Had he just focussed on the violin, he might already have gone down as one of the great solo and accompanying Carnatic violinists of all time, fit to rank with giants like Lalgudi G Jayaraman and TN Krishnan. As it is, he is certainly rated as one of the top accompanists of today, with a sound as sweet as the best the instrument can offer.
The trouble with—or rather the value of—Sriram Parasuram is that his accomplishments in music are wider than most musicians can only dream of, even if they have the breadth of vision to look beyond their own area of specialisation. Both heredity and environment must have played equal parts in the evolution of this multifaceted artist who straddles the musical universe with expertise in several genres—both vocal and violin, Carnatic and Hindustani—and more than passable skill in western classical, jazz, sufi, folk and film music.
With an MBA from IIM-C—following his mechanical engineering degree from Bombay University—and a PhD in world music from the Wesleyan University, Connecticut, USA, Sriram built a superstructure of amazing variety on his upbringing in a typically academically inclined Tamil household in Mumbai also steeped in south Indian classical music.
Many have been the deeply satisfying concerts in which Sriram’s empathetic, bhava-soaked bowing has enhanced the music of lead musicians such as his guru, flautist Tanjavur Viswanathan, contemporary instrumentalist Chitravina Ravikiran or veteran vocalists like RK Srikantan and Nedunuri Krishnamurti. On such occasions, you are transported to another, exalted zone, by a man you are convinced was born to play the violin, and wish he would go deeper still into the realm of Carnatic music with his instrument. But then you listen to a lecture-demonstration by him—along with Hindustani vocalist Suhas Vyas—on south Indian ragas in Hindustani music; a musical tribute to the genius of Subbarama Dikshitar who codified a sizable treasury of Carnatic compositions in his Sangita Sampradaya Pradarsini of 1904; his presentation of Kabir’s poetry with folk singer Prahlad Singh Tippanya; or his popular TV programme Ellame Sangeetam Taan (It’s All Music), partnered by his wife and well known film singer Anuradha Sriram, in which he switches effortlessly in his role of vocalist from Carnatic alapana and compositions to Hindustani music, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan songs, ghazals and Hindi film songs, and you know that it is impossible to tie such a versatile talent down to one form or branch of music.
Like such famous south Indians before him as A Kanan and N Rajam (Hindustani classical), today's stars Hariharan and Shankar Mahadevan (Hindi film and popular music), and a few others, Sriram Parasuram has mastered an idiom outside his own natural legacy. Learning Hindustani vocal music from the late Pt. CR Vyas, he has reached the level of accomplishment of a ‘native’ practitioner. The difference is that Sriram is of concert level proficiency in both systems. Perhaps the only parallel to this feat of equal mastery in Carnatic and Hindustani music is the case of violinist MS Gopalakrishnan of the celebrated Parur school.
Sriram has collaborated with musicians from different cultures. Javanese Gamelan, West African drumming, and Japanese Koto are some examples of exotica he has played or sung along with. Born in a musically gifted family he partnered his brothers Viswanath and Narayan (Three Brothers and a Violin) and composed the music for an award winning Hindi pop album "Savariya". With his wife, he directed the music for the Tamil film Five Star and produced a Tamil pop album Chennai Girl. He has been awarded the President’s gold medal for Carnatic and Hindustani music.
What impresses you most about Sriram and Anuradha, even more than their versatility—she too is proficient in numerous styles of music including classical—is their firm belief that ellame sangeetam taan. Sriram can render a perfect alap and bandish, follow it without an interval with a complex ragam-tanam-pallavi and finish with a romantic film song, all in one afternoon, with not a trace of one form in another. There are no obvious prejudices, no condescension towards any music of the world, be it classical, folk or film music, bhakti or secular, vocal or instrumental.
Extremely comfortable with technology, Sriram is in touch with the latest trends in world music and appreciates the beauty of Indian film music with its absorption of the best from a variety of sources, its use of orchestration to embellish Indian melodies, its ability to draw the bhava of the music most effectively. For one so contemporary in his attitude to music, Sriram is also a traditionalist when it comes to the core values of classical music. His respect for his own gurus and the past masters of Indian classical music borders on the reverential, and this lends a poignant touch to his lecture demonstrations. His assertion that all Indian music is based on ragas—even if manifest as rap or hip-hop in film and pop music—is a reflection of his deep commitment to his priceless inheritance.