The Seattle Times: Bellevue’s Ganesh Rajagopalan on Shakti’s first Grammy nomination in 50 years

Owen R. Smith of The Seattle Times writes: “It seemed to Bellevue violinist Ganesh Rajagopalan an act of fate or destiny was playing out when tabla player Zakir Hussain invited him to join Shakti in 2019. The Indian music-jazz fusion group was reforming after a decades-long hiatus to play two shows in early 2020 and needed a violinist to step in for former member Lakshminarayana “L.” Shankar. 

“At that point, I was just elated,” said Rajagopalan, 59, a master of Carnatic (South Indian classical) music who came to the Pacific Northwest to establish Carnatic music schools in Portland and Seattle. Rajagopalan, who moved to Bellevue in 2015, runs the eSwara School of Arts in Sammamish. 

It was a full-circle moment for Rajagopalan, who’s known of the band since childhood, through former Shakti percussionist Vikku Vinayakram. Shakti is nominated for a 2024 Grammy Award for best global music album for “This Moment,” the group’s first studio album in more than 45 years.

“When I was very young, [Vinayakram] used to play with me,” said Rajagopalan, who first rose to fame as a child prodigy in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh in Northern India, playing with his younger brother, Kumaresh. “He used to talk about Shakti a lot, and how the group is and everything. So I’ve been knowing Shakti as a young kid. It was just amazing I was able to join the group at a later point of time and be part of it, all that music, and play with them. It’s unreal.”

Rajagopalan’s two initial shows with the band in January 2020, one in Kolkata, India and one in Singapore, proved Shakti — which first got together in 1973 and released its then-last album in 1977 — still had something to say musically. British guitarist and band leader John McLaughlin also formed the band Remember Shakti, which released studio albums in 1999, 2000 and 2001, that included several of the same members.

Inspired to keep creating but facing restrictive travel due to the pandemic, the current iteration of Shakti — McLaughlin, Rajagopalan, Hussain, percussionist V. Selvaganesh (son of Vinayakram) and singer Shankar Mahadevan — started putting together an album the way many musicians were forced to during the lockdown: piecemeal over the internet. 

“I got a new perspective about music after playing with Shakti,” Rajagopalan said. “As a musician, I do a lot of collaborations and fusion music, but this was a true eye opener because the way the music came, how the composition came about, and how much everybody was contributing and everybody was [stuck] in different areas. We were in five different places and coordinated the sent music to each other.”

For the members of Shakti, it was a new form of recording from what the longtime industry veterans were used to, but the results exceeded expectations as the album, “This Moment,” was released to critical acclaim in June 2023. 

To get a sense of the electric chemistry between the five band members, check out Shakti’s joyous appearance on NPR’s Tiny Desk series from October. Sitting cramped in a circle, the group’s communication and creativity is on full display as they build a layered sound that truly seems to fuse Eastern and Western traditions. 

“It’s too much,” he said. “The moment it was announced, I didn’t believe so many people here in India would be so delighted that we would be nominated for the Grammys. The reception that we got, the emails, the phone calls, the messages, were incredible.”

Read the full article in The Seattle Times.