Remembering Shakti – Left me wanting more

Posted by in Index, Society

Yesterday night I attended concert by Shakti at the Basel Stadt Casino – with John McLaughlin (guitar), Zakir Hussain (tabla), U. Srinivas (mandolin), Selvaganesh (mridangam, ghata and kanjira) and Shankar Mahadevan (vocals). It was a very good fusion music evening. Indian classical music (both Hindustani and Carnatic) sounds packaged in a jazz concert style. The greatness of the musicians were quite obvious in the manner in which blended it all together.

Perhaps I was expecting a huge lot more from the Maestros, the concert left me feeling a bit unsatisfied. Don’t get me wrong, the concert was really great. But a feeling that something was missing. Perhaps the culprit was the sound system – the sound felt flat to my ears and also sometimes the percussion sound was drowning out the rest. So much that at times I felt that Zakir Hussain was striking the drums and the cymbals too hard.

But having said that – it was pure genius at display when it came to the music they produced. Watching Zakir combine his left handed jazz drumming with his right handed tabla play was just amazing. Also Selvaganesh on the kanjira left me feeling stunned. How can someone use such a simple instrument and make it sound so great – despite the sound system!

Shankar Mahadevan on vocals was amazing. I wouldn’t know what experts of classical music might say about the speed with which he sings, but I felt he was great in his ability to integrate his singing with the fusion music – while still keeping the Carnatic/Hindustani flavour to it. He left the crowd gasping for more too. For most of my Swiss colleagues this was a very new style of Indian vocal music.

For me the best of the evening came from Srinivas on his Mandolin and from Selvaganesh. Perhaps rightly so, they would be taking Shakti in to the future. One could feel that John was already slowly moving away from the centre stage. The solos were quite dazzling as well, though the flat sound system made me feel the percussion solos lasted too long. My favourite was the piece "Giriraj Sudha" which introduced Shankar Mahadevan’s vocal skills. The exchanges of short solos between Hussain and Selvaganesh, between McLaughlin and Shrinivas, and a four-way play among Hussain, Selvaganesh, McLaughlin and Shrinivas were great too.

(I felt that the sound system we had for the Shivkumar Sharma concert in Zurich was perhaps better than the one they had yesterday. It could also be that the sound system was not properly configured for the accoustics of the Stadt Casino, which is famous here for having good accoustics.)