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Bringing Worlds Together - Yanchan Produced takes Tamil music to the NBA and beyond

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

The Tamil Guardian recently sat down with him to talk about his passion for Carnatic music, carving out a space for himself in the music industry, and Tamil resilience. 

“Carnatic music made me feel something” - Beginnings of Yanchan’s Career

His passion for music began at the early age of 6 when he enrolled in Carnatic vocal lessons. It was around this time that he happened to see a mridangam performance in a talent show and instantly fell in love. A double-sided drum that is typically made using a hollowed piece of jackfruit wood, the mridangam is the primary percussion instrument in Carnatic music. Upon hearing the instrument for the first time, 6-year-old Yanchan immediately asked his parents to learn how to play the instrument himself. The next week he would begin learning mridangam with his first mridangam guru, Shri Vasudevan Rajalingam. At the age of 8, Yanchan would perform his Mridangam Arangetram making him the youngest person to do so in Canada at the time. 

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

As he got older his passion for music continued to grow. When he was 13, Yanchan decided to move to Chennai for 3 months. He spoke of this trip as being a pivotal moment in his career, stating “I always wanted to be the highest standard, and I knew Chennai was the hub for 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 just touch me emotionally, it would take me to a different stratosphere.” He continued, “I just loved that feeling of listening to something and having it make me feel something, so I just kept chasing after that feeling.” Like many other kids growing up in the early 2000s, Yanchan still enjoyed R&B, Hip Hop, and Tamil cinema music, but for him, Carnatic music was something he could always return to, “I always knew that I could come back to Carnatic music as my home base.” 

“I feel like I can create something the world hasn’t heard before” - Blending South Asian and Western music

Canadian-Tamil music producer, Yanchan Produced, debuted YANCHAN PRODUCED LIVE in Toronto on March 15th, 2024 at The Don on Danforth, a one-of-a-kind 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 took him his parents would follow. Upon graduating high school, he enrolled in the Business and Economics program at Wilfrid Laurier University. However, his dreams of creating music would cause him to drop out of the program, a decision that his parents worried about. Yanchan explains that his parents had been presented with an idea of what practical and successful careers look like, a music career was not among them. In the interview, Yanchan recounts the conversation he had when he sat his parents down and informed them he wanted to pursue music professionally. He told his parents,

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

Despite their initial hesitation, his parents would take a chance and support him in the pursuit of his dream. 

Yanchan would eventually enroll in the Audio Engineering Program at Trebas College. “There were 50 students that came from all walks of life, only five people graduated," he detailed. "I was one of those five.”

His audio engineering diploma 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. Through this experimentation, he found himself wondering 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.” 

Straddling the boundaries of his identity as a first-generation Tamil, Yanchan is driven by the desire to bring the beauty of South Indian music to the West, “I want to be able to turn on the radio and there is a song I produced with a Tamil lyric in it.” When asked about overcoming the challenges of carving out a space 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 do not have a background in Tamil music, they don’t know 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 something about Tamil culture.”

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

The process of building a bridge between South Asian and Western music is one that Yanchan explains requires a lot of trial and error. He continues to say that this process demanded him to “lean into the fear” of doing something that hadn’t previously been done before. Much of the struggle came from the difficulties of blending contrasting sounds and genres whilst attempting to maintain 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 are consistent eventually you will find a system that works.”

Mridangam Raps, Arul, and Raptors South Asian Heritage Night

In the pursuit of making Carnatic music more accessible, Yanchan would strike up a friendship with another Tamil-Canadian artist, Shan Vincent de Paul, also known as SVDP. The two would collaborate on a series that would quickly gain popularity across the world called “Mridangam Raps”. The series consisted of the two artists sitting across from 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 reimagines both rap and Carnatic music, pushing boundaries and seamlessly blending the two strikingly different genres. 

In 2023, Yanchan released his work with Carnatic vocalist Sandeep Narayan, an EP titled “Arul”. Their paths first crossed when 13-year-old Yanchan was living in Chennai, years later in 2020 Narayan would reach out to Yanchan with the proposal of a collaboration. During the pandemic, the two would experiment together through online sessions and would eventually create 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 into places that people wouldn’t really think of, and I think that is what we really accomplished with Arul.”

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

“It was truly such a surreal experience. I didn’t realize the impact it would have on the community from just me talking about the mridangam in the interview, talking about Scarborough, talking 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 about how being Tamil has shaped his music he explained that he constantly finds inspiration in the resilience of his parents and of the Tamil community. 

“I always tell people that in our blood Tamil people have a willingness to survive. Time and time again you hear stories of the immigrant hustle. 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 eventually things will start happening for you. I think that is what happened to Tamil people, you look at Tamil people all over the world they made something happen out of nothing. I have a studio because my parents worked hard and gave me the opportunity to chase my dream, that’s why there is so much love I put 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 replied, “Looking back a lot has been done, but producing a song for Shruti and Kamal Haasan is definitely up there.” Yanchan is referring to the song " Inimel " released earlier this year. He continues, “I did imagine what it would be like to meet people of this caliber, but to be able to produce a whole song, and to have a friendship with someone like Shruti Haasan has been crazy.” 

The Toronto-based artist says he is constantly working on new things, his latest project being a collab EP with UK-based artist Tha Mystro. The EP is titled “Pudhu Wave” has been in the works for 2 years and is executively produced by Yanchan. The project is set to release this summer. 

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Lead photograph credit: Eliot Kim (@eliotkim_)

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