WION: Zakir Hussain is a living example of India’s musical soft power: Ganesh Rajagopalan

Samarpita Das writes:

The year 2024 began on a culturally significant note for India. The Indian band Shakti made the country proud at the Grammy Awards 2023 with its first cultural win. Zakir Hussain won three Grammys in one night. He presently proudly holds five Grammy awards in his accolades. But what is it about India that everyone expects? Not just participation from the country, but a winning moment too. In an exclusive interview with WION, violinist Ganesh Rajagopalan, who is part of the band Shakti, explained the changing perception.

How did you feel when your name was announced at the Grammys?

It was pure joy. A fantastic feeling. Sitting there amongst so many musicians and everyone was so appreciative and supportive. It was so great to go up on stage and make India proud. But I will tell you something, I was extremely confident about winning the Grammy and I was expecting it. (Laughs). So, once they announced the names, it was really exciting. 

Tell us about your music journey with Shakti? 

Shakti played a vital role in my career as a musician. I have collaborated with various musicians, and done Carnatic music, but Shakti was like a doorway to heaven. I found a lot of opportunities thanks to this band. 
Shakti is the defining element of what fusion is all about. The band created the concept, the definition of fusion. When we did the 50-year tour in the US, it was a huge success. 

So, I was reading that ‘The Moment’ which won a Grammy, was conceptualised during the pandemic. How did you all collaborate? 

That was a unique experience. I was in Seattle, Zakir Hussain was in San Francisco, John McLaughlin was in Monaco. Shankar Mahadevan was in Mumbai, V Selvaganesh was in Chennai so we were in five different places, and we came on a Zoom call.  John ji and Zakir Bhai decided that they would make an album, and then all of us sent our compositions. Everyone would listen to that, share their opinion, and add layers. It was two years of work, but it was worth it. We couldn’t go out as we were all stuck in home. But the time was utilised in a very productive way. 

You mentioned you knew you would win the Grammy.  Were you so confident about it because you had Zakir Hussain in your band? 

Absolutely true. The nomination itself was a big surprise for me. When we were composing ‘This Moment’ I was not thinking about a Grammy nomination at all. I got a call from Selva ji, and we all got so excited. From then onwards, I was always confident that we would win. I know this because I have witnessed with my own eyes, the kind of dedication, John ji and Zakir bhai have given to Shakti, they are great masters of music. Then we also have Shankar ji, Selva ji, why wouldn’t we win a Grammy? Our brotherhood deserves a Grammy. John ji loves Shakti a lot. I see a gleam in his eyes when he talks about Shakti. He always talks about Shakti like his own child. 

Can you comment on the soft power of Indian Classical music?

A living example of that would be Zakir Hussain. He can duet with different bands. He plays with Ustad Shahid Pervez Khan and various other musicians. He is also on percussion tours. He is an ambassador for Indian classical music. He is a pathbreaker and guide. Coming to Indian classical music, there is an emotional quality to our music that transcends boundaries. It appeals to everyone. Indian classical music has unique system that catches people’s imagination everywhere.

How does the world perceive Indian music? 

The perspective about India and Indians has changed a lot. People are more confident now because everywhere Indians are doing well as a unit. Indians spend a lot on art and culture which is very important for our ecosystem. Our musicians are also ready to collaborate. This multiplicity has caused a ripple effect. These are some of the reasons why Indian culture is getting noticed everywhere. 


Read the full article in WION.