SHRI SRIRAM is an award-winning bassist, composer, producer and arranger whose dynamic quest for new and collaborative ways of making music has taken him all over the world. From Indian classical music to electronica, from trip hop to jazz, from musical theatre to film scores, Shri’s superb musicianship and positive vibes are in constant demand from fellow musicians and producers, presenters and audiences everywhere.
Shri grew up in Mumbai, India, in an exceptionally musical household where everyone played an instrument. At a very early age he was perpetually attracted to the various tablas that were lying around the house and at the age of 4, his parents – who were convinced Shri would become a classical Indian tabla player – sent him to the local music school, where he could study his rapidly developing sense of rhythm.
“I studied the tabla alongside regular school and then I went to college to study chemistry, which might be a surprise to some people! I got to know some really cool fellow students who were also into music but not classical Indian music…they were rock fans and they introduced me to the world of British rock music and, specifically, the great Black Sabbath! When I heard the boomboomboom of Geezer Butler’s bass guitar I had no idea what instrument I was listening to but I knew that whatever it was, I wanted to play it. That was my introduction to the bass guitar.”
In 1993 Shri was invited by the pioneering music curator and festival producer Simon Dove to go to England to perform. Dove had discovered Shri’s music – on cassette of course – in the iconic Mumbai record store, Rhythm House. Dove put together a cracking team of musical performers which featured Shri along with percussionist Talvin Singh, producer and keyboardist Guy Sigsworth, guitarist Skip McDonald, dub producer Adrian Sherwood, and Indian playback and ghazal singer Hariharan. The gigs were legendary. The music was ground breaking.
Shri then worked with Dutch dance diva Ellen Van Schuylenburch on a dance and bass project, ‘Silence is a Rhythm Too’ in 1995 - he virtually blew the audience away with his formidable bass playing style which broke every rule in the book. “They were expecting an Indian chap in traditional dress with a tabla, sitar and some kitsch Indian music but they got me in my jeans and self-made bass making room-shaking atonal textural music on a detuned bass…” Shri’s unique bass playing led to a successful meeting with musician, composer and producer Nitin Sawhney.
Shri and Nitin started working together and on their third gig at the South Bank Centre’s Purcell Room, Shri met Shabs Jobanputra, founder of world music label Outcaste Records who asked Shri if he’d like to make a solo album. The result was UK debut, ‘Drum The Bass’ (1997) a critically acclaimed album which perfectly complemented Outcaste’s remit to bring South Asian music to a wider audience.
In 2015 Shri realised a long held dream of working with a top brass band who would be open to his idea of combining the traditional line-up of brass instruments with bass, sitar, drums and saxophone. The result was the critically acclaimed cd and live project Just A Vibration which was recorded with the mighty Hammonds Saltaire Brass Band under the baton of Morgan Griffiths and scored / arranged by saxophonist Ben Castle.
The entire project was conceived, written, produced and mixed by Shri and led to performances at the EFG London Jazz Festival, Gem Arts Masala Festival at the Sage Gateshead, Shambala Festival, the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, a spot on BBC 6 Music, and more shows around the country. The Guardian commented: “sitar and brass work together remarkably well…this is an entertainingly varied set that would make great film music.”
The following year Shri won the prestigious BASCA British Composer Award 2016 in the Wind Band/Brass Band Section. In blending intricate Indian melodies with the magnificent sound of a full brass band, Shri invented a brand new, boombastic musical vocabulary with Just A Vibration.
Shri borrowed a bass, set about teaching himself to play using the fundamental knowledge and training he’d gained at music school and quickly built up a repertoire of around 25 hard rock songs in the space of a couple of weeks. He also got his first gig which made him enough money to buy his first locally made bass guitar.
He started going to rock concerts in Mumbai and closely studied the style and musicianship of the bass players on stage. He got into the world class rock of bands like Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden, Deep Purple, Rush and many more and, along the way, discovered the jazz fusion giants like Weather Report and Mahavishnu Orchestra, the legendary bassist Jaco Pastorious, the great double bassist Ron Carter and many more.
“At the same time I discovered, what for me became a life-changing album: Solstice which featured Jan Garbarek, Ralph Towner, Jon Christensen and the incredible German double bassist and composer Eberhard Weber. That was when I knew that there were infinite ways to play an instrument and that I would find my own way inspired by all the music I had heard and my Indian classical training.”
He formed a band called Azure Hades with friend and drummer Dennis Coelho who encouraged Shri to start composing. As a result Azure Hades began performing their own music around Mumbai; word started to spread, their live following started to develop. They recorded a studio album…released on cassette.
“It was called ‘Inspiration Satisfaction’,” says Shri, “and in my final year of college we performed at a festival called Mood-I and were given the opportunity by Indian jazz godfather, Niranjan Jhaveri, to perform at India’s biggest Jazz Festival at the time, called Jazz Yatra 1990.”
Shri finished college, left the world of chemistry and became a professional musician. His first international outing, in 1991, was as bassist with Indian band Divya, who were invited to John Coltrane Jazz festival at the UCLA, by the great jazz musician, composer and swamini, Alice Coltrane. Shri’s uniquely personal style of bowing his electric bass attracted positive comments and hugs from John Coltrane’s legendary saxophonist, Pharoah Sanders, and Alice Coltrane bassist Nedra Wheeler. Due to a technical glitch while on-stage, Shri also ended up jamming bass percussion with the festival compere, the great jazz vocalist Al Jarreau, who sang Dave Brubeck’s Take 5 while the problem got sorted.
Then along came Badmarsh & Shri, the baddest electronic/drum&bass/trip-hop duo the UK had ever produced. Their debut album Dancing Drums (1998) contained a unique mix of drum & bass, hip hop, Indian classical music and jazz. Their second album, Signs, delivered dancefloor music like no other and led to their breakout performance at Glastonbury in 2002. Gigs swiftly followed at the Montreux Festival, the London Jazz Festival and at festivals in Europe and the US.
Along the way Shri featured with celebrated concert pianist Joanna MacGregor, saxophonist and composer Andy Sheppard and Britten Sinfonia, as a soloist, to interpret and perform the music of Moondog.
After a performance at Soria Moria festival in Oslo, festival director Alexandra Archetti Stolen of Oslo World Music festival introduced Shri to legendary Norwegian pianist and composer, Bugge Wesseltoft. This led to various collaborative projects and performances between Wesseltoft and Shri between 2001 and 2014 produced by Oslo World and Alexandra, including Ragatroniks and OK World.
Shri became an in-demand producer and arranger; he re-mixed De La Soul’s ‘Me, Myself, and I’; he composed scores for a number of independent Indian feature films including the comedy drama Barah Aana, the action-drama film Striker and the English language Indian film Noblemen and remixed the song ‘Shakalaka Baby’ which was an adaptation of AR Rehman’s song for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s West End stage production of Bombay Dreams. In 2012 Shri wrote and performed the official promotional trailer song for the Indian release of Ang Lee’s Life of Pi.
Shri regularly inspires the next generation of UK-based music-makers with his workshops and programmes of performances that have grown in numbers and reputation over the last few years. His production company Drum The Bass, co-founded with Shirin Sriram, is based in Croydon, Surrey, producing cross-cultural and cross-genre collaborative composition and performance projects involving local youth, aspiring and established composers and musicians in the borough.
Two of the most recent successes include Croydon Composers, and Young Croydon Composers - two groups of musicians and composers who together wrote original music, under Shri’s mentorship, that was performed at Boxpark Croydon - and this year’s ‘Assemble’ which was a collaboration with Dance Umbrella and the choreographer Jose Agudo to bring together young musicians and dancers in a new work that was performed in the foyer of the newly re-opened Fairfield Halls.
Shri has recently been working with Bugge Wesseltoft, on a brand new cd, The Letter, which will be released on Wesseltoft’s own label, Jazzland, in 2020.
- by Judy Lipsey