'I write a lot of my stuff while stuck at traffic signals'

SHANKAR MAHADEVAN. The acknowledged music badshah of Bollywood. Better known as 'the' Shankar of the Shankar-Loy-Ehsaan trio. From 'Dil Chahta Hai' which established them well and truly on the firmament ...

By Punam Mohandas (Staff Reporter)

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Published: Wed 14 Mar 2007, 11:14 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 12:27 AM

the film industry now dances to the tune of 'Shankar Chahta Hai'. Extremely versatile, with awards for both Best Singer and Best Music Director, not many know that Shankar is a trained software engineer who worked with Oracle for a brief spell, before quitting to follow his passion full time - music.

The chubby-cheeked, roly-poly singer is in his element on stage, at one with intstruments and the audience. A consummate artiste, he gells and jams perfectly with fellow musicians around the world, with no hint of ego; indeed, his delight at performing virtually extempore at a recent Global Fusion event was palpably visible. He has a deep respect for AR Rahman, and is often said to be the latter's favourite singer.

Shankar's debut album 'Breathless' with Javed Akhtar, literally left the world holding their collective breaths. A blend of classical ragas and folk music from various parts of India..."it's not really 'breathless' although of course I do it in one go; if I had to literally hold my breath for 3 minutes I'd be dead!" he guffaws.

So how did 'Breathless' really come about?

We just did it!

What are your personal views on the Indian music scene today?

I think there are a few young music directors who are trying to do justice by flowing against the tide and creating something new. But there is always a cloud of mediocrity, which was there earlier too - the two just co-exist.

Would you agree that you have made a huge difference to Hindi music today, getting the Madonna/Michael Jackson generation back to basics as it were?

There was a time when Indian youth from all over the world just stopped connecting to Hindi music. Before Rahman came on the scene, it had hit rock bottom, in fact, we are still recovering. After Rahman, we came in, so to a certain extent, we have succeeded...earlier, in clubs and discos they would only play a couple of Hindi songs; today it is 98 per cent, which is a great change. That kind of contribution is a big achievement.

Let's rewind a bit. When did your involvement with music start?

The first song I played on the harmonium was Javed Akhtar's 'Chal Chal Mere Haathi' from 'Haathi Mere Saathi' when I was all of three years old! And then, when I was eleven, I played the veena for Lata Mangeshkar and Bhimsen Joshi for an album called 'Ram Shyaam Gungan'.

What do you really think about global music fusion?

I associate with a lot of global fusion bands such as Silk with Louis and Sivamani, Shakti with McLaughlin and Zakir, then there's Shraddha; I haven't done much with Mynta of late — that's a Swedish band I'm associated with. Global Fusion is the music of the future. The simple concept of making music one — trying to merge it beyond your own barriers... everybody is after all playing the same basic twelve notes! It's all about finding your path by giving each other space. Music is so universal, so compatible.

You're quite self-effacing about how you get inspired?

I really don't believe in the fact that you have to sit in the jungle or by the riverside — when I go to such places, I don't even get creatively inspired, I'm just too busy enjoying the moment. Creativity comes at the most unexpected moments. I write alot of my stuff while stuck at traffic signals. I could be talking to someone and suddenly — I'm gone, tuned out. My wife says that I'm so spaced out, it's wild. What to say. (he laughs).

So how did the idea of using the qawwali medium for "kajra re" come to you?

My whole idea was to do something not done before — I know that's a very cliched statement. Something just told me it's going to work. By the way — I got the idea and the lyrics in the shower! (he says wickedly). I told Gulzar saab later; I had actually made it 'kaale kaale naina' but he changed it to 'kaare kaare'. The concept is originally that of a bhajan, but when implemented in this manner, it gave off the qawwali effect.

You think you've got your due, or are there still miles to go?

I always feel I haven't even scratched the surface yet. I get so much inspiration from Dubai, so much to do on the music scene here. This country is booming, but the cultural scene needs to boom too. I wish there were 50 hours in a day. I've achieved a fair amount of success, but I need to do a lot more to satisfy my soul. I'd like to thank all the people who've admired and accepted our music and made us part of the mainstream.

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