Lil Idli is the experimental pop duo of vocalist Ranjani Prabhakar and producer/percussionist Deepak Gopinath. Combining Prabhakar’s radiant vocals with Gopinath’s exploratory and textural soundscapes, the colorfully expressive vibes of Lil idli gently asks: what do we owe one another on a warming planet?
With a background in Indian classical vocal technique and Western classical violin, Prabhakar put her creative inclinations into songwriting and composition young age as a way to build bridges between her parallel musical training. After meeting Gopinath, a Berklee-trained classical percussionist, composer, and music technologist, the duo was formed to weave together a unified sound reflecting their hybrid cultural roots and artistic identities into an experimental pop-soul space, taking inspiration from artists such as Meshell Ndegeocello, Animal Collective, and Jordan Rakei.
As artists and climate advocates, Lil Idli speaks to environmental storytelling through the language of musical composition and performance. Notably, Lil Idli opened for John Mellencamp and Willie Nelson in their Farm Aid concert to advocate for a climate-based Farm Bill. In the same year, their music video for single “Allergic” earned them the Award of Excellence at the Nature Without Borders Film Festival. Lil Idli has performed in storied venues across the United States, Mexico and India, and appear frequently as keynotes and panelists to address the critical role of arts activism in ecological justice movements.
They are based in Washington, DC.
DEBUT ALBUM: MITOCHONDRIA
Lil Idli’s debut project Mitochondria is a concept album that explores inheritance, shared ecology, and genetic memory, and how these elements persist across shifting boundaries and the erosions of time. Mitochondria honors those who came before, whose stories, both benign and traumatic, travel as inherited lore. Lil Idli uses musical and visual works to reflect that transformative life on a warming planet requires an exploration of roots – what we stand to inherit and what we are responsible to leave behind – at a cellular level.
The full album releases March 2024.
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Through “Mycelium,” Lil Idli delves once again into the profound connection between humans and nature. “Mycelium” invites listeners to embark on an auditory journey of dreamy synths and soulful vocals, and reminiscent of the enigmatic and interconnected world of mushrooms and mycelial networks. Just as these intricate underground networks silently nourish and support the ecosystems around them, Lil Idli creates an energetic, funk soundscape to inform our connection to nature as essential to fostering a sustainable future.
Drawing inspiration from the visionaries such as Merlin Sheldrake and Sophie Strand, whose creative expressions echo the beauty and resilience of our planet’s ecosystems, “Mycelium” seeks to blend art and music to inspire the ethos that humans are not outside of nature; we are nature embodied, and we share this wisdom across generations. The “Mycelium” music video, directed by Lil Idli’s Ranjani Prabhakar and filmed by cinematographer Chancey June, illustrates this vision that the soil and the womb hav something in common — the bridge between past and present, nurturing new life and enduring vitality of ancient ecosystems.
“In this piece, we ask ourselves what we leave behind, as equally important to what we stand to inherit”, says Lil Idli vocalist and visual director Ranjani Prabhakar. “In nature, mycelium is a constant birth of nourishment and the fostering of reciprocal, symbiotic relationships. We had an opportunity to capture this parallel experience to our sister giving birth, and we jumped at it. The ‘Mycelium’ music video marks our directorial debut, and we continue to use various media to narrate our instrinsic link to the natural world.”
Originally written as a breakup ballad, “Allergic” explores heartbreak as an allegory to witnessing our weathering planet.
The song, and its lush video directed by socioecological filmmaker Sanjana Sekhar, shares a lesson in reciprocity – that how we treat each other is mirrored in how we treat and interact with nature. The video features Prabhakar acting in two dichotomous roles — one as flourishing abundance and the other, brutal scarcity — begging questions about human relationships to each other and to nature; at a time when understanding our interconnectedness is crucial to our future on Earth.
“It’s deeply personal to us that a song about love & loss has as much to do with climate change as it does an aching heart,” says Gopinath. “At the core of our global crisis is not simply that the earth is warming, but that spiritual and cultural identities have been devastated in the process. Music pulls from personal grief so often, and our relationships are not limited to romantic ones. In “Allergic”, we’re exploring our relationships to ourselves, to each other, and to the land all at once, and asking the painful question of what happens when these relationships are broken.”
Lil Idli creates a genuine and powerful sense of urgency and introspection in listeners, as Prabhakar sings, “When you left / no birds sang / I was left to do everything when I was hurtin’.” The band’s sophomore track is a highly provocative, heartbreaking blues ballad, and is performed with an exquisite degree of passion and unbreakable spirit. Lil Idli proves their music is a moving production of emotion– an unwavering commitment to evolve our collective consciousness with introspection, collective love, and resolve.
Lil Idli’s debut single Little Girl in 2021 is an ode to one’s younger self, a subtle rallying cry to entrust the magic and manifest of your inner child.
Deemed a spirited debut [… ] caught in metaphors of celebration and self-reflection” by Rolling Stone India, “Little Girl” is the first installation of the band’s conceptual album Mitochondria, a body of work exploring the inherited lore traveling in their mitochondrial DNA, dedicated to the those before them, living inside them, and echoing their own voices.
The new track opens with lush synths and a driving percussion section, with ghost-like harmonies in the outro, as an invitation for the past, present and future selves to unite. Gopinath, the band’s producer, percussionist and co-arranger, draws from his background in jazz, composition and electronic arts at the Berklee College of Music, bringing a thoughtful minimalism and contemplation of musical forms to this genre-bending track.
Lil Idli roped in veteran engineer Rob Murray (credits include odesza, chet porter, diplo) of the Austin, TX studio Poolside Sound for the final mastering. Lil idli collaborated with seasoned filmmaker and regenerative communicator Sanjana Sekhar, who directed the music video remotely during the 2020 pandemic lockdown. Sangeet Khemlani joined the team as the video editor.