Shankar Mahadevan’s Fusion Work

This totally does not need any prefacing –

Shankar Mahadevan singing, composing – very cool

Shankar Mahadevan singing, composing, improvising with the likes of Zakir Hussain, Shiv Kumar Sharma, Taufiq Qureshi, Sivamani and others – priceless! Read on. Scroll all the way down for just the links.

Remember Shakti

Most Indian folks I have met, that happen to be into Indian fusion, have had the requisite reverence in their eyes when mentioning Shakti, the landmark fusion band from the 70s featuring Zakir Hussain, John McLaughlin, L. Shankar, Vikku Vinayakram. Years later, the inimitable Zakir Hussain decided to do a reboot and organized a concert titled ‘Remember Shakti’ and invited, who else, Pt. Shivkumar Sharma, Shankar Mahadevan, mandolin player U. Shrinivas and Vikku Vinayakram’s son V. Selvaganesh, also a ghatam player. Needless to say, the same reverence can be had for their albums as well, although the tracks are less a fusion of genres than of artists from various genres. Here’s a sample. For other album titles, check out the Wikipedia page – the piece below is from the album Saturday Night in Bombay.

Giriraj Sudha, Saturday Night in Bombay by Remember Shakti.

To catch the concert live, check out this video hosted on Google Videos Youtube. Shankar’s rendition of Giriraj Sudha seems to be more in tune (yes, he occasionally loses a note or two when performing live, but I firmly believe he makes up for it by putting himself out there and experimenting with a variety of languages and genres)

[Edited to replace google video link with Youtube. Yes, it has been that long.]

Silk World Music Group

Now, I had an interesting moment discovering that Shankar played as part of a collection of artists called Silk World Music Group.

I was dining at an upscale-ish Indian restaurant once – the kind that combines 1940s British decor with odd kitschy artifacts like large brass elephants, selectively strewn Buddha statues and uncomfortable wooden benches with cushions stuck to the top. The restaurant has since closed, but I digress. Over dinner, I was having a heated discussion with my friends about something, and heard a fusion-y santoor piece play over the speakers. By this time, I was already into Rahul Sharma’s various fusion albums, and thought it sounded like him, so I accosted the receptionist and ferreted out the name of the CD. That CD was ‘Passage to India: Fusion India’.  Now, this is what the cover of the album looks like.

Ignore the stereotypical images for a moment. Mentally flip the CD over and imagine scanning the playlist, seeing Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia, Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma and other famous names, and finally Silk World Music Group, not knowing why they get to sit with the cool people. Then imagine popping the CD in and getting to the track by Silk World Music Group. A beautiful alaap begins, and you freeze in your tracks (metaphorically). Shankar Mahadevan! Frenzied googling follows, with subsequent discovery that Shankar, Ehsaan, Loy, Shivamani, Louis Banks, Karl Peters are all part of Silk World Music Group.

In addition to including their tracks on the Fusion India albums, Silk World Music Group also released an album titled ‘Pure Silk‘, containing longer, live versions of the aforementioned tracks and one additional track – an excellent 14 minute Jugalbandi (Duet) featuring Satish Vyas on santoor and Vijay Ghate on tabla in addition to the usual gang. Here is the Jugalbandi track for your enjoyment. Go over to Amazon.com (Vol 1Vol 2) to listen to more previews.

Jugalbandi (Duet), Pure Silk by Mynta

Meanwhile, as I was discovering these bands, Shankar was out there sneaking around in another musical collaboration, this time with Swedish musicians. The name of this band is Mynta.

Question.. Where does Shankar find the time and energy to do three fusion bands, a full-time singing career, a full-time composing career, a full-time Indian Idol judging career and be a parent and husband, and I can’t find any to do my laundry and wash my car?

Mynta

Mynta is a Swedish-Indian fusion band (in their words, ‘Swedish Ice and Indian Spice’ :)) featuring Fazal Qureshi and several Swedish and North-American musicians as regulars and Shankar Mahadevan as a collaborator on the more recent albums. Among the Swedish regulars are Max Ahman playing the acoustic guitar, Christian Paulin on the electric bass and Sebastian Printz-Werner on percussion. The sole American, Dallas Smith, plays the flute, soprano, clarinet and indian flute. Cuban violin player Santiago Jimenez rounds out the strings.

Mynta plays, for the most part, Indian Classical Fusion, despite the claims of Swedish / Nordic influence. Part of the reason may be that the Swedish musicians love Indian music almost as much as the Indian musicians do, but more likely, the sounds of tabla or Indian alaap tend to overpower all other instruments and sounds and make it difficult to categorize as anything but Indian fusion. That said, the string and woodwind solos, whenever they come about, are truly impressive and add to the album.

Mynta’s music is occasionally characterized as jazz, but I think they call it jazz as a fall-back word since Indian Classical Instrumental Western Fusion or any variation thereof is a mouthful. This guy seems to have taken deep offense at Mynta’s latest offering Meetings In India being categorized as jazz, but I don’t fault him. I once heard a live performance of Latin jazz by this guy, and thought it sounded like a, what does he call it, polyrhythmic cacophony. And someone gave that musician a Grammy, no less. Kidding aside, Mynta explores several genres, mixing and matching them at will and consequently incurring the jazz label.

Links

Quite unfathomably, Mynta’s discography is not entirely available online in one place – not iTunes, eMusic or Amazon. Of the twelve albums released by Mynta, two albums are available on iTunes USA (opens in iTunes), an additional album if you look at iTunes Sweden (restricted to Swedish buyers, of course), the same two on eMusic and a comparatively earth-shattering five albums on Amazon Downloads. But, fear not – if you would like to tentatively dip your toes in the pool or have principles against buying music like some friends of mine, feel free to go over to Mynta’s website, and click on ‘Music’. You will find a link for streaming radio featuring an excellent sampling of Mynta’s music, several free tracks from their latest album Meeting In India and links to .ram files for a few other featured albums. Here’s one of the tracks in the album ‘First Summers’.

Rapatal, First Summers by Mynta

All the bands and albums I’ve mentioned in this post, in one place:

  • The original, Shakti (link)
  • The new, Remember Shakti (link) | Album – Saturday Night in Bombay (link)
  • Silk World Music Group, with S-E-L, Louis Banks, Sivamani (link) | Album – Passage to India: Fusion India, Pure Silk (use the link above)
  • Mynta, with Fazal Qureshi and Swedish+American musicians (link) | Album – First Summer, Hot Days, Hot Madras, Teabreak, Nandu’s Dance etc and more (link)
  • My earlier post on excellent sites where you can discover fusion music
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