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Bringing Worlds Together – Yanchan Produced brings Tamil music to the NBA and beyond

Yanchan Rajmohan, known professionally as Yanchan Produced, is a 29-year-old Tamil-Canadian singer, mridangam player and producer. Yanchan has gained worldwide recognition for his genre-bending style that brings together South Asian and Western music, and recently became the first artist of Eelam descent to perform their music for the National Basketball Association (NBA), at the first-ever Raptors South Asian Heritage Night .

The Tamil Guardian recently spoke to him about his passion for Carnatic music, carving a niche for himself in the music industry, and the resilience of Tamils.

“Carnatic music gave me something” – Beginning of Yanchan’s career

His passion for music started at the age of 6 when he enrolled in Carnatic singing lessons. It was around this time that he happened to see a mridangam performance at a talent show and fell in love instantly. A double-sided drum usually made from a hollowed-out piece of jackfruit wood, the mridangam is the most important percussion instrument in Carnatic music. When 6-year-old Yanchan first heard the instrument, he immediately asked his parents to learn to play the instrument himself. The following week he was to learn mridangam with his first mridangam guru, Shri Vasudevan Rajalingam. At the age of 8, Yanchan performed his Mridangam Arangetram, making him the youngest person in Canada at the time.

His early life was marked by a deep love and curiosity for music, especially Carnatic music. The artist recalled memories of visiting Scarborough-based store “Gogulam” and buying Carnatic music CDs. “I would just start grabbing CDs from different artists, from different eras… concerts from the 1950s to the early 2000s,” he said. “I fell asleep listening to Carnatic music.” It consumed every aspect of his life.

As he grew older, his passion for music continued to grow. When he was 13, Yanchan decided to move to Chennai for three months. Calling this trip a pivotal moment in his career, he said, “I always wanted to be the highest standard, and I knew that Chennai was the hub of Carnatic music.”

When asked what drew him to Carnatic music at such a young age, Yanchan replied, “There were certain scales in Carnatic music that would touch me emotionally, it would take me to another stratosphere.” He continued, “I just loved the feeling of listening to something and having it make me feel something, so I just kept chasing that feeling.” Like many kids growing up in the early 2000s, Yanchan still enjoyed R&B, hip-hop and Tamil film music, but for him, Carnatic music was something he could always return to: “I always knew I could come back to Carnatic music. as my home base.”

“I feel like I can create something the world hasn’t heard before” – A mix of South Asian and Western music

Canadian-Tamil music producer Yanchan Produced debuted YANCHAN PRODUCED LIVE in Toronto on March 15, 2024 at The Don on Danforth, a unique live concert experience. Image credit: Janarth Loganathan (@hektickz)

Yanchan’s passions were always supported by his parents, both of whom fled Sri Lanka as refugees during the genocide. He explained that wherever his mridangam would take him, his parents would follow. After graduating high school, he enrolled in the Business and Economics program at Wilfrid Laurier University. However, his dreams of making music would cause him to drop out of the program, a decision that worried his parents. Yanchan explains that his parents had developed an idea of ​​what a practical and successful career looked like, but a music career was not one of them. In the interview, Yanchan talks about the conversation he had when he sat down with his parents and told them that he wanted to pursue music professionally. He told his parents:

“It’s going to be something that you won’t really understand, it’s about the mridangam and Carnatic music, but I really feel like I can do something that the world hasn’t heard before.”

Despite their initial hesitation, his parents took a chance and supported him in pursuing his dream.

Yanchan would eventually enroll in the Audio Engineering Program at Trebas College. “There were fifty students from all walks of life, only five people graduated,” he says. “I was one of those five.”

His audio engineering degree would give him the basic skills of music production, theory and mixing. Equipped with this new knowledge, he taught himself how to produce by experimenting with new mixes and watching tutorials on YouTube. This experiment made him wonder why he had never heard Carnatic samples in hip-hop. Yanchan explained that he wanted to make Carnatic music more accessible. “Our culture is so rich in music, I just have to find a way to make it cool in the (Western) environment.”

Transcending the boundaries of his identity as a first-generation Tamil, Yanchan is driven by a desire to bring the beauty of South Indian music to the West: “I want to be able to turn on the radio and there’s a song that I produced. it has a Tamil text in it. When asked about overcoming the challenges of finding a place for himself in the music industry, Yanchan explains that it was important that he never lost sight of who he is.

“I never lost who I was. I have been in so many studio rooms with many different artists who have no background in Tamil music, they know nothing about Carnatic music. I make it a point that by the time I leave the studio session, they will know what the mridangam is, they will know about Tamil culture.

It was through this perseverance and a strong sense of self that Yanchan was able to create space for his unique sound. “I can get into more rooms now. When I work with other producers, they want my drums, they want my sonics.” Yanchan also talked about how the music environment is changing. “We live in a time where the top 10 hits on the billboard are not just one genre, but everything is a hybrid,” he continues. “This is the same dream I have: I see a day when a big Tamil artist can collaborate with a non-Tamil artist from North America.”

Yanchan explains that the process of building a bridge between South Asian and Western music requires a lot of trial and error. He continues to say that this process required him to “rely on fear” to do something that had not been done before. Much of the struggle stemmed from the difficulties of combining contrasting sounds and genres while trying to retain the essence of the originals. Through repetition he has trained his ears to do just that. He adds, “I think with anything in life, if you’re consistent, you’ll eventually find a system that works.”

Mridangam Raps, Arul and Raptors South Asian Heritage Night

In his quest to make Carnatic music more accessible, Yanchan would befriend another Tamil-Canadian artist, Shan Vincent de Paul, also known as SVDP. The two would collaborate on a series that would quickly gain popularity around the world called “Mridangam Raps”. The series consisted of the two artists sitting opposite each other, with Yanchan playing the mridangam and SVDP rapping. The grounded rhythm of Yanchan’s mridangam provides an unexpected medium for SVDP’s unapologetic and unfiltered lyricism. Mridangam Raps reinterprets both rap and Carnatic music, pushing boundaries and seamlessly blending the two strikingly different genres.

In 2023, Yanchan released his work with Carnatic singer Sandeep Narayan, an EP titled “Arul”. Their paths first crossed when 13-year-old Yanchan was living in Chennai, years later, in 2020, Narayan contacted Yanchan with the proposal for a collaboration. During the pandemic, the two experimented together through online sessions and eventually created the song “Tradition,” which would later go viral on social media. When asked about the significance of Arul, Yanchan said: “It was the first step of what I really wanted to do: I want to bring carnatic music to places that people wouldn’t really think about, and I think that’s what we really want to do. achieved with Arul.”

On April 2, 2024, Yanchan brought his love of Carnatic music and Tamil culture to the Scotiabank Arena for the first-ever Raptors South Asian Heritage Night. He played the mridangam to an audience of about 20,000 people. Yanchan described the experience as surreal. The event took place on the same day the Raptors played the Lakers, and he remembers thinking, “LeBron James might see me play the mridangam.” For Yanchan, playing mridangam at the Scotiabank Arena has been a lifelong dream of his.

“It was such a surreal experience. I didn’t realize the impact it would have on the community if I just talked about the mridangam in the interview, about Scarborough, about Tamil heritage. It was definitely a crazy moment in my life.”

“You have to fight for what you want and I think Tamil people have had to do that time and time again” – Tamil Resilience and Representation

Yanchan’s Tamilness is a central feature of his art. When asked how being a Tamil has shaped his music, he explained that he continually finds inspiration in the resilience of his parents and the Tamil community.

“I always tell people that Tamil people have in our blood the willingness to survive. Time and time again you hear stories about the immigrant crowds. My parents both fled the war, came to Canada, worked two jobs, took care of me and my sister and found a way to survive.”

Yanchan continues,

“Through my music I want to show other people that if you try hard enough, things will eventually happen for you. I think that’s what happened to Tamil people. Look at Tamil people all over the world, they made something happen out of nowhere. I have a studio because my parents worked hard and gave me the opportunity to pursue my dream. That’s why I put so much love into my music. You have to fight for what you want and I think Tamil people have had to do that time and time again.”

Favorite project and future plans

Image credit: Eliot Kim (@eliotkim_)

When asked what his favorite project has been so far, Yanchan said, “Looking back, a lot has been done, but producing a song for Shruti and Kamal Haasan is definitely at the top.” Yanchan references the song “Inimel” released earlier this year. He continues, “I imagined what it would be like to meet people of this caliber, but to be able to produce an entire song and have a friendship with someone like Shruti Haasan was crazy.”

The Toronto-based artist says he is constantly working on new things. His latest project is a collab EP with British artist Tha Mystro. The EP, titled “Pudhu Wave,” has been in the works for two years and is executive produced by Yanchan. The project will be released this summer.

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Lead photo credit: Eliot Kim (@eliotkim_)

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