Even as I begin to write this, “Tedhi Zindagi,” the first original song of indie artists Sruthi Dhulipala and Shruti Iyer (or S&S as they call their group), is crossing 100k viewers on YouTube.
In person, they are as ebullient as they are in their video, with their enthusiastic laughs, their spirited discussion about their journey, and their love for music. Their energy is infectious.
With roots in Hyderabad and Mumbai, and working as a public relations specialist and as a research associate in neuroscience, respectively, Dhulipala and Iyer’s strong friendship goes back to their 2019 fellowship at IndianRaga, the largest Indian arts platform in the world.
“Sruthi and I have been musically inseparable since our IndianRaga days. These past two years of collaborating, we have only met twice but it feels like we’ve always known each other. Our ideas just keep resonating off each other,” says Iyer.
“Last year, for Valentine’s we did a cover of “Senorita” together with IndianRaga which we had semi composed. That’s where Shruti Iyer’s and my inclination for writing started. We collaborate with producers, most of whom are India and work primarily remote,” reminisces Dhulipala.
Dhulipala, trained under the Hyderabad Sisters, is a singer and songwriter. Joining the a capella team “Suno” at Boston University, working her way up to being a part of the team that was the runners up in the National A Capella Championship reconnected her with music after moving to the U.S.
“Doing a capella made me realize I was actually good at it and so I continued with it,” she says. “I do Carnatic a capella often; my first original, ‘Captive,’ has a lot of Carnatic and Western music harmonies. ‘Tedhi Zindagi’ is my first independent composition,” says Dhulipala, whose love for writing goes back to poetry-writing at school.
“I write what I imagine,” she says.
Iyer’s musical adventure in the US was a little more unusual.
“I met a group of musicians at the local temple in Omaha, Nebraska, and haven’t looked back since. We’re called ‘Omkara’ and perform at clubs and lounges, practicing every weekend. With the ongoing pandemic, we now meet on Zoom.”
“The love, support and interest from desi or even the non-desi community in Indian music got me thinking of pursuing Indian music beyond a hobby”. One can sense the excitement in her voice as Iyer shares this with us.
Her lyrics tell her story too- “For me to appreciate a song, I must understand the words. The same is reflected in my lyrics.”
Juggling work and passion isn’t easy, but Dhulipala and Iyer do it like pros. .
“Music is my common thread with my job since its all about creativity,” Dhulipala says. “It keeps everything intact for me.”
Inspired by Rahman, Amit Trivedi, Chinmayee Sreeprada and flamenco music, Iyer has found her own secret haven at work.
“Music is a way for emoting myself and expressing my stress and happiness,” she says. “When I feel I need to release my emotions I go to this staircase next to my lab and sing my heart out.”
Dhulipala, who practiced Carnatic music most of her life, has done her share of soul-searching.
“When I entered into the Western music world, a part of me was confused about this newfound knowledge. Slowly, I understood how I could bring a part of my classical background with me and intersperse it with other genres, bringing out the true me,” she says. “My first challenge was discovering music as something beyond a hobby. My ongoing challenge is also finding the genre of music that is my niche. I have a bass voice and I am still exploring my skills.”
“Tedhi Zindagi” is their first production together that is receiving rave reviews, especially those who have left their own nests.
Composed by Dhulipala, with lyrics by Iyer, the song was created and shot during the pandemic. Logistical issues followed. Iyer had to fly in for the weekend from Omaha since they shot in San Francisco.
“The video is home-shot with a tripod,” says Dhulipala with a chuckle. “Where you see me cutting an onion with a helmet on or my name distorted at the coffee shop – everything is shown just as it happened.”