Double the emotion

Double the emotion

Two Shankars, one Ravi Shankar and one L Shenkar (Shankar) are probably the best known Indian names in World Music. One familiarised the Hindustani sitar, the other took Carnatic ragam music through his double violin and voice to every known idiom from classical, to rock and roll, to jazz to EDM (Electronic Dance Music), creating music that defies definition.

Go to the Tanam
in his 1995 Grammy nominated album Raga
on YouTube, play it for a few minutes, open another tab and play it at
any other point of time. Played simultaneously, the music sounds even more
brilliant and as one viewer puts it, even more ‘incredulously together’.

The creator of the title theme, and featured in the
music of every episode, of the American hit TV show Heroes, Shenkar has worked hard to follow wherever his creativity
would take him. Sometimes to criticism that he has gone too far, crossed over
to pop and new age music. To his credit, he has worked with the biggest names
in rock and pop and shown them what Indian raga music is all about. He even
teaches raga music to heavy metal band Metallica

I think emotion is the key word. Everybody’s music has to be emotional

- L Shenkar

Shenkar’s music is all about emotion. He worked with
Martin Sorcsese on The Last Temptation of
and with Mel Gibson on The
Passion of the Christ
.  “I used
different ragas when I worked with Martin in the studio. He said he wanted more
intense music. Jesus is being beaten, we need more crying. When we are working
on all that, we realise music is universal. Emotions are the same everywhere
but there are different interpretations. Maybe someone cries more hard,
somebody has more tears, somebody has less tears. I think emotion is the key
word. Everybody’s music has to be emotional.”  

Shenkar has been involved in all kinds of music from
Carnatic, to pop, to rap to EDM (Electronic Dance Music which he played at
Freedom Jam in Bangalore on Sunday), to world music but has always brought in his
Indian influence.  He moved to the US in
1969 when he went to Wesleyan University in
Connecticut to study Ethnomusicology and to teach music where he met legendary
British guitarist John McLaughlin, who was learning to play the Veena from S
Ramanathan, Shenkar’s uncle. They formed a band called Turiananda Sangeet and a year later it became the iconic band Shakti. He recalls the days when he,
John, Zakir Hussain and Vikku Vinakayakram would sit in John’s apartment in New
York and practice from 9 am to 3 pm. Indian music can spread only when Indians
start working with non-Indian artistes, says Shenkar.

“I love the old, I love the new, I love the future. I am constantly changing so that people become secure of the unknown”

Shenkar’s training techniques are as eclectic as his
music. Shenkar can sing for 14 hours non-stop except for eating. Apart from his
early Carnatic music training, he has studied various systems for breathing.  “You can even learn from boxers. I have learnt
from Mohammad Ali (when he worked on the film Ali) and from the Shaolin Temples in China. When they start their
training, the teachers will ask you to carry buckets of water upstairs. After
it is done they say bring it back down. This strengthens the upper portions of
the body. I was also invited to Tel Aviv to work with opera singers. I think
the key lies in long breathing.”

In his 1980s album Who’s to Know, Shenkar introduced his own invention the 10 string,
stereophonic double violin built by Ken Parker. It could play the sounds of the
cello, bass guitar, violin and viola. When he was told by several guitar
manufacturers that it would be impossible to make. Shenkar replied “it may not
be possible for you, but it is possible for me.” (Something that holds true for
his music too). “I love the old, I love the new, I love the future. I am
constantly changing so that people become secure of the unknown,” says Shenkar.

Shenkar moved from Los Angeles to Kattukulam in
Kerala four years ago. He now lives in the 4,000 year old renovated Chepleeri
Shiva temple with his guru Thirumeni Guruji and runs the Shiva Conservatory to
mentor young musicians. Living in the middle of nowhere, is both heaven and
hell, Shenkar says. “It was heaven as I saw Shiva all the time and there are
peacocks everywhere. Hell because there are power cuts for 15 hours at a
stretch. Last year there was so much floods, so much moisture, my violin broke.
My computer and my microphone broke.” At that time he was working with American
songwriter Stephen Perkins on Chepleeri
where he has added Vedic Mantras to the music.

“I am making this kind of music for a world
audience, for musicians to understand Vedic culture. This is also for the
musicians I have worked with, from very well-known bands who love Indian music,
who between them have nearly 1000 million records. They all want to come to
India to experience this and I am going to bring them next year,” promises