Meet Shruti Kumar, the musical genius who helmed the recent Yoko Ono tribute that won the Internet
She's also worked with Hans Zimmer and Alicia Keys
BY Neville Bhandara | September 10th, 2019
Los Angeles-based producer and composer Shruti Kumar grew up in a music-loving home, where she was exposed to the strains of Carnatic and the melodies of Bollywood, alongside the bop of The Beatles, and the politically charged offerings of Harry Belafonte. When she was three years old, her parents took her to see The Nutcracker, and it was here that the piano first caught her eye. “I remember being mesmerised,” she says.
At age four, Kumar began learning piano; at 11, she was admitted to the pre-college programme at New York University’s prestigious Juilliard School. She’s also a Columbia University grad (economics and music), and later went on to earn a master’s in composition and film scoring from NYU. If that isn’t impressive enough, she has also worked with legendary composer Hans Zimmer and artistes including Alicia Keys and No Doubt.
A young Shruti Kumar
Here, Kumar, 32, talks about her early influences, the tunes she’s currently obsessed with, and her recent project, the mammoth BREATHEWATCHLISTENTOUCH: The Work And Music Of Yoko Ono.
ELLE: What got you into music?
Shruti Kumar: The mix of genres I was exposed to as a child fascinated me, as did the narrative power of music. I also discovered the collaborative nature of songwriting at this time, which became an exciting contrast to the solitary hours I spent at the piano. This is what eventually led me to film scoring.
ELLE: What was it like conducting the Yoko Ono tribute?
SK: Monumental! The work that went into it spanned years, and taught me about the life of a true hero. The idea was to share Ono’s message through the identities and cultures of genre–spanning performers as diverse as Sudan Archives, Miya Folick, La Marisoul, Shirley Manson and St. Vincent, among others. The ensemble comprised 15 female-identifying musicians, a 21-person choir and nine dancers, along with the LA Philharmonic Orchestra and an initiative called Girlschool (who jointly produced the show). Leading them on the Walt Disney Concert Hall stage was an honour. Plus, Ono was in attendance too, and celebrating her to her felt important.
ELLE: Where can we next hear your work?
SK: In this soon-to-release animated short film called Passage, by Asavari Kumar. Its protagonist, a young Indian girl, grapples with the concept of identity as an immigrant in Trump’s America. Being a part of this project was a real treat, because Asavari’s experimental aesthetic and my love of genre-mixing worked well together. And because I got to blend Indian and western sensibilities, composing for it was a joy. We were able to bring some great collaborators onboard, too: artist-activist Madame Gandhi for example, who also narrates the film.
Albums on her playlist:
Jardin by Gabriel Garzón-Montano
El Mal Querer by Rosalia
Ughwow by Julia Nunes
Photograph: Anna Azarov