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Worth the wait at the Grammys

Updated on: 09 February,2024 10:39 PM IST  |  Mumbai
Shriram Iyengar |

As India basks in the latest Grammy wins for Shakti, we dive into the fusion group’s latest album, and Ustad Zakir Hussain’s collaboration with Bela Fleck on As We Speak

Worth the wait at the Grammys

(From left) Shankar Mahadevan, Zakir Hussain, V Selvaganesh and Ganesh Rajagopalan at the 2024 Grammy Awards held in Los Angeles. Pic Courtesy/Getty Images

Thoroughbreds, they say, never lose the hunger for competition. The years may cut down their pace, but the spirit continues to thrive. When Shakti released This Moment — their first album in 46 years — in June last year, it marked a key event for fans all over the globe. The recent Grammy Awards saw the band take home the gramophone for Best Global Music Album, alongside Ustad Zakir Hussain’s two wins for his collaboration with composer Béla Fleck, Edgar Meyer and Rakesh Chaurasia in Pashto and As We Speak.

To start with Shakti’s creation, This Moment is a mammoth production in the age of snippety singles. Eight tracks with seven-minute-long compositions is a throwback to the days of longer attention spans. John McLaughlin and Hussain’s mastery and the presence of Shankar Mahadevan, Ganesh Rajagopalan and Selvaganesh Vinayakram makes the experience more enjoyable.

Zakir Hussain and Rakesh Chaurasia accept the Grammy award for their composition, Pashto. Pic Courtesy/AFP
Zakir Hussain and Rakesh Chaurasia accept the Grammy award for their composition, Pashto. Pic Courtesy/AFP

Nowhere is this exemplified better than the opening track of Shrini’s dream. As the title suggests, the song is a tribute to their late collaborator, U Shrinivas, and blends pop synth melodies with konnakol rhythm and Hussain’s tabla. Shrinivas’ presence also comes through in the more traditional take of Giriraj sudha. An older creation, it highlights Mahadevan’s vocal range and composure.

What sets the band apart is their fidelity to the genre. Unlike most imitative forms, the songs by the group transcend the boundaries despite using very uniquely identifiable rhythms. For instance, Las Palmas sets off with McLaughlin’s counting of one-two-three into a rhythmic clapping. It builds into flamenco rhythms before Rajagopalan’s violins imbue it with a touch of hypnotic gypsy melodies.

While McLaughlin is still at the peak of his powers, demonstrated best with his flowing riffs in Bending the rules, Sono mama and Changay naino, every team member has their star moment. Mahadevan’s vocals range from scatting, sighing melodies to riffing on the konnakol with Rajagopalan and Selvaganesh. Songs such as Bending the rules witness the singer perform vocal gymnastics as it moves with dynamic African rhythms and synth. Mohanam is a particular favourite that taps into its raga base and the passion of Selvaganesh’s percussion.

John McLaughlin
John McLaughlin

Through it all is Hussain; creating, adapting and moving at will, he comes to the fore as and when he chooses. The maestro might be in his seventies, but his skill on the tabla continues to astound. The Grammy Awards ceremony was a high point for Hussain as he took home two more awards for his collaborations with Béla Fleck and Edgar Meyer in As We Speak (Best Contemporary Instrumental Album and Best Global Music Performance).

The album with Meyer, Chaurasia and Fleck is certainly one that could rival Shakti’s creation in its use of Indian classical elements with bluegrass and jazz. Hussain and Rakesh Chaurasia stand out with their control and mastery. Pashto, to start with, is a pastoral creation that is lifted by breathy flute play and Hussain’s playful trickery on the tabla. The album is primarily instrumental, except for Beast in the garden. While most songs lean towards the Indian sound, a few — like Rickety karma — feature instruments like the American banjo and percussion that make for an intriguing session. It is a wonder that the album didn’t share a spot with Shakti in the same category. Yet, for now, it is evidence that the old thoroughbreds still have the fire.

Log on to: This Moment and As We Speak on Spotify; Apple iTunes

The Guide picks: 

Shakti’s 10 best tracks 
1. La danse du bonheur
2. Isis
3. Lotus feet
4. Lady L
5. Shringar
6. Saturday night in Bombay
7.  Joy
8. Sakhi
9. Ma no pa
10. Shrini’s dream 

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