Suddenly I Sing

Chandran Sankaran, longtime Bangalorean, Yale MBA and CEO of a software services company, and amateur musician gigs Saturdays at Café Noir .

On a Saturday afternoon in the tony Café Noir, on the piazza of UB City, (an upscale mall in Bangalore, home to luxury brands like Tag Heuer, Burberry and Jimmy Choo), Chandran Sankaran sings KT Tunstall’s anthem from “The Devil Wears Prada”.

A group of twentysomethings sitting at a table nearby stop talking. They recognise the song and give Shankaran their entire attention, until he completes the first chorus. One of the group, mouths the lyrics with him, “Suddenly I see…” First chorus done, they return to their conversation.

A couple of songs later, it’s the turn of an older couple to react similarly to the singer, this time singing Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs Robinson”. They applaud enthusiastically after the song.

One very drunk gentleman provides the singer with unrequited soprano disharmony. During the break, he offers Sankaran singing lessons in western classical vocals. The singer politely turns down the offer.

Last Saturday, December 29, 2012, Chandran Sankaran sang for the 100th time in Café Noir. It was an event. Three days before, the establishment put up a sign that congratulated Sankaran. That evening, the owners, Jean-Michel and Thierry Jasserand brought out a huge cake and served it to all the people who crowded the café on the occasion.

In the time that Sankaran performed in the cafe, he has established a following. The (once casual) attendance at the cafe began to gain purpose and has grown steadily. The singer has acquired a remarkably diverse fan following, one that seems to cut across demographic lines. They know his repertoire and they requests songs. The seats fill up quickly on Saturday afternoons and they talk about the techie. Or is that a Yalie…

Sankaran’s repertoire is eclectic.  While he hails from the generation of S&G, The Beatles and later Red Hot Chilli Peppers he covers bands across the decades since. His children are often the source for the more contemporary music (from bands like The Script and The Killers) in his repertoire. And a  set often also includes Latin standards like “Girl From Ipanema” and “Manha de Carnaval”.

Although his style and sound are distinctive, Sankaran lays minimal improvisation on songs. For instance, a freestanding Carnatic-style alaap precedes his rendition of the Tom Petty hit ‘Free Falling’. Typically, some of the crowd seemed to dig it and some didn’t. But because Sankaran has something of appeal for almost everyone, there’s a part of the crowd that seems to connect with the singer at any song.

While Sankaran believes his audience is “amazing”, he insists that he is a part of the scene but he is not the scene. “Whether I get applause or not is irrelevant–people are there for their conversations and a good time, not to listen to me.  This is live café music, not a theatre performance.”

Singing with an acoustic guitar (his gear includes a Yamaha or a Seagull on a standard-issue guitar-and-vocal amp), his picking and his vocal delivery are understated. Even when Sankaran’s vocal chords stretch fluidly to deliver the upper-register notes made famous by the Pauls–Simon or McCartney–his drama stays subtle.

Sankaran performs at Café Noir on Saturday afternoons between 4:00pm – 6:30 pm when he is not travelling on business.

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