My mother helped bring Indian music to the West: Gingger Shankar

Feb 22, 2015, 08:00 IST | Deepali Dhingra

Violinist and vocalist Gingger Shankar plans to remix her mother, classical singer Viji Shankar's old songs, for a documentary

English actor Alan Rickman knew what he was talking about when he said 'Talent is an accident of genes, and a responsibility'. Gingger Shankar knows exactly what Rickman was getting at. The eldest daughter of violinist L Subramaniam and classical singer Viji Shankar, is also the grandniece of sitar virtuoso Pandit Ravi Shankar.

Gingger Shankar
Gingger Shankar 

Raised in India and Los Angeles, the vocalist, violinist, and songwriter started performing at the age of 14, and since then has composed music for movies such as Passion of The Christ, The Forbidden Kingdom, Hindi films Katiyabaaz and Monsoon Shootout which premiered at Cannes 2014.

She has also performed with musicians such as Talvin Singh, Steve Vai, Sussan Deyhim, James Newton Howard, Rabbit in the Moon, Tony Levin and Steve Lukather and played the double violin for Katy Perry's single Legendary Lovers.

Excerpts from an interview:

Q. Tell us about Nari, your documentary on women sitar players.
A. The idea came to me after my grandmother, Lakshmi Shankar passed away early last year. I wanted to tell the story of my mother (Viji Shankar) and my grandmother. It's an important story for the world of music, and it is about the two people who greatly influenced my life. Last year, I visited India in December to work on the project. My collaborators are Dave Liang (producer of the electronic group The Shanghai Restoration Project) and Yunfan Sun who is the artistic director. We have been shooting in various places from LA and New York to Mumbai where my mother grew up. Nari is the unsung story of the lives of two extraordinary artistes who helped bring Indian music to the West in the 1970s through their close collaborations with Pandit Ravi Shankar and George Harrison. In Sanskrit, Nari means both woman and sacrifice. As two female artistes, Lakshmi and
Viji fought to overcome numerous challenges in both their artistic and personal lives. The visuals will be a combination of film, archival footage, old photographs and concert posters, animation, and fine art.

Q. What prompted you to remix your mother's old tracks for the documentary?
A. I wanted to use my mother's and grandmother's voices. My mother's voice is soulful and she always sounded way beyond her years. We discovered recordings of her singing since she was a teenager. We have used them to tell the story of her journey. We've added new arrangements and Western and electronic elements to it. It was quite an emotional experience hearing her and working with it. I really want people to hear her incredible voice.

Q. Your cousins include the famous sitarist Anoushka Shankar and singer Norah Jones. Are you planning to collaborate with them?
A. Norah and Anoushka are both inspiring women, and have done great work in their respective fields. Norah and I have played at the same festivals over the years. We recently performed at the George Harrison Fest in LA a few months ago. I'm often asked whether I'm going to work with various family members. The answer is always the same. You never know!

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