L. Shankar | A Visionary Violinist

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His Life: A Musical Mastermind

  • Year 1950 – Born in Madras, Tamil Nadu.
  • Year 1969 – Moved to America and earned a doctorate in Ethnomusicology.
  • Year 1975 – Founded Shakti with McLaughlin.
  • Year 1982 – Founded his own band – The Epidemics.
  • Year 2001 – Released One in a Million.

“If I am to pursue my goal, I must forego the money. I really feel it is my duty in this life to do this, to really play, and to unite East and West as much as possible.”

Lakshminarayana Shankar also knows as L Shankar is an Indian-born American violinist, singer, and composer. He is most widely known for his style that combines jazz with Indian classical music. He has sold over 50 million albums through his solo projects and collaborations with other artists throughout the world.

Let’s look at the childhood of this musical genius:

L. Shankar was born on April 26, 1950 in Madras, Tamil Nadu. Growing up in Jaffna, Ceylon, where his father V. Lakshminarayan was a professor at the Jaffna College of Music, Shankar was exposed to Carnatic music and other styles from an early age. His father was an esteemed violinist, his mother L. Seethalakshmi played the veena and all his five older siblings were also proficient in music.

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Shankar began singing at the age of two, playing the violin at the age of five, and learning to play the drums at seven. At the age of seven, L. Shankar gave his first public concert at the Nallur Kandaswamy temple.

Personal Life

After obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in Physics in India, Shankar moved to America in 1969 and earned a doctorate in ethnomusicology at Wesleyan University.

His career journey is full of experimentation and collaboration with world musicians:

He met jazz musicians Ornette Coleman, Jimmy Garrison, and John McLaughlin while working as a teaching assistant and concertmaster of the University Chamber Orchestra. In 1975, Shankar and McLaughlin founded Shakti, a pioneering, groundbreaking and highly influential east-meets-west collaboration, with a fluid sound that managed to successfully combine seemingly incompatible traditions. His first solo album, Touch Me There, was produced by Frank Zappa in 1979. Shankar founded his own band – The Epidemics in 1982 with the composer Caroline. He released three albums with the band.

During the 1980s, Shankar recorded periodically as a leader, doing both jazz-based material and Indian classical music. His 1980 release of the album Who’s To Know on ECM introduced the unique sound of his own invention, the ten-string, stereophonic double violin. This instrument, designed by Shankar and built by noted guitar maker Ken Parker, covers the entire orchestral range, including double bass, cello, viola and violin. He has recently developed a newer version of his instrument which is much lighter than the original.

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1990 saw Shankar co-producing a one hour film directed by H. O. Nazareth, which went on to be nominated for Best Documentary film at the Cannes Film Festival. Shankar worked on the score of the film The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), composed by Peter Gabriel, with his music ending up on both albums of the score – Passion: Music for The Last Temptation of Christ and Passion – Sources.

Since 1996, Shankar has toured internationally with fellow-violinist (and his niece) Ginger as Shankar & Ginger, garnering critical acclaim and popularity. The two performed at events including the Concert for Global Harmony and Nelson Mandela’s 80th birthday celebrations. Shankar & Ginger released their first DVD, One in a Million in 2001. After a critically successful tour of North America, the DVD went to number 1 on the Nielsen Soundscan DVD charts and stayed there for four weeks. In 2004, Shankar composed additional music with Ginger Shankar for John Debney and performed on the score for the film The Passion of the Christ (2004). In 2006 – 2007, Shankar provided the vocals for the opening credit music and other themes for all episodes of the hit TV series Heroes. He has been lately working in Jonathan Davis’, Stephen Day and Ana Maria Lombo’s next records.

He earned many accolades for his musical ingenuity:

He won a Grammy for his work on Passion – Sources in 1994. In the same year, he was nominated for a Grammy for the album Raga Aberi.

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