Shankar Mahadevan: Music in this country cannot only be about Bollywood
Shankar Mahadevan is bringing all his expertise across genres and sonic fields to Bacardi NH7 Weekender in Pune, on 4 December. Called My Country, My Music, Mahadevan leads a troupe of musicians from across India, performing folk, fusion and Bollywood music.
For about 20 years now, Shankar Mahadevan has been knocking on every door there is in the music industry, whether it’s his beginnings in the Indi-pop era or becoming a quintessential voice in film music, or lending his voice to devotional music as well as fusion biggies such as Zakir Hussain and guitar great John McLaughlin. “I’ve been lucky enough to be present in all kinds of different worlds,” he says over the phone, in between recording sessions.
Ask him about what happened to the Indi-pop trend of the late 1990s and he confirms it’s vanished. “It was a Catch-22 situation. Anybody who wanted to venture into indie music or non-film music, why would they do it? For one, they might do it because their song would get a lot of airplay or video rotations and people will hear the song and they’re not bothered about the money. Or, he or she may generate some kind of revenue out of that. But both were not happening! The music companies wouldn’t promote anything, they’d sit on it and do nothing about it. Neither were people getting recognition nor money,” he explains, the exasperation of the time almost seems to return to his voice even now.
It’s evident that there was struggle for Mahadevan, but he had a strong repertoire of songs compared to his peers and the aspiration to work in Bollywood and other regional languages. The projects came pouring in and he became a household name, alongside his composer teammates Ehsnaan Noorani and Loy Mendonsa.
Now, Mahadevan is bringing all his expertise across genres and sonic fields to Bacardi NH7 Weekender in Pune, on 4 December. Called My Country, My Music, Mahadevan leads a troupe of musicians from across India, performing folk, fusion and Bollywood music. He explains, “Our country is full of so many languages, so many cultures, so many forms of music and each of them has its own beauty and USP. I wanted to develop a show that brings all these forms of music, which is classical music, folk music and of course contemporary music — all together on stage and present it in a way where people get a taste of what our country is all about.”
They’ve been really successful, this sort of showcase. “I’ve premiered this particular show in Singapore a couple of years ago. I’ve done very exclusive performances in Mumbai last year. We had two shows in NCPA and both were sold out kind of shows,” he says.
Mahadevan will invite on stage several guests, ranging from Marathi folk theatre academic Ganesh S Chandanshive and Tamil singer Manikka Vinayagam to Rajasthani folk singer Mame Khan, who recently lent his voice to the song ‘Bawre’ on Mirzya. Mahadevan adds, “We composed a lot of original content for this show, along with folk music from each particular region. I’ll also have people from Assam, the North East, folk music of Punjab, Andhra — all these things… but the backing is a very contemporary band that I have. We’ve rearranged some of the traditional pieces and presenting all of it on one stage.”
Through the course of the show, which seems as much of an education as it is entertainment, Mahadevan will also link how traditional folk music influences mainstream Bollywood music. And considering this isn’t the first time he’s putting this show together, the singer and composer is more excited about the festival setting of NH7 Weekender. He says that his son, singer Siddharth Mahadevan, attended the festival last year and came back with a strong argument for his father to attend, if not perform. “I’ve also spoken to people who are part of the organising team. My son told me it’s an unbelievable experience. I think for me also, this is the place where I can also play the kind of music that’s close to my heart and also feature so many artists from all over the country and it’s going to be a great experience,” says Mahadevan.
Following his Weekender set, there’s a lot more work that keeps the singer busy — from opening his own online music academy (“I want to make it the Harvard of music, eventually,” he says modestly), to touring with Zakir Hussain as the fusion band Crosscurrents and scoring the music for the Aamir Khan and Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Thugs of Hindostan. In between all that, he promises he’ll take My Country, My Music to a new place — the recording studio. He says, “Eventually it’s going to be extended into an album and lots of stuff is going to happen. This is just the beginning.”
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