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"Mumbai is my muse and madam"

A few days ahead of her new tour, Black Mamba's launch, vocal gymnast and melody maverick Suman Sridhar chats with Smitha Menon about what to expect from her upcoming projects, her creative process and her transient relationship with the city

What do Bombay Velvet, DJ Uri and Jeet Thayil have in common? They've all been collaborators with the super talented Suman Sridhar. Lending her distinct flavour and musical chops to every eclectic project she has been a part of, Sridhar is now gearing up for the launch of her new tour — Black Mamba, which she views as a response to the world around her.

Excerpts from an interview:

Q. It took over two years to put the album together — that must have meant a lot of creative sessions and brainstorming. Tell us about the backroom process.
A. The album material was written in the last couple of years. The Black Mamba Tour is a culmination of my solo jams, presenting the collaboration with my new band, The Oracle. Parts of the album are being recorded with musicians in Los Angeles, while other parts are being recorded in India. It has been an organic process, full of surprises.

Suman Sridhar Pics courtesy/Sam Mohan
Suman Sridhar Pics courtesy/Sam Mohan 

Q. Why is it called The Black Mamba tour?
A. The Black Mamba is one of the most poisonous snakes on the planet. It takes its name from the colour of the inside of its mouth, which is jet black. The image of a black mouth represents speaking up about matters that are hidden, dark and unknown. The Oracle plays music to combat the poison afflicting our society

Q. Was Black Mamba always a clear, conscious vision or did it develop organically?
A. I was nicknamed Black Mamba by a dear friend a few years ago. Since then, the name has stuck, emerging every now and then. When I decided to premiere the new set this August, Black Mamba returned and seemed like an apt title for the tour this season.

Q. You grew up with Hindustani classical music; you studied Western music, experimented with Bollywood, collaborated with Jeet Thayil and have even been a part of other projects like Evening in Gay Maharashtra. What can fans expect?
A. I am integrating several aspects of my music with The Black Mamba Tour. I am returning to my teenage years of listening to hip-hop and soul music with this new set. The audience can expect a merry ride through the jungle of existence.

Q. Your album weaves themes of dehumanisation, gender, apocalypse, fascism and time. Would you call this work a reaction to the nature of the world
around you?
A. I wouldn't call the work a reaction as much as it is a processing of the world within and without. That is what it means to jam with someone or something — there is a give and take of energy, a call and response. The Black Mamba summons you to listen and dance, call and respond. She offers poison for poison, in the form of sound— sound as medicine, sound as respite.

Poster of The Black Mamba Tour
Poster of The Black Mamba Tour 

Q. Did any vocalist/ performer inspire you for this album?
A. Maria Callas, Erykah Badu and my mother have inspired me.

Q. Your performances seem effortless, as you switch between genres and styles. Is there a method to how you slip in and out of characters on stage?
A. Thank you. I would say the method is in keeping as few rules as possible, a loose but firm structure to rely on.

Q. In an interview you said that whenever you step into Mumbai you're overcome with a sense of belonging but also that the city is dehumanising. Does the city still inspire you creatively?
A. A lot of the music that we will play in this tour is inspired by Mumbai and written in the city. I was born and raised here for the first 14 formative years of my life. It is my muse and madam

Q. Tell us about your ongoing multimedia opera project with Tamil folk music for which you won the Google-INK Trailblazer's Grant 2014.
A. Olamitudal is the name of the project — it means 'wail' and is about the folk tradition of mourning in Tamil Nadu.

Q. Are you working on any other experimental sound design and art performances?
A. Natasha Mendonca, Jeet Thayil and I staged a sound intervention piece at the Kochi Biennale in 2014. I have been working alongside Manola Gayatri, choreographer and dancer on a performance art piece.

Q. What do you think of the Indie music scene in India? What are you most excited about and most frightened by it?
A. I am hopeful for the new music coming out of India. I don't necessarily see the separation between "Indie" and "Commercial." I think the disparate worlds are colliding, and I am simultaneously excited and frightened by this.

On August 13, 9.30 pm
At BlueFrog, Mathuradas Mill compound, Lower Parel.
Log on to soundcloud.com/sumansridhar

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