In 2004, Shankar & Gingger composed, produced and performed vocals and double violins on Mel Gibson’s “The Passion Of The Christ”, along with composers Jack Lenz and John Debney. Their voices and violins can be heard throughout the movie providing the haunting melodies and sounds that are unmistakably theirs. They also composed chants which they performed with Mel Gibson.
After their extremely successful pop DVD, “One in a Million”, which topped the charts for 4 weeks, they released “Celestial Body”, a world music album for Mondo Melodia / Universal, which was met with enormous critical praise. They are following the release with a worldwide tour. In September, 2004, Shankar & Gingger received the World Peace Music Award during a performance featuring the Black Eyed Peas and Lionel Ritchie.
For more information visit www.ShankarAndGingger.com. Their new pop album and DVD are due out early in 2005.
AL: Your pop DVD, “One in a Million”, has been hugely successful, topping the Billboard Charts for 4 weeks. Has the popularity of that DVD and resultant album sales given you more power in the music industry to pursue even more ambitious projects? If so, like what?
S&G: “One in a Million” certainly gained us a lot of attention because of its incredible success, but we have always felt that we are asked to join in special projects because of the artistry we have always strived for, and the message that our music carries. We have always been true to what we believe in and stand for, and our music has always reflected that. As long as we are Artists in the true sense of the word (writing music for ourselves, and what we believe we can do to inspire those around us), we do projects that communicate that sentiment. We work with artists who are inspiring, passionate, and really do justice to what they are trying to accomplish.
AL: “One in a Million” and “Celestial Body” are two very different albums. How has the response been to “Celestial Body” compared to the response that you received on “One in a Million” ?
S&G: The response from our audience has always been incredible. People are always open and appreciative. We get such awesome letters from our fans about how a particular song touched them, or got them through a really tough time, or that they saw us at a show and they loved it and were coming to another show in a totally different city because they had to see us again. That’s always the best part, to be able to perform for the audience, to hear how your music can have an effect on someone else, or inspire them. We love meeting little kids at shows who say they are taking voice lessons or violin lessons, and that they want to perform like us when they get older. It’s such a great feeling. The responses to “Celestial Body” and “One in a Million” were both incredible. Our reviews have been incredible as well, which is always nice. That has never really factored into anything that we do, though. You can never go by reviews, you always have to go by what you want to do creatively and artistically.
AL: What was it like to work with Sivamani on “Celestial Body”? Are you working with him on any other projects?
S&G: We have worked with Sivamani for a long time. He is a very talented percussionist, who is on the verge of worldwide fame. We always love working with him, since he is so talented, and such a colorful character. He performed on “Celestial Body”, and we are currently working on our next pop album and DVD, which he is performing on as well. He is also touring with us worldwide.
AL: What can you say about the differences between “One in a Million” and “Celestial Body”?
S&G: “One in a Million” is more of a pop album. It is a very vocal album, with double violin atmospheres and solos. It also has some soundtrack qualities. It is a very positive album with lyrics that were personal and written to give people hope as well as make them think. From Fear which deals with getting over all the things in life that hold you back because you are too afraid to go after them, to I’ve Been Waiting which deals with moving on with your life, before it’s too late, all the songs were written during a period of time that we had a lot of things happening at once. Even one of our songs Out of My Mind, was written about this very persistent fan (stalker) who was always in every city we were, and very pushy. That was pretty scary! We had some very special guests on the album including Phil Collins, Mike and Steve Porcaro, Tony Levin, Guy Allison, David Paich, Steve Vai and Steve Lukather. This album was such a blast to make and to get all these artists that we love was perfect.
“Celestial Body” is more of a ‘world music’ record. It is a very orchestral record. It features a lot of Indian and Western Classical influences, as well as some soundtrack pieces (the kind of music that we compose and perform for our soundtrack projects, such as “Passion of the Christ”.) It has a lot of technical double violin pieces, a lot of atmospheric vocals and violins, as well as some deeply personal songs. Open Your Eyes deals with a very dark part of life, and Palaces was a song that was written for all the children of the world. That song was performed during the Amnesty International Tour, as well as Nelson Mandela’s 80th birthday celebrations. It is a very special song which we also performed at the World Peace Music Awards in September to benefit all the Orphans of Terrorism.
AL: How was the double violin created? What was the idea behind creating your own unique instrument?
S&G: The double violin was designed around the time I did my album “Touch Me There”, which was the first album for Frank Zappa’s label (Zappa Records), which he produced. I overdubbed all different instruments, violin, viola, cello, double bass, etc. It was alright to overdub all these instruments in the studio, but to take them on tour and mic each instrument would be very difficult. I thought about how I could build an instrument with all these instruments combined into one. I built a cardboard version of it and took it to several guitar companies, but they all said it wouldn’t work. I finally went to a shop who’s owner believed in it, and he worked with me until it was built.
AL: Can both necks be played simultaneously?
S&G: Yes, you can play both necks at the same time.
AL: How has the double violin helped you musically? Have you been able to accomplish more than you could have with a regular violin?
S&G: The double violin has enabled us to progress much further musically. Because of the wide range of the instrument, sometimes we orchestrate parts, like we created on “Celestial Body”, where you have the whole orchestral range on the record. Sometimes, we play whatever feels right. A lot of it has to do with our vocal ranges as well. Since we both individually have 5 1/2 octave vocal ranges, the instrument compliments our vocals incredibly. Whether its the highest or lowest vocal note, the double violin can compliment the sound.
AL: Do you find it very different writing music for film, opposed to writing music for your own records?
S&G: Writing for film is challenging and different from creating our own records, but we love to do film work. In film or TV scores we’re presented with a visual on the screen and we write and perform to enhance and reinforce the screen drama working in collaboration with the music supervisors, music director and sometimes the producer. The goal is always to support the artistic vision on the screen with our musical concepts. When we create our own recordings the screen is just our minds and we try to imagine what our listeners will see on their minds’ screen as they listen to our work. They’re different, but they’re both about transferring our art to the listener and evoking emotion, thought or making a connection. We have always been performing artists as well as recording artists. We have always written music according to what has inspired us, whether it is a film, or anything else.
AL: I know you contributed significantly both to “The Last Temptation of Christ” with Peter Gabriel as well as the two of you composing music for Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of Christ”. What was the experience like working on “The Last Temptation”?
S&G: Martin Scorsese actually heard a song that I (Shankar) had written for my own album, and loved it. Not only did he want to use the song in his film, but he wanted 12 more tracks like it. Peter and I co-wrote 12 more tracks for the movie. It was an amazing soundtrack, the first of its kind. Musicians from all over the world performed on it.
AL: Like “The Last Temptation of Christ” was all the music you contributed to “Passion of the Christ” based on ragas (Ancient Indian scale formations)?
S&G: Yes, it was completely raga based. We used more than 75 ragas on the film, some that were created especially for the film. We would go through different ragas with Mel. Sometimes he would feel that a raga was too dark, and he wanted hope in the scene, so we would choose one that was brighter. Other times, he would say that it was too beautiful, so we would choose one that brought more tragedy into the scene. Mel utilized our vocals primarily. All the anguish and torment, as well as the hope and love was expressed through our vocals. They said that they had never heard any two vocalists who brought in the range of depth and emotions that we did. The double violins were used to compliment and accompany our voices throughout the movie. The instruments provided a haunting, almost other worldly sound to the film.
AL: You worked with John Debney on “The Passion of Christ” soundtrack. How did you two work with him?
S&G: John is a brilliant composer who knows how to combine themes with wonderful orchestrations. We worked with John and Mel in LA and London. We brought our own individual experiences to the table, and were able to create something beautiful and unique by combining our ideas. We were able to create compositions individually and together. It ended up being a beautiful and haunting soundtrack, and John is a very talented composer. It was a lot of fun working with them in the studio.
AL: Shankar, you’ve played successfully in a variety of genres, among them, Classical, World, Jazz and Pop. How do you approach performing for each genre? Do you come to the table with a sort of preconceived mindset if performing on, say, a record for Sting than you would if performing with Jan Garbarek? Or do you just respond to the music as it’s happening?
S&G: Each of these projects should be approached separately according to whether they are songs (with lyrics), instrumental, soundtrack, live performance, or studio recordings. You can bring so much spontaneity, freshness, depth, emotion and character to each one. It is a very personal thing. There is no ‘one way’ to do it. Some of the great Artists I’ve worked with brought out the best in me, and hopefully I did the same. You have to grow constantly, there is so much to it, it is like a deep ocean.
AL: More so than many other Indian musicians, you’ve performed with quite an impressive roster of leading pop / rock musicians. Who has been your biggest influence?
S&G: My influences have been some of the great actors such as Sir Lawrence Olivier, Marlon Brando, Katherine Hepburn, Betty Davis, Robert DeNiro, Meryl Streep, and Jack Nicholson, to name a few. My first passion has always been acting. I studied it for a few years in Hollywood with a great drama teacher. I am awed by the great actors who within a split second can portray totally different characters. I hope I can fulfill my dreams as an actor one day. Music is very similar to that. Some of the great musicians I’ve worked with have similar qualities as these great actors. You have to become one with it. They are never afraid to let go.
AL: Gingger, tell me more about your background. I know you grew up in LA and your mother helped you study vocals and violin, correct? Where else and what else did you study?
S&G: I was born and raised in Los Angeles. We have musicians, writers and artists in our family. My mother, Viji, was a singer, my grandfather was a violinist, that is where my initial training began as a child. I was taught at a very early age that music was an integral part of my life. I grew up thinking that it was so normal to play music, write music. I have been to concerts since I was a baby, music has surrounded me all of my life. I started singing before I could speak (according to my mother), and I started playing the violin as soon as I could pick one up (without dropping it!!). I was taught to practice every day, no matter what, and that stays with me even today. My Mother always taught me that you don’t get anywhere without hard work and constant devotion to your art.
AL: According to what I’ve read, you’ve been trained in opera vocal, western classical, piano, pop and world music? Please tell me more.
S&G: Even though my early years were based on Western classical and Indian classical training, I started involving myself in piano, opera and pop music training as well as acting and drama. I always listened to the Beatles, Bach, Beethoven, Elton John, Stevie Nicks, Stevie Wonder, and many others. My mother made sure I was always exposed to all musical styles, we would go to the Hollywood Bowl one night, and an Indian concert the next. I love all different styles, and have always incorporated them into my art. That is why I have been involved with world music as well as pop/rock.
AL: What have been some of your musical influences?
S&G: My main musical influences have been whatever is happening in my life. I also love collaborating with different artists. It is always incredible to see what kind of music can be created when you bring in artists with different musical backgrounds and life experiences. When you become influenced by the artist you are working with, and they become influenced by you. It is almost an out of body experience, getting caught up in the music, no inhibitions, just music being created.
AL: How did you come to play the double violin, was it before or after you and Shankar met?
S&G: Shankar and I started working together about 9 years ago. We first performed together in Peter Gabriel’s WOMAD shows in Spain. The collaboration was really incredible, and it was great to work with someone who had worked in world music and pop / rock as well. I was singing at that point, but Shankar had created a double violin, which combines the whole range of the orchestra (double bass, cello, viola, violin). He gave me one of these beautiful instruments to play. To be able to produce such a variety of sounds from one instrument is unbelievable.
AL: Gingger, what was entailed in learning how to play the double-neck violin? What were some of the main challenges you faced when first learning it?
S&G: Since there were two necks, even playing it was tricky. I had to learn the technique of playing both necks at the same time, as well as learning all the things the instrument could accomplish, in terms of harmonies, sympathetic strings, etc.
AL: Did you ever consider a career in modeling or in Bollywood?
S&G: I have always had a desire to act (maybe its the drama queen in me!!) I took drama in school, that has been something I have always loved. When Shankar wrote music for the “Queen of the Damned” film, one of the composers suggested that I should do a screen test for the movie. I ended up going to Warner Bros for a screen test, and I heard back that the director loved it. I was so excited, until I realized that I had a prior commitment with concerts in India. I was so disappointed! I think acting is something I would love to pursue, as long as it is worthwhile. I am a huge fan of Mira Nair, as well as Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee. There are also some great young up and coming filmmakers who are doing incredible movies. If something like that ever came up, I would do it in a heartbeat.
AL: Please talk about your recent involvement in the independent film project, “Born Into Brothels”. It received rave reviews and won some very prestigious awards from the Sundance Film Festival.
S&G: It is an incredible film. The children of prostitutes in India were given video cameras and asked to film their lives and surroundings. It is a very gritty, truthful look into their world. It is a beautiful project. Some of our music was used in the film.
AL: What are some of the projects you’re currently working on separately or together?
S&G: We are touring Asia in January and February, followed by a tour of Europe and the US. We are also currently finishing our new pop record and DVD. They will be released next year. We are also involved with some very special charity projects, including Save The Children India. We are doing two benefit concerts for them February in Mumbai, and Bangalore.
AL: You have performed at The Concert for Global Harmony, Nelson Mandela’s 80th Birthday celebrations, Artists Against Apartheid, Amnesty International’s Human Rights Tour, Fiddlefest, a benefit for the Harlem Center For Strings at the Apollo Theater, and you recently won a World Peace Music Award, considered to be the musicians Nobel Peace Prize. What do you think that your music has represented over the years? Do all these causes and benefits you have supported represent you as human beings?
S&G: We have always conveyed a message of peace and humanity in all our music. It is a very difficult time right now around the world, and the more we can do to help the better. We have always tried to help with important causes, our greatest inspiration has always come from great leaders such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa and Nelson Mandela. These are people who fought every day of their lives to make the world better. We have always used our music to convey our feelings and support our causes. We are always involved with causes of children around the world who don’t have enough. Our goal is to really make a difference, in whatever way we can.
For tour dates, cities and further information, please visit http://www.ShankarAndGingger.com.
Artistic Management for Shankar & Gingger is provided by Sabre Entertainment who can be reached through info@SabreEntertainment.net.
AN URGENT PLEA FROM JOHN McLAUGHLIN: Guitar icon releases exclusive video to raise awareness and funds for COVID relief in