Almost a half-century ago, Shakti startled the musical world…and in 2023, their journey continues.
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 Hussein, 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 icon 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.
Shakti’s original lineup disbanded in 1978, and for two decades each of the musicians pursued their own highly successful careers. In the late ‘90s, the band reformed with Shankar Mahadevan on vocals, U.Srinivas on mandolin and Selvaganesh Vinayakram replacing his father Vikku alongside McLaughlin and Hussain – bringing another creative dimension to an ensemble that was already considered one of the best groups in the emerging world music genre.
After the tragic loss in 2014 of Mandolin U. Shrinivas, Shakti once again ceased to perform. However, in early 2020 the group once again reconstituted itself, convening with violinist Ganesh Rajagopalan for two sold out concerts – the first one in Kolkata, India on January 14, 2020 and the second one in Singapore on January 16, 2020. These events were a catalyst in the renaissance of Shakti, with this new formation continuing to perform together for special events and bring the magic of Shakti once again to the public.
Now McLaughlin and Hussain – still flanked by Mahadevan, Selvaganesh, and Rajagopalan – are poised to reunite for a studio 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.”
The World tour kicks off in India on January 20th, 2023, and will continue to Europe and America in Summer and Fall.
Stay tuned over the next couple of months on album release date, tour schedules, support acts, special guests and much more.