The Shankar signature

Last Updated 10 November 2018, 19:30 IST

Shankar Mahadevan, the powerhouse of electrifying music, says: “My foundation in classical music has never come in the way of my singing other genres of music. It has, at best, only enhanced it. Music is my medium to communicate.”

Anyone who has listened to Shankar Mahadevan will vouch for the fact that he is quite at home whether he is singing Carnatic music or film music. The mantra to this is quite simple — he simply does not slot music into compartments.

He attributes his musical success to his training in Carnatic music he received from his late guru T K Balamani. She was a teacher who adhered to the traditional grammar of music. She was also open-minded and encouraged her students to listen to all genres of music. The art of reading and writing notation was something that he learned from her, a fact that he has always acknowledged.

A year to remember

The year 2018 is an important milestone for him, for it is the 20th birth anniversary of the album ‘Breathless’. For this, he teamed up with poet-lyricist-writerJaved Akhtar, who suggested that Shankar sing a song without a pause. The rest is history.

Shankar’s foray into film music along with Ehsaan Noorani and Loy Mendonsa put him on the path of a successful and creative journey, and the trio, under the name Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy (SEL), came up with many chartbusters in Bollywood —Mission Kashmir, Dil Chahta Hai, Kal Ho Naa Ho, Vishwaroopam etc. He says it’s their willingness to accept criticism, be open-minded and to agree to disagree that has kept the team going.

Music has been a constant factor in his life as he dons the roles of playback singer (with several hits in multiple languages), composer, judge (in music reality shows), teacher, and collaborator. He has also brought out several private albums. He has collaborated with musicians from different genres both nationally and internationally — Zakir Hussain, Mandolin Srinivas, Aruna Sairam and Hariharan.

A collaboration, he says, helps him “in exchanging his ideas and widening his horizon.”

Shankar’s success has also been his ability to learn from any and every situation, and to invent and re-invent to keep the hotline of communication open between him and his audience. His simple persona is what makes him so endearing to his audience.

Musical gesture

I was a witness once to the charm that he exuded during an art exhibition he inaugurated at Jehangir Art Gallery. He not only lit the lamp, but lit up the heart of the artist by looking at the works and guessing the context. He also lit up the faces of the audience by singing Vakratunda. The attendees certainly had a personal memory to take home that evening.

More recently, Unni from Nooranad sang Shankar’s number from Vishwaroopam, which was recorded by his friend Shameer, who then posted it on Youtube. It went viral. When Shankar heard the song, he tweeted: ‘Who’s this guy? How can I find him?’ Thanks to social media, it was possible. Unni, a 30-year-old rubber wood logger from Nooranad, Alappuzha shot to fame. Shankar offered Unni a chance to work with him.

His desire to give back to society led to his setting up The Shankar Mahadevan Academy, in collaboration with his friend Sridhar Ranganathan. Affiliated to Berklee College of Music, the first online music academy reaches 72 countries (the same number of melakarta ragas). The main idea is to throw it open to anyone willing to learn.

He has had a good rapport with the Kannada music industry. He recalls the earliest offer made by Hamsalekha for the song Mahaprana Deepam, which became his launch pad.

His latest musical expression, a tribute, ‘My Country, My Music’, aims to be a folk artistes’ collaboration. Shankar says, “This will eventually be a CD. I wanted the raw and rich melodies to speak up for our roots... us mitti ki khushboo!” He is an artiste who loves every bit of what he does.

(Published 10 November 2018, 19:30 IST)

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