Chennai-based musician Srihari Jagannathan’s induction into the world of music took place on his way to a food donation ride with his friends, in 2012. “It so happened that I was singing along with one of the tracks in the car and my composer friend Karthik, who heard me, said, ‘Hey, you sing well. Let’s do something’,” he said.
He spent the next three years performing at corporate shows with friends. By 2015, he was working on his first song with several others when someone on Facebook reached out to him, asking him to play at a charity gig at Ethiraj College.
Till then, it had been just a bunch of people creating music together. But when this happened, Jagannathan realised they needed a name for their band. “We were boys from the city of Chennai, and so we named it the Chennai Street Band, or CSB. It was very impulsive. We needed a name in a day or something,” he said.
It was at this gig that he met Gowtham Healer, now a drummer at CSB. He said, “We jammed well, and I realised I would love to create a band for myself,” he said, adding that he then began looking for like-minded people. Jagannathan met a few more people along the way. The band took some time to come together, but they never stopped creating music.
CSB today consists of six artists skilled in alternative pop, including Jagannathan, the vocalist. It also has Renin Raphael and Akshay Yesodharan on the guitar, Adithya Gopi on the bass, and Sebastian Satish and Healer on the keyboard and drums, respectively. “This is the settled group now,” said Jagannathan.
Unfurling positivity (2015-pre lockdown)
Over the phone, Jagannathan—a regional pre-sales head at Freshworks, handling operations for the India and Europe market—sounded somewhat nostalgic. “I call myself a consultant by day, songwriter and producer by night,” said the 29-year-old, who took an hour off from work to talk about his music.
On April 21, 2017, the band released its first bilingual single, ‘Udd Chal’, made in collaboration with Bollywood’s leading singing sensation Jonita Gandhi. The Tamil version ‘Veliye Va Kannama’, which released on July 10, 2017, featured the versatile Sharanya Srinivas who crooned the female parts of the song.
Two years later, on November 22, 2019, the band released Payanangal, their first full-length album, making the band’s members the cover boys of the South Indie Spotify playlist. “The word ‘payanangal’ means journeys. It is a very story-based album where each song describes an emotion in the form of a journey, and it is soaked in nostalgia,” Jagannathan said.
Latest cassettes and digitised performance
Like most of us, Jagannathan too, found himself stuck at home through most of 2020. The lockdown gave him time to work on his solo compositions, he said. On August 14, for instance, he launched a two-track extended play titled ‘Intezaar’.
Challenges to this came thick and fact. He did not have access to high-end studio equipment at home, for starters. “So, I invested in a basic studio, basically a home starter kit,” he said.
He also worked closely with friends, who had the same home studio set up at their places. “We just took a bold decision to go with it,” he said. “It’s a good time to put our music out there, and people also need something that they can comfort themselves with,” he added, describing the music they have created as “very experimental.”
Sachidanand Sankaranarayanan, a sound engineer and mandolin player who worked with him in this project, talks about the experience. “We went through so many iterations and ideas to get to the final sound out of what was entirely a home-recorded production,” said Sankaranarayanan, who recorded and wrote some guitalele, Carnatic and eight-string mandolin parts for one of the tracks. “It was quite exciting to work on something in this vibe at the peak of the lockdown and entirely remotely,” he added.
On October 22, 2020, CSB did a digital concert via the Gaana app, which was impressively attended by over 1,500 people. “I am talking to 1,500 people, but I can’t see them. I have no idea what they are feeling. It was different,” Jagannathan said.
Getting the audio and video right and giving the audience an HD experience was also very challenging. “We worked a lot. The sound and the overall experience the audience got was great,” Jagannathan exclaimed.
Jagannathan released a single ‘Innilai’ on October 30, 2020, which features Big Sam or Samuel Vijayan, a fellow indie artist from Chennai. Innilai is a song about heartbreak, and describes how holding on to memories of lost love can be oddly comforting. “For this song, I think, I needed somebody to collaborate with who is good in these zones. It was good working with him,” Jagannathan remarked, talking about his collaboration with Big Sam.
Next in line
CSB is coming up with their first Hindi single by the first week of December. The song is called ‘Safarnama’. They have another release slated for the end of this year or the beginning of the next. There will be four tracks coming from CSB from now to March or April of 2021. “That’s the roadmap as far as Chennai Street Band is concerned,” Jagannathan said.
There are numerous challenges involved when it comes to Chennai’s music ecosystem. There aren’t enough venues in the city where you can play original music, for starters. Also, in national festivals, regional music often misses the spotlight.
“If you are doing a Hindi song, that’s great. When it comes to Tamil, or when you perform in other regional languages, the scope is limited. You’re not able to reach these music festivals and you are not able to reach these venues out there,” he lamented.
On the plus side, however, Chennai has a very comprehensive indie scene. “The set of musicians and artists that are from Chennai are really good and promising. They make good music,” he said, adding, “More than anything, you should keep trying. If your music has merit in it, then you will reach the audience that you are meant to.”
Supriya Ramesh is a student journalist at Asian College of Journalism, Chennai.
Featured image credit: Srihari Jagannathan/Instagram