You don't really wonder what the evening would have in store at a Shankar & Gingger concert, because even the musically uninclined know that it will be pure magic and mesmerism. And for a schoolboy who had watched L Shankar playing along with Peter Gabriel, Sting and Bruce Springsteen at a concert in Delhi for Amnesty International, it was Paradise regained.
One could see cars lining up from a long distance away, and it took 15 minutes to get to the entrance of the ITC Kakatiya Sheraton from the gate. This unintended bit of anticipation building did more for the nite than everything else deliberate, I suppose. But it all started with the entry of ace percussionist Sivamani and tabla maestro Shafaat Ahmed on stage. Sivamani was in his usual ethnic attire, but this time dressed all in white. Now Sivamani isn't exactly unknown out here, but Ahmed is mostly a newcomer to Hyderabad - only, he got applause reserved for a home-grown hero, from the overwhelmingly gracious Hyderabadi crème de la crème.
And then came the grand entry of Shankar and Gingger - and the over-packed hall resounded with applause and cheers!
For many, it was their first glimpse of the double violin, which looks very different from a conventional violin. For the uninitiated, it has 10 strings that can be plucked and bowed at the same time to produce the unique sound of Shankar's invention. This was designed by Shankar and built by Ken Parker, and covers a sound spectrum that includes the scope of double bass, cello, viola and violin. It is the only one in the world.
The combination of Shankar's haunting vocals, his genius as a composer and the double-violin has brought him worldwide acclaim as an innovator. And provided yet another gift from India to the world. As Gingger once said, "Our main thing is if we do anything, we have to do it really well. So if we do pop music, it has to be at the highest level. If we do Indian music, it has to be at the highest level."
The concert began with one of Shankar's own compositions, and we knew exactly why they were known as the best in the world. They even had exact breaks where they anticipated audience applause. Not letting even a minor notation be missed. Shankar and Gingger were brilliant, while Siva Mani and Ahmed showed us why fusion music is called world music.
Shankar also dazzled the audiences with his vocal range that covers five octaves. Jugalbandis, solo performances and improvisations were all part of the concert. And whether it was "Revelations", a composition dedicated to all the great violinists who walked the earth, or "Skies", a composition dedicated to all the great leaders of the world, it was a journey you could only hope would happen another time in your life...
But then, you can't expect anything less from a maestro who has been one of the pioneers of world music with Shakti, the jazz-rock group that starred legendary British jazz guitarist John McLaughlin, North-Indian tabla master Zakir Hussain and ghatam player T H "Vikku" Vinayakram. Sadhu, the pop/rock group that he formed in 1982 with British composer, vocalist and keyboardist Caroline and that was later known as The Epidemics, made him rise further in global eminence. And collaborating with stars like Frank Zappa, Peter Gabriel, John Mclaughlin, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Yoko Ono and Sting, among others, gave him a recognition that few Indians earn.
Well, Shanker and Gingger, we believe music is the universal language. And acknowledge your eloquence.