Minneapolis teen is up there with Madonna and Mariah

Palbasha Siddique, 17, sings in a hit YouTube video seen around the world and is now headed to a competition in Bangladesh.

Seventeen-year-old Palbasha Siddique of Minneapolis owns the ethereal voice heard in a new YouTube-buoyed video clip that, as they say in these Internet-trendy times, has gone viral. It’s called “Dancing” (or: “Where the Hell Is Matt?”), and it’s nothing but footage of one guy randomly dancing in the streets with people all over the world.

When Palbasha Siddique starts her senior year at Minneapolis' Southwest High School, she'll have quite a story to tell about what she did on her summer vacation.

"I was waiting for something like this to happen for a long time," said Siddique, 17, a Bangladesh native who lives in northeast Minneapolis and can now be heard singing around the globe.

Siddique owns the ethereal voice heard in a new YouTube-buoyed video clip that, as they say in these Internet-trendy times, has gone viral. It's called "Dancing" (or: "Where the Hell Is Matt?"), and it's nothing but footage of one guy randomly dancing in the streets with people all over the world.

That's all it takes nowadays. "Dancing" has now been viewed 4 million times on YouTube and is being watched (and praised) by web-surfers from all over the world.

Meanwhile, the song from the video, titled "Praan" (Bengali for "life"), has shot up to the top 10 of Amazon's soundtrack downloads over the past week and is also in the top 100 of all its MP3 downloads.

"It's up over Madonna and Mariah Carey," Siddique said with a giggle.

The international aspect of "Dancing" is as much a sign of the Internet's power as is the immediacy of it. Siddique was only first contacted by the makers of the "Dancing" video a month ago.

She came to their attention thanks to an earlier video clip posted on YouTube of her singing for Minneapolis station KFAI-FM. They flew her and her mom to Los Angeles in mid-June for one day of recording, and within days of their return, the clip was up and running.

"Palbasha was the consummate professional, perfectly in-pitch and absolutely belying her age," said Garry Schyman, the Los Angeles composer who arranged the recording.

Traveling with a camera

A music writer for TV and video games going back to his work for "The A-Team," Schyman is also a friend of Matt Harding, the star and creator behind the "Dancing" clip. Harding, 31, essentially got rich as a video-game creator in Seattle and started traveling the globe -- with a video camera and one not-so-elegant dance style.

"Matt is like one big serendipity magnet, and obviously this has been rather serendipitous for Palbasha," Schyman said.

Siddique's life was already eventful by the time she moved to Minneapolis at age 10.

Her father is a general in the army in Bangladesh, a country torn by civil war and famine in the 1970s. When he transferred to another war-torn post in Sierra Leone, the rest of the family moved for safety reasons to Minneapolis, where her older brother was already studying at the University of Minnesota.

"Education is very big in my family, and that is one of the reasons we stayed here," said Pablasha, who earned a scholarship to MacPhail Center for Music and became active in her schools' choirs and theater programs.

She studied at MacPhail for four years and worked with the Children's Theatre Company one season. She is more focused on academic studies now, though, transferring to Southwest from DeLaSalle High School this year on her way to becoming a Harvard law student, she hopes.

"Even when she was young, she was always poised and calm and hungry for success," said Jeanie Brindley-Barnett, a vocal instructor who taught Siddique for four years.

Brindley-Barnett recalled escorting Siddique to a Twins game at age 11, when she was invited to sing "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch. "The whole family was there, dressed in their beautiful Indian garb inside the Metrodome," she said. "It was a proud day."

Star search for Bengali singer

The music in the "Dancing" video is a far stretch from "God Bless America." In her native tongue, Siddique sings the song based on a poem by Nobel Prize-winning Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore called "Stream of Life." Harding and Schyman were specifically looking for a Bengali singer to interpret the lyrics, which Siddique said translate to lines about "how music keeps us all alive and keeps us awake."

"To be honest, I didn't really see anything amazing about" the video at first, Siddique said. "It seemed kind of silly. But when it came together with the music, it does convey a message that we are all the same. That struck me, and that's what's touching so many people."

Siddique was paid a flat fee of $1,000 to sing for the clip and will not make any royalties from the Amazon sales. Schyman justified it as "good day's pay for a musician."

Said Siddique, "I'm not sad about that, because there is no other way I could have gotten this much exposure."

She has already done a few print and TV interviews. There's murmurs that Oprah might want to include the clip on her show. Either way, Siddique already has a busy summer lined up.

On Thursday, she was in Dallas to sing at a Bengali-American convention. On Friday, she was to fly to Bangladesh and stay for two months. Her father is there, and she goes every summer, but this year will be different: She is competing in an "American Idol"-like TV competition called "Close Up 1."

Siddique was already entered in the Bengali contest before the "Dancing" video broke big, but she believes the exposure could help her make it further in the competition.

"If I last longer than two months, I will have to figure out what I want to do with my studies here," she said. "I think I can make it that far."

Presumably, those of us without Bengali TV can watch her progress on the Internet.

Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658

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