Almost a half-century ago, Shakti awakened the world.
An unprecedented, transcontinental collaboration, Shakti united eastern and western musicians, and in the process forged the template for what is now called “world music.” Their dynamic musical hybrid immediately enthralled audiences around the globe – and inspired generations of musicians, artists, and thinkers from all walks of life to embark on their own cross-cultural odysseys.
From the West came virtuoso British guitarist John McLaughlin, who arrived in New York in 1969 and immediately re-wired jazz via his work with Miles Davis and the Tony Williams Lifetime, of which he was a founding member. From the East came visionary tabla player Zakir Hussain, who had been performing with giants of Hindustani music since he was a child, as the son of Ustad Alla Rakha – one of tabla’s greatest exponents, often seen accompanying sitar pioneer Ravi Shankar. A music shop owner in Greenwich Village connected the two, with Hussain giving McLaughlin lessons in Indian music that, over time, blossomed into jam sessions that started the pair on the path to what eventually became Shakti. “There wasn’t a first meeting,” Hussain recalls today. “It felt like a reunion of long-lost brothers…”
By 1973, McLaughlin’s pioneering jazz/rock fusion ensemble Mahavishnu Orchestra had achieved Olympian popularity and acclaim…and yet, something else was calling out to McLaughlin – a music that reflected his evolving spiritual practice while feeding his insatiable hunger to converse, communicate, and explore. Inspired by those initial sessions with Hussain, McLaughlin stunned the world by walking away from Mahavishnu and joining Hussain, violinist Shankar, and ghatam player T.H. “Vikku” Vinayakram alongside McLaughlin. “It was a phenomenal experience,” McLaughlin says of those early jams. “But [record label] CBS, they all thought I was a bit crazy…but for me, it was an imperative that Shakti become my permanent group after the Mahavishnu Orchestra.” Together the members of Shakti honed an ecstatic new musical fusion, blazing uncharted pathways and demonstrating the potential of such global composites to generations of musicians around the world.
Now McLaughlin and Hussain are preparing to resume their journey – joined by percussionist V. Selvaganesh (T.H. Vinayakram’s son), vocalist Shankar Mahadevan, and violinist Ganesh Rajagopalan – for an album of new compositions and a world tour to mark Shakti’s 50th anniversary. Today’s Shakti honors the legacy of the original band by acknowledging their tradition while continuing to push beyond existing boundaries into new musical landscapes. “It’s really a thrill,” McLaughlin says of Shakti’s 50th anniversary plans. “I’m delighted to be part of this marvelous tradition of the Shakti group.”
“This group is everything that I could possibly imagine in a music offering,” concludes Hussain. “As far as I’m concerned, it is the pinnacle, the musical nirvana of my musical career.”
Stay tuned over the next couple of months on album release date, tour schedules, support acts, special guests and much more.