He is in Mumbai, India, directing film music with partners Loy and Ehsaan, travelling the world with seminal world fusion ensemble, Shakti, appearing in the latest releases from John McLaughlin (“Industrial Zen”) and V.Selvaganesh(Soukha) And if that is not enough he is also performing all over India with his own band entertaining thousands of fans.
We are talking about Indian vocalist Shankar Mahadevan who came to fame with the release of his pop fusion record “Breathless” that sold multi million copies all over the world.
Just imagine a software engineer with Oracle, who quit the corporate world to pursue his love of music and eventually mesmerizing the world with his distinctive voice and sound. More power to him!!
Many in the West who have heard him in the last few Remember Shakti tours have rejoiced at him joining the band and certainly looking forward to some more magical moments in the future.
We caught up with Shankar Mahadevan who resides in Mumbai, India.
AL: First of all, congratulations on being the fifth Shakti, How does it feel to be an integral member of this historical music unit? How did this come about?
SM: Shakti is a group I grew up listening to and it was part of my learning process from my childhood. We used to go and buy cassettes of Shakti and then analyze and decode all the phrases and complex rhythm patterns. Never in my life did I ever think that I am going to be part of it!!
AL: Could you let us know about your musical background?
SM: I have taken formal training in carnatic classical music from Mrs. T R BALAMANI and also learnt Veena. But being in a city like Mumbai I am exposed to a lot of other forms of music which is also a very important learning experience.
AL: One question that people in the West always wonder is that when you sing with Shakti, What are you singing – Is it words or is it improvisation on scales, or is it combination of both?
SM: Some of the compositions like SAKHI has words which describes a conversation between two friends. But most of the other compositions have improvisational vehicles like aalaap, sargams tans, etc.
AL: With vocals being a integral part of Shakti today, what potential do you see in the future?
SM: The sky is the limit.!! The beauty of Shakti is the fact that it is completely open to experimentation. With a combination of voice and electronics we can create wonders.
AL: In the recent DVD release, John McLaughlin says that it will be a utmost pleasure for him to see Shakti continue in the future for many years with the new generation meaning you, Selvaganesh, Shrinivas and others. Your thoughts?
SM: Johnji (John McLaughlin) is a complete master and he is our guiding light in the group. For me just knowing him itself is a BIG high!! The fact that he approves and appreciates what we do with him is our good fortune and a result of good Karma.
AL: You are equally versed in singing North and South Indian music? What are the similarities and differences in your opinion?
SM: The basic 12 notes are the same as in any form of music. But the interpretation, style, attitude, sensibility, and approach is completely different from each other.
AL: You have talked about making new album in the future, blending deep Indian music along with western beats and melodies. What you are thinking in your head?
SM: I have always believed that Indian music has still been very very underexposed to the world. My plans are to travel throughout the country and bring the music of this country to the world in a platter which is easily digestible by the world.
AL: Could you talk a little about Konakol which is a way of learning rhythm using your voice? How does someone go about learning this art form?
SM: Konakol is one of the most amazing forms of rhythmic communication in the world. It is highly underused and the principles of konnakol should be applied to all forms of rhythm as the language of rhythm is universal!!
AL: You are on “Industrial Zen” with John McLaughlin as well as Selvaganesh’s Soukha. How do you relate to the commercial stuff that you are doing in the films?
SM: I think if the passion is there then everything can be done with the same intensity. Commercial music for Indian films is very important for my mainly because of the sheer numbers!! This helps me to stay in touch with millions of people in our country and also a medium to communicate YOUR style of music to them easily as you already have a ready following with commercial music.
AL: So where does Shankar Mahadevan go from here?
SM: Lots more to do!! I think that I have not even scratched the surface yet. Really wish there were 48 hrs in one day!!