Shakti at 50: What makes the band tick?


Vikaku Vinayakaram expounding the Ghatam

Vikaku Vinayakaram expounding the Ghatam Photo credit: Bhargavi Mani

In 1974, as young musicians aspiring to change the musical discourse, Zakir Hussain, John McLaughlin, Vikko Vinyakram and L Shankar launched Shakti, which made the world sit up and take notice. Fifty years later, three of them did just that. In a widely shared video posted last week at the launch of the iconic band’s India tour, 80-year-old ghatm master Vikku Vinayakaram was seen sitting on a sofa on the arm of 81-year-old jazz player John McLaughlin. While 71-year-old tabla maestro Ustad Zakir Hussain was reclining on the floor on Vico Vinayakaram, his hand on the maestro’s shoulder. The trio had fun interacting through kunakul (reciting carnatic percussion syllables), showing in their own unique way how boundaries can be blurred to discover a distinct language of expression.

“Shakti at 50 is not just a milestone, it’s a passion. It’s a band whose music is defined by the easy camaraderie of its members and contrasting personalities and musical styles,” Triplicane in Chennai. says Vikku Vinayakaram as he relaxes at his house in one of the bustling narrow streets of K. He looks tired as he returned late last night from Bengaluru after performing at the SPIC MACAY and Shakti concert.

The original Shakti Quartet

The original Shakti Quartet Photo credit: Special Arrangements

“Rhythm has been our only means of communication ever since we first met. Apart from violinist L Shankar, the fourth musician of the Shakti Quartet, who was a Tamilian, I only communicated with John and Zakir through sign language and Bonding through sound,” laughs the veteran.

Joining the band at the age of 33 turned out to be a pivotal moment for both Vickku Vinayakaram and Ghatam. It opened up a world of opportunities for the humble clay tool and its successors. upapakkavadyam The artist

“When I set out to perform in the Mumbai edition of the band’s recent tour, my mind went back to the day when I flew to the US with horror in hand and fear in my heart, to be part of a difficult cross-genre. .Experience, I had no clue about. I didn’t want to do anything that would compromise my art and integrity. When I went on stage that evening in Mumbai, I was glad I had taken this important step. What did

John McLaughlin, Zakir Hussain, Shankar Mahadevan, Ganesh Rajagopalan, and V Selvagnesh at the Victoria Memorial Hall in Kolkata during the Shakti 2023 India Tour.

John McLaughlin, Zakir Hussain, Shankar Mahadevan, Ganesh Rajagopalan, and V Selvagnesh at the Victoria Memorial Hall in Kolkata during the Shakti 2023 India Tour. | Photo credit: ANI

Shakti picked up the threads of collaborative music from which Pt. Ravi Shankar and the Beatles had left him. Since Zakir had grown up watching his incomparable tabla virtuoso father and guru Ustadullah Rakha go on world tours with Panditji, he knew the way forward. He teamed up with John, who went on to front the wildly popular fusion group Mahavishnu Orchestra, which by then had defunct. Also, John’s inherent love for Indian spirituality and music made him an ideal choice for this East-West project. They brought in Vickku and Shankar for the Karnataka element. This wasn’t a hastily put together trick-or-treat setup. The dynamic foursome brought to the stage and studio (they recorded successful albums) incredible instrumental skills to create a new improvisational hybrid with Indian traditional melody and Western jazz and blues. People took time to warm up to Shakti’s sound, but once they did, the band was unstoppable. While the two string players delivered both evocative and fast-paced tunes, the tabla and ghatm artists rounded it out with a palette of beats. What is simply called fusion is actually a challenging exercise – pairing up compositions involving dissimilar musicians and unrelated musical sequences.

After five years and three albums, Shakti is gone. But in 1997, Zakir and John decided to embark on a reunion tour called ‘Remember Shakti’. Over the years, the band has had a variety of artists. On this tour, singer Shankar Mahadevan and Kanjira exponent and Vikku’s son Selvagnesh, who were part of ‘Rerim Shakti’, were joined by violinist Ganesh Rajagopalan, along with Zakir and John. A quintet “I played a few pieces in a few concerts. Over the years, Shakti has inspired many multicultural groups. It’s a happy result. But what I’ve realized from our many international travels together is It’s that improvisation, imagination and spontaneity are the driving forces behind such arrangements. Exchanges are both exciting and terrifying, because you need to hold fast to your tradition even to engage with new voices. Trying to loosen up a bit,” says Vikku Vinayakaram.

Shakti delves deep into genres to compose interesting pieces with a universal appeal. Although the four musicians were initially stuck in their own grooves, they soon managed to create a space for collective interaction. After five decades, Shakti’s approach to music remains the same – coming up with a sound that defies labels.

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