CHENNAI: He may not be able to pronounce a single Tamil word well, but American YouTube sensation Shankar Tucker is already composing music for a Kollywood film. “It’s going to be very different from the usual commercial stuff that people are used to,” he says, as we take a stroll along the Anna University campus where the clarinet player spoke at TEDxCEG on Saturday afternoon. Dressed formally, quite the opposite of his casual style on The Shruthibox (Shankar’s YouTube channel that shot him to fame), the clarinettist from Massachusetts laughs, “Well, I’ve come prepared to give a lecture,” before adding, “Thankfully, I’m a little less nervous than the last time I did this in Mumbai.”
The 24-year-old, who has been shuttling between Mumbai and Chennai from January to work on the untitled film, reveals the film’s director Vignarajan (also a debutante) was particular that the music for his romantic flick had a more ‘alternative’ feel. “Think of it as ambient progressive rock meets Indian film music,” Shankar says, attempting to explain a very unusual combination. After listening to his blend of O Re Piya (Rahat Fateh Ali Khan) and Rolling in the Deep (Adele) on The Shruthibox, it’s not as disturbing a thought as it normally might have been.
The confluence comes from his rather far-flung roots, admits the man who studied at the famous New England Conservatory in Boston. “I definitely look to influences from western Billboard charts, but Indian classical music will be my focus for now.” The lyricist is Madhan Karky, while the singers who have featured on the songs recorded so far include Rohan Kymal, Aalaap Raju and Mugdha Hasabnis. So is he familiar yet with the route to Rahman’s AM Studio at Kodambakkam where the recording takes place? “I’m getting there,” he smiles, “I usually travel by autorickshaw which I’m used to by now, so that’s good.”
And while he seems to be having a tough time grappling with the heat outside an air conditioned studio, he does admit, “Whenever I come here, I look forward to the masala dosa and coconut chutney at Saravana Bhavan.” That and any tandoori paneer preparation he can get his hands on — “Oh, paneer will be my downfall,” he says with a touch of drama, “No, seriously, I’ve gotten my stomach upset so many times but I just cannot resist.”
So what is next for this composer? “Well I guess what I really want to do is get a group together and take my music to more live audiences,” Shankar responds. Thankfully, for a man who can play the tabla, kanjira, piano, bass and guitar in addition to his clarinet, he’s not looking to be a one-man act. “That and practise my Tamil a little bit more,” he laughs.