Sivamani on SP Balasubrahmanyam: Annayya was the first to take me on road shows

Updated: 26 September, 2020 11:20 IST | Sonia Lulla | Mumbai

Paying tribute to his 'godfather and guru', percussionist Sivamani remembers the legend who dominated Indian film music for over 50 years.

SP Balasubrahmanyam
SP Balasubrahmanyam


I have lost my Godfather, my guru, my mentor. My journey to becoming a true artiste began with Balu Sir. He taught me how to be a true musician, and also that one must always be respectful towards fellow artistes and colleagues. He loved Mohammad Rafi ji's songs, and spoke fondly of those he worked with, including Panchamda [RD Burman], Bappi Lahiri, Pyare sir [Pyarelal Sharma], Ilayaraja, Ms Viswanathan, KV Mahadevan, and several others. He was the one who brought me to Mumbai to show me how recordings were conducted, and drums were played. His demise is a huge loss for the entire music industry, and music lovers.

My father, SM Anandan, was a drummer in Balu sir's live Orchestra band. When I was young, I would play with my father during the holidays. After he met with an accident, I had to begin playing professionally at the age of 12. It was during a show when Balu sir was singing Mehbooba Mehbooba from Sholay that My father told me to play the drums, in his place. When I began to do so, Balu sir turned behind to see who was playing. He noticed the fire in me and, after the show, told my father that he would like to take me, instead of my father, on his road shows. That is how my journey in music started.

I called him annayya, which, in Tamil means older brother. He loved me like he did his son or younger brother, and gave me freedom to explore my talent, when we were on stage. My annayya always give me a 15-minute drum solo in his concerts. These 15 minutes were so precious for me because he was putting his trust in me on such big platforms. I am where I am today, because of him. Playing with him, and for him, was my riyaaz. He was always incredibly encouraging as a mentor.

He was known for his professionalism. There is a particular incident that I recall pertaining to a show in Bangalore, where multiple artistes were to perform. He was to arrive too, but, his flight was cancelled. The audience had already arrived, and was getting agitated. So, I began to play my drum solo, and entertained them till annayya arrived and took the stage. It is to be mentioned here that he had reached the venue after a 12-hour hectic drive from Mangalore to Bangalore to arrive in time. He did not wish to disappoint his fans in any condition. I particularly remember how emotional he got after he started the show [with] a Tulu song. He was in tears. This is how professional he was, and how much he loved his fans.There are many memorable moments that I have shared with him, including our divine visits to the Mookambika temple in Mangalore. When we'd travel to the US, I was the one who would keep playing music in the midst of shows [to entertain everyone]. He would enjoy every moment, and was always full of joy.

We were regularly in touch. Before he was admitted to hospital, I would message him and keep abreast with my online shows and new musical ventures. Somewhere, I am at peace [in the knowledge that] I made him proud. I remember how happy and excited he was when he heard that I had received the Padma Shri award. His smile, blessings, and love meant the world to me. Today, I feel so helpless and saddened because I can't attend his funeral due to the pandemic . I pay my deepest condolences to anni, his wife, and the entire family. Balu sir's life, music, and work is magnanimous, and will be cherished by generations to come.

Salman to mid-day


"Balasubrahmanyam sir's contribution to my life will always remain unparalleled. We have truly lost a legend today but his legacy will live on. It will always be an honour to have had the chance to work with a personality like him in films like Saajan, Maine Pyar Kiya, Patthar Ke Phool and many more. May his soul rest in peace. My condolences to his family and well-wishers."

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First Published: 26 September, 2020 07:07 IST

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