50th anniversary tour of the fusion band Shakti starts on January 20

Founding members John McLaughlin speaks about the 50th anniversary tour of the fusion band Shakti, the group's legacy and its music
Shakti band
Shakti band

Back in 1974, four musicians guitarist John McLaughlin, violinist L Shankar and percussionists Zakir Hussain (tabla) and T H Vinayakram (ghatam)  formed a music group focussing on fusion music and took their steps to further world music. The group called themselves Shakti, and their music combined Indian music (a mix of Hindus- tani and Carnatic music) with elements of jazz. After extensively touring in the '70s, the group members went their separate ways and would meet sporadically to perform and enthral their fans. A couple of decades later, in the late '90s, the group increased their ensemble by taking in other members, including popular vocalist Shankar Mahadevan and percussionist V Selvaganesh (son of Vinayakram) and donned the name 'Remember Shakti. 

Shakti'. The group is known to bridge many gaps. Not only have they bridged the musical gaps between Eastern and Western music, but they also bridged the two halves of India as Hussain is from North India and the other Indian members are from the Southern half.

Now, Shakti is in their 50th year and is soon to go on a gold- en jubilee tour, covering India and the world. They begin their highly-anticipated tour with a concert in Bengaluru on January 20 at Jayamahal Palace Hotel Grounds. McLaughlin, Hussain, Selvaganesh, Mahadevan and Ganesh Rajagopalan will be representing Shakti on the tour.

One of the original members of the group. McLaughlin is stoked for the tour to begin. "I love the music of my bandmates, how they write or play so, I am wide open to their compositions, their suggestions, basically anything they wish to suggest about my music or music in general," he says, adding that one of the highlights of touring in India has been its food.

Shakti, in their five dec- ades, has gone through many member changes with certain members getting inducted into the group many decades later: But McLaughlin feels this hasn't hampered their creative vision. "First of all, the fact that Zakir Hussain who is, without doubt, the greatest living tabla player alive and I are still together, embodies the essential, joyful and virtuoso nature of Shakti. This, coupled with the fact that the musicians who compose the rest of the group grew up listening to Shakti, loved the group from the outset, and since they are all masterly musicians, they were drawn to the group as the group needed them." shares the Englishman. Mahadevan is one such member who had grown up with Shakti's music.

McLaughlin believes one of the key aspects that makes performing live special for the group is their knack for improvisation. "It is crucial. Improvisation is this aspect that expresses spontaneous joy the true nature of Shakti. It is through improvisation that we can experience blissful freedom, both on an individual and collective level. This can only be achieved by musicians who have such a high degree of sensitivity and share mutual love and admiration. It is their mastery, sensitivity and affection that allows me this experience. That said, the degree of complexity and sophistication of the compositions is another aspect of the uniqueness of Shakti," he concludes.

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