Q&A with legendary electric violinist & vocalist L. Shankar - an ethereal musical bed transports the listener on a spiritual journey

"Music can be so influential in all levels cultural, social, spiritual and make people realize that changes can be made for the betterment of the world and also personally. A song with a positive message can reach all over the world simultaneously now with the social media times."

L. Shankar: Seasons Greetings From India

Celebrate the holidays this year with a little international flavor, courtesy of one of the most widely revered violinists, vocalists and musical geniuses who has collaborated with everyone from Frank Zappa, Peter Gabriel and U2 to Bruce Springsteen, Madonna and many, many more – Indian-born L. Shankar. Known for his incredibly dexterous playing and his unique singing voice, Shankar has earned accolades from across the musical spectrum and has been recruited to perform live for the world’s most demanding talents. Now, Shankar brings Christmas From India (Ocober 2021), a brand new set of recordings where he recreates some of the most treasured holiday classics with the sound of tablas, sitar and, of course, violin and vocals to craft a Christmas album like no other. The album also includes 2 original compositions written by Shankar, “Christmas Time” and “Saviour.” Shankar had this to say about the project, “It was a thrill and pure joy to work on my new album Christmas From India. It brought back fond memories of working on the music for both of the Jesus movies, first with the legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese and Peter Gabriel on ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ and then with Mel Gibson and John Debney on ‘The Passion of the Christ.’ Christmas From India is like a third chapter.”

L. Shankar, Kerala India / Photo by Ashraf Malayali

Today, Shankar brings the Christmas joy a little early, sharing his gorgeous take on the ‘80s Band Aid classic “Do They Know It’s Christmas.” Lakshminarayana Shankar, professionally known as L. Shankar, is widely considered a living legend, a pioneer, and a musical genius who has collaborated with giants such as Frank Zappa, Peter Gabriel, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna and many, many more. His solo albums have always drawn not only enormous interest from fans and critics alike but also showcase the collaborative spirit that is integral to Shankar’s art. Musicians, singers, visionaries, both known and obscure, have all come to pay tribute to this uniquely talented musician and perhaps even find new inspiration for themselves by performing on his recordings.

Interview by Michael Limnios    Special Thanks: Bill James (Glass Onyon) & L. Shankar

How has the music influenced your views of the world and the spiritual journeys you’ve taken?

Music is universal, it connects all races, religions and ages. It's the only language everyone can understand and feel. My music has made me realize the world is small and if I can connect with people through my music and try to make the world a better place for everyone to live even a bit and if we can all try, it would make a huge difference.

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

My sound is universal, my music is very healing and soothing especially at a time like this we all need peace and love and my song book reflects upon many emotions which is part of all our lives. It may be from my personal experiences or from people I have known. Life is long and each day is a different song which makes a life story like the sky with different stars.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

To capture the moments and make the best use of it cause many times you won't get a 2nd chance. Life is like that. We can't let good things slip by. Able to appreciate life each and everyday try our best no matter what and able to accept what comes out of it. Somethings we can control but not everything. It's like leaves falling out of a tree, one can never predict where each one of them will fall. It can even reach much further away from the tree if there's a big wind blowing.                (L Shankar / Photo by Ashraf Malayali)

"Children and animals make me laugh consistently. They are so innocent and can't hide their feelings. They are so truthful. Everyone as a child have this in common; only when they grow older, they start losing these charms. If you spend time with kids and watch them talk to each other and play with each other, you can see how funny they are. They can't hide their feelings."

How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started making music?

It's been a long interesting journey so far, full of surprises and mystery. I have always been looking for new things in music since young. I wanted to follow my own path to create my own vision. I've always considered me as a student of music till this day. Unless I can keep on learning and moving forward, being excited about learning, being passionate, music is like an ocean, like the horizon no end to it. This keeps me going. Each concert I play or the record I make, I always had the same excitement as it was my 1st. Hence, I look forward to each one of them and try to do my utmost best as if it could be my last. I have a long way to go, and I have a lot of projects being created which will be revealed as time goes on.

What has remained the same about your music-making process?

The sincerity, passion, try to do the best I can to my ability. I have always made music so I'm pleased with it not wondering whether people would like it or not. Since I work on many different genres of music some of my fans like everything I do, and some prefer only certain genres, and I am not bothered by it. People can choose what they like but at the end it's my music and I always did what I wanted to do. Some fans are afraid to step out of their own comfort zones this may apply to artists also. Some people get afraid of the unknown and dark but through darkness light prevails. There's a special excitement dealing with the unknown territory.

Who are some of your very favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? What musicians would you absolutely love to work with in the future?

It's a very long list from Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Paganini, Palghat Mani Iyer, Chembai Vaidhyanatha Bagavathar, Semmangudi Srinivas Iyer, Elvis Presly, Beatles, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Zappa, L. Vaidhyanathan, Heifetz, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Korn and the list goes on. These are some of the great artists I adore. Definitely I have some people in mind but mentioning them would be unfair to the others, so I choose not to answer this question.

"To capture the moments and make the best use of it cause many times you won't get a 2nd chance. Life is like that. We can't let good things slip by. Able to appreciate life each and everyday try our best no matter what and able to accept what comes out of it. Somethings we can control but not everything. It's like leaves falling out of a tree, one can never predict where each one of them will fall. It can even reach much further away from the tree if there's a big wind blowing." (L Shankar / Photo by Ashraf Malayali)

Why do you think that the Christmas songs and music continues to generate such a devoted following?

It's the biggest holiday of the year celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ and there are more than a billion Christians across the globe. Not only Christians but others also love to celebrate since It is one of the joyous times of each year. People coming together having fun with family and friends like there's no end to it. It's the biggest year ending celebration of joy, peace and love.

What has made you laugh and what touched you from your Christmas experiences in India?

Children and animals make me laugh consistently. They are so innocent and can't hide their feelings. They are so truthful. Everyone as a child have this in common; only when they grow older, they start losing these charms. If you spend time with kids and watch them talk to each other and play with each other, you can see how funny they are. They can't hide their feelings.

In India there is a large Christian population and since The British ruled India for a long time until recently in 1947. Christmas is a great celebration where everyone here is being out enjoying having an awesome time and it's the biggest vacation time leading to the New Year. It's a combination of people singing Christmas carols, having feasts such an amazing feeling.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

The meetings which raised many questions, make me think, not knowing trying to find out and unfold the mysteries. The process is magical. I always remember Frank Zappa telling me never compromise your creativity and people who don't support your creativity are like poison you must get rid off.

"Music is universal, it connects all races, religions and ages. It's the only language everyone can understand and feel. My music has made me realize the world is small and if I can connect with people through my music and try to make the world a better place for everyone to live even a bit and  If we can all try,  it would make a huge difference." (L. Shankar / Photo by Pravin Eyyani)

What moment changed your life the most? What´s been the highlights in your life and career so far?

Me leaving India with 7 1/2 dollars in my pocket and arrived in New York to pursue my musical journey. Being part of the Amnesty International Tour in 1988 with artists Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Peter Gabriel and more, I performed besides my solo act but also as a special guest with Peter Gabriel, Bruce Springsteen and Sting. Meeting Nelson Mandela and performing for his charities with other US artists in Africa. Performing for Princess Diana for her Princess Rock Concerts in Albert Hall. The Amnesty International show at Indra Gandhi Stadium in Delhi with Peter Gabriel, Bruce Springsteen, Sting and many more artists. Performing with Peter Gabriel at the UN Peace Day in NY opposite to United Nations, Joining U2 as a special guest at the Wembley Stadium, the discovery of my own invention 10 string double violin, the first recordings of my double violin on my solo album " Who's to Know " and on Phil Collins debut album " Face Value ". Working with Martin Scorsese on the film " The Last Temptation Of Christ " with Peter Gabriel. These are some and I have many more special experiences.

Are there any memories from Frank Zappa, and Bruce Springsteen which you’d like to share with us?

Frank Zappa was a perfectionist and such a workaholic. His concentration level was so high he can work for so many hours continuously at the highest level. A musician far ahead of his time. True inspiration. He loves spontaneity. He invited me several times during his shows in US and in Europe etc. He would tell me to come be ready stand by the side of the stage around 45 minutes or so once the show started. Then he will announce my name and invite me to the stage. I won't know what song was going to come. We would improvise a lot together. He was so generous, such a great musician, one of a kind. Words are never enough to express how I feel about him.

Bruce is such an extraordinary performer. Just with his guitar and voice he can communicate to a very large audience like he's singing to everyone personally from the first to the last row. That comes from his dedication. When I opened for Peter Gabriel and joined him on his set during the Amnesty International Tour, besides Sting, Bruce was the head liner for that whole tour. Bruce invited Sting and myself to join him on the song " River " each day. It was such a memorable tour we even played in India. Bruce management was hesitant to come to India first but after I convinced them letting them know Bruce has so many fans who love his music and it would be a great opportunity for both sides, eventually it happened.            (L Shankar / Photo by Ashraf Malayali)

"That everyone can create whatever their real passion is and not be influenced by other outside forces cause that would be a real challenge and would make them strong, proud of trying no matter what the end results can be. Life is a onetime deal. You can take it or leave it. I like challenges personally which make me tick. Looking forward to the unknown; who knows it can be better than you ever imagined."

What are the lines that connect the mantra-like lyrics and melody? Which is the relationship of meditation and music?

Lyrics and melodies are married together to create a great song; if I can touch someone's heart and make them feel like they've never felt before. My first single and video for "In My Heart" from my "Chepleeri Dream" album reflects that. 

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

That everyone can create whatever their real passion is and not be influenced by other outside forces cause that would be a real challenge and would make them strong, proud of trying no matter what the end results can be. Life is a onetime deal. You can take it or leave it. I like challenges personally which make me tick. Looking forward to the unknown; who knows it can be better than you ever imagined.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Then, there was generally more passion with bands and musicians trying to jam and have a good time whether they made it or not. Nowadays with the business side of it is so predominant, it's a billion-dollar business industry and many times the bands being forced to do other things whether they like it or not hence in some cases the passion is being lost to some extent.  The musicians in general had more freedom to do what they wanted compared to now. It's also up to the musicians to stand up to what they would like to do. I have always been fortunate to make music the way I wanted. I have always written all my music, performed and produced them. The record companies I have been with always gave me freedom and believed in me. At the end it's one's motivation, dedication and perseverance to get them through to where they want to go in life. DON'T EVER GIVE UP!

"Life is long and each day is a different song which makes a life story like the sky with different stars." (L. Shankar / Photo by Ashraf Malayali)

What is the impact of music on the spiritual and socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?

Music can be so influential in all levels cultural, social, spiritual and make people realize that changes can be made for the betterment of the world and also personally. A song with a positive message can reach all over the world simultaneously now with the social media times. My lyrics and melodies from " Chepleeri Dream " reflects upon many of the emotions many of us feel and how we can deal with situations.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

With a time machine I would like to visit the future 100 years from now to go around the world (by then probably we can go from one place to other in no time) to see where the technology has taken the world but I'm sure still people's problem won't be gone completely but I'm more interested by then would we have a peaceful world and no war, where everyone is more helpful to others from all parts of the world,  to realize that we are all equals and where women and children are lot more safer from society and there's no slavery and abuse  and humanity is at a better place.

I would like to wish everyone a safe and good life during these troublesome days. But everything must pass eventually, and we have better days waiting for us surely soon or later!

L. Shankar - Home

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