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Shakti 50th Anniversary World Tour Kicks Off In India

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SHAKTI – The pioneering global fusion ensemble co-founded by John McLaughlin and Zakir Hussain release first new studio recording in 45 years

Born of an immense degree of both soul-searching and woodshedding, Shakti emerged in the early 1970s – shattering the barriers between Eastern and Western music with an ecstatic, soulful hybrid that knowingly embodied both traditions while setting out for uncharted musical terrain. Shakti’s catalyst was the meeting of guitarist and composer John McLaughlin and tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain. Both had already achieved a certain degree of notoriety in their musical domains. John, through his association with Miles Davis and his immensely successful group The Mahavishnu Orchestra: Zakir through his amazing classical work and his collaborations with the California music scene. Hussain and McLaughlin had become friends in 1969 and met musically one evening at the house of the late great Ali Akbar Khan. To quote McLaughlin, “It was a revelation playing with Zakir.” McLaughlin subsequently began studying the Vina with Dr. S. Ramanathan and through him met with Dr. L. Shankar himself a head at the South Indian Music department at Wesleyan University and by 1973 had brought Zakir, violinist L. Shankar and the head of the percussion department Ramnad Raghavan playing the mridangam for the very first time. It was at once, a marriage of the tonal and rhythmic intricacies of classical Indian music with the immediacy and soul of Jazz. This first formation of Shakti recorded its first live recording in 1975 and released in 1976.
 
Their unprecedented music awakened subsequent generations to the rich, untapped potential of such pan-cultural fusions and helped to create what is now known as “World Music.” While the initial lineup of Shakti disbanded in 1978, Hussain and McLaughlin have periodically resurrected the Shakti group for live performances and concert recordings – but have not released a new studio album since 1977’s Natural Elements…until now.
 
“Mohanam” – available for streaming/download – is the first new studio music from Shakti in more than 45 years. Drawn from the upcoming album This Moment (to be released on CD and vinyl in the summer of 2023 by Abstract Logix), the track glimmers with optimism and wonder as it moves with unhurried grace through a series of instrumental movements that acknowledge Shakti’s formidable legacy while proposing new routes. “‘Mohanam’ is a joyful piece,” explains McLaughlin, “and joy is the inherent nature of the Shakti group.”
 
The lineup featured on “Mohanam” – McLaughlin (guitar) and Hussain (tabla) are featured alongside vocalist Shankar Mahadevan, violinist Ganesh Rajagopalan, and percussionist Selvaganesh Vinayakram (son of original Shakti ghatam player T.H.“Vikku” Vinayakram). On “Mohanam,” Hussain and Vinayakram are also featured on konokol – a traditional and demanding form of Indian vocal percussion.
 
“This track harkens back to the Mohanam raga track from the second Shakti album,” says Hussain, “but dresses the mode sonically into where we are today. The arrangement, the quality of the recording, the instrumentation, the addition of vocals, and the harmonic undertones all suggest today’s Shakti while paying respect to the first Shakti quartet.” The performers’ virtuosity is certainly undimmed by time, with McLaughlin’s guitar impossibly fleet, moving between jazz chromaticism and more modal, Indian harmonies. In addition to stirring solo statements, Rajagopalan’s violin, Mahadevan’s voice, and McLaughlin’s guitar also execute nimble unison passages – all over the roiling, hypnotic undercurrent of Hussain and Vinayakram’s percussion.
 
“In our initial incarnation,” Hussain reflects, “we did not always have the time nor the means to explore. Now, with the decades of individual music experiences we all have had poured into this gathering’s offering, the result reveals an extraordinary depth and level of interaction within this band.”
 
“Shakti will always be Shakti,” concludes McLaughlin. “It has its own identity, its own nature – joyful – and character: daring. These are in the DNA of Shakti, which will never change.”


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