80s, I was just a kid sitting on stage with my dad. In India, we have this culture in which the children sit next to their parents if they are performing. The kids are disciplies who sit next to the guru. When I sat on stage with Shakti and they played, I wasn’t even listening to the music. A candy company was one of the sponsors, so there were peppermints on stage. I was picking them up and eating them and drinking sodas. [laughs] I was focused on the food and drink. Backstage, I’d go “Wow, biscuits, chocolate, coffee, and tea!” I didn’t understand the value of the music. It was the first time I had stayed in a five-star hotel. I’d go to the pool and dive in. John McLaughlin would also come to our house and I would hang out with him.

When I grew up and got into the field of music and chose it as my profession, I wanted to do something different. I thought in the early days, me and the sons of John, Zakir bhai and L. Shankar could start a group similar to Shakti. That was the extent of the dream when I was younger.

In 1999, I was touring with Zakir bhai in Europe as part of Masters of Percussion. We played in Paris. John came to see the concert. I didn’t know at the time he came to see me play, specifically. After the concert, he came backstage. I was so happy to see John because I’ve known him since I was a kid. He was also happy to see me. Backstage, I saw Zakir bhai say “What John?” And then John said “Yes.” I had no idea what they were talking about.

The next morning, John released an album called Remember Shakti with Hariprasad Chaurasia, Zakir bhai and my dad. They had to do a signing in Paris at a record store the day after that. John wanted to play a song for the crowd. Zakir bhai was also going to be there. John said to me “Selva, what are you doing tomorrow?” I said “I’m with Zakir bhai.” He said “Come to the store and play with us tomorrow.” I thought “What?” And he said “Yes, you’re playing tomorrow.” I thought to myself “Wow, I never expected that.” So, I went and played with them in the record store for 10 minutes. It was a big deal for me and it all happened because of Zakir bhai. It was also a test to see how I played with them.

So, that happened and then I returned to India. I had a concert in Chennai with Zakir bhai soon afterwards. As he’s leaving the concert, he said to me “Selva, what are you doing September through November?” I said, “I’m available. Is this a Masters of Percussion tour?” He said “No, it’s Remember Shakti.” I replied, “What are you saying?” Zakir bhai said “Yes, you’ll be on stage with us.” I couldn’t sleep at all that night. I thought “Is this a dream? Did that really happen?” I never believed in my lifetime I would play with that band. Then September came and they said U. Srinivas wants to play in the band and the new group was formed.

Why did your father transition out of Remember Shakti?

He was busy teaching during those times. He was also traveling too much and that became hard for him. John also wanted musicians to play mridangam, kanjira and ghatam. He wanted a different sound.

What are some of the key lessons you’ve learned from working with McLaughlin and Hussain?

The most important thing is to listen to the other musicians and understand them. The understanding between Zakir bhai and John is amazing. They start and stop together exactly at the same time and it’s not about practicing. It’s improvisation. I asked John how it’s possible and he said “If you listen, you can definitely get there, too. If you’re just playing and not listening, you won’t get there.” When we perform together, it’s not about the notes. It’s about listening and having an open mind.

Another thing about John is that if anyone gives him an album, he will listen to it. He might decide in five or ten seconds if it’s going to be good or not, but he always gives it a chance. I asked him “How can you listen to every album you’re given?” His response was “You never know where you’ll be able to steal an idea from.” [laughs] John is always learning. He’s always looking for new ideas. So now, if someone gives me an album, whether I like the music or not, I will listen to it. As John said, there might be a creative idea I can grab onto and transform into my own thing.

What are the key highlights of your time with Remember Shakti?

I got to perform to a totally different audience. I had never played jazz festivals before. We got to perform at the Montreux Jazz Festival and the Montreal Jazz Festival, which were highlights. Typically, John would change his groups every couple of years, but we played across seven years together and made history. I got a chance to see so many other musicians perform. People started to know about kanjira, my career and where I came from.

How did U. Srinivas’ passing in 2014 affect you?

I still can’t process it to this day. I stopped playing with musicians as a sideman, but I wanted to at least do a couple of concerts a year that were like that. So, every year, I’d play two concerts with U. Srinivas in a traditional South Indian setting. I’ve never worked with any other musician who could play like him and inspire me the way he did. I also learned a lot from him, including how to be gentle and how to behave on stage. U. Srinivas never tried to show off when he was performing. If you told him to do a five-minute solo, he would play exactly five minutes and no more. He was always happy with what he had. He was like a brother. Every day, I still talk with him in my own way. He’s someone I shared everything with, musically, and I miss him so much. We were supposed to do a Remember Shakti tour in 2015 with him and we cancelled it. As John said, “Who is going to carry his suitcase?”

Will Remember Shakti continue?

We cannot say it’s finished. We also cannot say it’s going to happen again. You never know. Someone has to be inspired to continue, especially John. He always felt comfortable playing with U. Srinivas because he also played a plucked instrument. When U. Srinivas played the melody, John would play chords and unison stuff. And when John played the melody, U. Srinivas would handle the other elements. They understood each other so well.

Selvaganesh Jonas Hellborg Selva Ganesh

You’ve done a lot of work with Jonas Hellborg. How did your musical relationship develop?

Jonas first tried to find me to work together in 1997. I was touring with Zakir bhai and Masters of Percussion then. I used to also play as part of Frankfurt Musikmesse during those years, which is similar to NAMM. I would perform for an Indian store and explain the kanjira and mridangam to people for six days straight. During the 1997 Frankfurst Musikmesse, I heard Jonas was playing in another booth with Omar Hakim. I wanted to go see him but his show was happening at the same time as mine. As soon as I finished my set, I ran over to see him but he had left. One of the musicians Jonas played with was there and said “Jonas and Omar were looking for you. Can you play with us tomorrow?” I said “That would be a dream come true. Jonas is my favorite musician.” So, the next day, I told the guy who ran the Indian store about this, but he didn’t want me to do it. He said “I have paid for your work visa. You will only play here.” So, he changed the time of my show to be at the same time as Jonas’ show that day. I said to him “If I play with Jonas, there will be many more people there. They’ll get a chance to hear the kanjira and that will bring more people to your booth.” He couldn’t undertsand it and said no. So, I played my set and then ran off immediately to try and see Jonas. Again, he had left. So, that was it and Frankfurt Musikmesse was over for the year. You also have to remember, this is before the Internet became big. Maybe I had a Hotmail account then, but no-one was accessible the way they are now.

The next year, I was on tour with Zakir bhai and Masters of Percussion in Paris. The concert was sold out, but Jonas figured out a way to get a ticket by paying extra. He couldn’t even get a seat, so he stood for the whole show. After the show, I was backstage and this tall foreigner with a huge beard came up to me and said “Hi Selva, I am Jonas Hellborg.” I had never seen a photo of him. I only knew his name and music. I said “Wow! I tried to come see you twice at Musikmesse.” He replied “I was trying to do the same, but now is the time. Do you want to collaborate with me?” I said “Yes, it’s my dream.” He offered some dates to work together with him and Shawn Lane. We formed a trio and toured Europe.

The first album you made with Hellborg, Good People in Times of Evil from 2000, is very unique, exploring the intersection between rock, jazz and Carnatic music in a way I had not heard before. How do you look back at it?

That was an amazing experience to make. We were touring in Italy and had three days off near Venice. We were staying together in a house and Jonas said “I want to record. We’ve got all the equipment. Let’s do it here.” He first wanted to record a solo album for me, but I said “No, let’s play some grooves we can work on together.” So, I played several pieces and then Jonas took the recordings and worked on them on his own, playing on top of them. Then he sent them to Shawn who played on them. Next, he sent them back to me and said “This is the album.” I said “When did I play on it?” [laughs] I didn’t even know an album could be made like that. It was the first time I did something in that way. I played first, then they composed pieces according to my playing, including creating the heads for the pieces and that was that. So, that was the first album. It inspires me a lot when I hear it. We didn’t know what the album would be and it was made in the spirit of creativity. It’s a beautiful album.

Hellborg’s Art Metal album from 2007 situated your kanjira work within a heavy metal context. What are your thoughts about that recording?

Can you believe this happened? Kanjira playing heavy metal? [laughs] It showed how many different things you can do with kanjira. Jazz and Carnatic music have been proven to work together because they have similarities to do with improvisation. But it was so great to play kanjira with rock and metal. I had to play my instrument in a different way that works within those contexts and it worked out. Art Metal was the inspiration for me to start my own band Arka.

Tell me more about Arka.

In 2015, I started the band, which integrates vocals and different styles of music. Arka is something new for me. Previously, I was involved in a lot of fusion music, which is kind of an Indian style, but not progressive and includes foreign instruments. With Arka, it has rock, jazz and Carnatic elements, but we’re definitely going in a rock direction. We’re not fusing anything.

Selvaganesh Selva Ganesh

You created a new custom percussion kit for Arka, which you’re now using across your career. Describe it for me.

Arka has a drummer, but it needed more percussion. I also wanted to play more than kanjira with the group. My setup had to be different and I worked with Remo to create it. They already designed my kanjira. I already had huge Remo frame drums, so I started putting those in stands. There are cymbals and high hats, with drumsticks built into the stands. I play on top of the sticks with my hand techniques, which really creates a different sound—things a regular drummer cannot do. The kit also has toms, Remo Tablatone frame drums, seven sets of regular cymbals, three splash cymbals, and one China cymbal. Everything is played by hand. I’m not using stick techniques at all.

How did you get into the world of soundtrack work?

Working on movies is fun. Once I started composing fusion albums, I started getting offers. Someone asked me if I could do a score for their movie and I decided to try it out. The first movie wasn’t a big hit, but I kept going. The next film was Vennila Kabadi Kuzhu in 2011, which had two hit songs on it. Immediately, directors and producers started lining up to talk to me. I started spending much more time on soundtracks and then I was mostly gone from performing at concerts and collaborations with other musicians. I performed just a few concerts the next two years with Zakir bhai.

I realized I needed to take it easy with this. I still do one movie a year, but I won’t do more than that. I say I’m not free to most people who ask. People in the movie field say that if you don’t do scores all the time, you’ll lose the opportunities going forward. I said “I don’t care. I want to do what makes me happy. I don’t need my name to be big in Bollywood. I want to be satisfied with the music I create before I leave this world.” You have to be happy and enjoy the music you’re making or it doesn’t mean anything. I didn’t enjoy the composition process for most of the films because there are so many restrictions. There’s always someone saying you can’t do something.

You’ve snuck in some very complex rhythmic elements into some of your soundtrack work.

That’s true. I did do that for a few of the directors who were open to ideas. The title track for the soundtrack Kola Kolaya Mundhirika, has Jonas Hellborg, Mattias Eklundh, Ranjit Barot, and my father performing some complex stuff on it. Directors in India tend to have a mentality focused on worrying about what will be a hit song. Whenever there is a hit song, they ask people like me “Can you write something similar to that?” I am now only willing to work with directors that want to hear my ideas. An example of that is Mychael Danna. I’ve contributed to his soundtracks for Hollywood movies like Kama Sutra, Vanity Fair, Life of Pi, and Monsoon Wedding, which also feature my father. Mychael is an amazing guy to work with because he’s always looking for something different. He might send me a version of a score with kanjira samples in it and then say “I want you to play whatever you want and shape the piece.” So, he’s very flexible and has beautiful taste in Indian music.

You also made your debut as a director with the film Bodhai in 2012. What was it like for you to make that transition?

I wanted to try doing that because I have a serious passion for film. I also directed a DVD for my dad. I would decide what shots and angles to use for it. I chose to direct Bodhai, which is a short film and didn’t require me spending too much time on. It took five days to shoot. Bodhai is a Tamil word that means addiction. The movie explores all kinds of addiction, including being addicted to people, including lovers and family, as well as drugs. It was a great experience to work on, but I realized directing is not easy. There is so much to consider in that position. I can say I did it once. Perhaps in the future I can direct a full-length film that’s not about music.

How does spirituality inform your music?

Everything is spiritual for me. Music is god and my religion is my instrument. I come from a family with a tradition of spirituality. We follow a guru, more than a typical god. We feel we see Lord Shiva and Lord Ganesha through our guru. Kanchipuram near Chennai is where we visit to follow him.

I believe everyone has two minds—a good mind and a bad mind. Everyone is both a good person and a bad person. The question is which side do you concentrate on? You can’t be 100 percent one or the other, but you have a choice on which side to emphasize. I try to be very nice to everyone who comes and speaks to me. Even if someone is trying to cause something negative to happen, I’m still very nice to them. I always listen to what they have to say.

It’s also important to say that spirituality is about being honest with yourself and your profession, which for me, is music. Spirituality is not about making excuses when something goes wrong because of something you did. Spirituality means admitting to your mistakes and being honest with those around you as well. Honesty is the key to everything.