Yanchan and Sandeep Narayan’s Album ‘Arul’ Wants to Make Carnatic Music More Accessible for the West

Yanchan and Sandeep Narayan’s Album ‘Arul’ Wants to Make Carnatic Music More Accessible for the West

The Tamil-Canadian producer talks about the launch show in Toronto and how the five-track record builds upon his friendship with the Indo-U.S. vocalist

(from left to right) Sandeep Narayan and Yanchan, who have worked together on the album ‘Arul.’ Photo: Gajan Balan

In India to promote his new record Arul, Tamil-Canadian producer Yanchan knows very well that he’s sending this album out to followers who know him from his flips of iconic Tamil film songs as well as Reels with beats that can be remixed.

Ask him what’s worked for him in terms of having an attentive, engaged audience online and Yanchan says he never stopped following what he believed in. “I got to this point in my career because I never stopped pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in my head,” he adds.

While Yanchan has known to play mridangam over rap for fellow Tamil-Canadian artist SVDP fka Shan Vincent de Paul, there’s more to him than “Mrithangam Raps.” Among his latest blending of styles – which he’s been at for a long time – arrives with Arul, the five-track record with India-based American Carnatic vocalist Sandeep Narayan. There’s house, hip-hop and a certain cinematic element that comes from growing up on Indian film soundtrack music on Arul going into Narayan’s sublime Carnatic vocals. Yanchan says over a call that the record was mostly a pandemic project that he built with Narayan, whom he’s known for 15 years. “I was very passionate about the mridangam, so I forced my parents to let me live here [Chennai] with my guru, Neyveli Venkatesh. To commemorate that experience of staying in India for a few months – skipping school – my parents decided to create a DVD of a Carnatic concert,” he says.

That concert had his guru bring in Narayan to sing, where they first met. “Fast forward to the pandemic, he saw everything I was doing, like ‘Mrithangam Raps’ with SVDP. He messaged me one day on Instagram, and he’s like, ‘You know, I really think all the stuff we’re doing is cool – merging Carnatic and hip-hop. I want to try that myself. Maybe we can collaborate.’” That’s when Yanchan imagined “raw Carnatic raagams” going over different genres of music, including house, Afrobeats, hip-hop and R&B.

After sending over beats, he got vocal takes from Narayan and they finished up Arul’s final track “Forgotten” in person once pandemic-related restrictions had eased. In addition to garnering millions of views on social media and notching up a few more on streaming platforms. To mark the launch of Arul, the duo hosted a special experience in Toronto, wholly with the goal of making Carnatic music more accessible to Western audiences. 

Beyond just hosting a listening party, Yanchan and his team – along with Narayan – put together an “experience event” with over 200 people in attendance. “We pretty much presented the album in five different ways. So with the five senses, actually – we had a VR station for the visuals, where we transported people from Toronto back to the streets of India. We had a touch station with the instruments used for the actual album, like a shruti box, my piano. We hired a mixologist and asked what would Arul taste like? So we actually hired a mixologist that curated five new drinks based on what each track on the album would taste like,” the artist says. It was capped off by Narayan performing Carnatic compositions as well as songs from Arul.

The goal of raising accessibility to Carnatic music continues beyond Toronto for Yanchan, who just finished raging it out on a big stadium stage with SVDP and Singaporean rapper Yung Raja at 50 Cent’s Final Lap Tour show in Navi Mumbai on November 25th. He says in terms of promotion for Arul, “We really want this album to be in everybody’s hands and we want to be at every festival. That’s the future.” 

In the meantime, while Yanchan is in India, he’s been making more moved and staying a prolific beatsmith. He’s got a Tamil song with actor-singer Shruti Haasan coming up and more. He adds, “That should be coming out next year. A lot more collabs coming out next year, hopefully.” 

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