Shankar Mahadevan has been, for decades now, mesmerising the audience with his music. He rose to fame as a pop artiste with fusion music comprising Carnatic, Hindustani, and Jazz. His 1998 superhit album, Breathless, turned him into a national sensation.
The singer-composer is on a roll with three interesting events in Mumbai this month. He will be performing today with his sons, Siddharth and Shivam, and on January 15, he’ll be a part of a classical music concert happening at Gateway of India. He is also a part of the Celebrating 50 years of Shakti performance on January 22.
Excerpts from the interview:
How did the idea of collaborating with your sons for performance come about?
I think for a father performing with his children is the biggest blessing and high. All concerts on one side and this on the other side… Where you get the pleasure and happiness of being with your children on stage. When I saw that my children are developing into mature musicians, not only singing but also composing and performing individually, I thought that is a great chance once to perform together and enjoy music on stage.
How did you draw the line between being a professional senior musician and a father during rehearsals? Which side of yours was more dominant?
I don’t think any of my side was dominant. It was about sharing happiness and having a great time during rehearsals. In fact, my children were more particular and I learnt a lot from them during rehearsals. They were particular about perfection and repeatedly made musicians play some parts so that we achieve something on stage. So, it was the other way round. It’s a lot of give and take when you have grown-up sons and they are more like friends and companions other than just a father-son.
You are performing at an open-air venue at the Gateway of India. How different or difficult is an open-air performance compared to an enclosed auditorium?
If it’s an open-air performance, you have to take into consideration external noise factors. If it’s a Bollywood set, a rock concert, or a high-energy folk set, with loud accompanying instruments, then it doesn’t matter. If it’s an environment where you need silence, you need to play with silence, and use it in your rendition or composition if you want to highlight delicate nuances of music where you drop your volume level to almost zero.
Does it impact your voice? How do you manage your vocals at an open-air venue?
The throw of the voice differs in an outdoor show because there’s no reflection of sound. Your voice doesn’t bounce back and you cannot play with the acoustics of the hall. Many times we take into consideration the acoustics of the hall and adjust the volume and nuances accordingly. Also, silence plays an important role. But in an outdoor venue, these aspects become slightly redundant and the throw of the voice changes. It has to be more than what you do in an indoor auditorium.
Breathless was an iconic song and several years have passed since then. Will you be able to pull off another Breathless today?
I don’t have any plans of doing another Breathless. The position that Breathless achieved, it’s difficult to repeat oneself and do a second Breathless. The second one will always be number two. And I’d like to remain number one with just one Breathless. It is a concept that worked and it doesn’t excite me to do another one.
As the trio Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, what role do you play while making music together?
I have composed music for about 28 years with Ehsaan and Loy. In the beginning, our roles as composers were demarcated — I used to do the vocals, Ehsaan the guitar, and Loy programming and stuff. However, over the years the lines blurred and today everybody does everything. You just cannot imagine who is doing what part because we understand each other so well. It’s almost like a mind-reading game. For example, I may write the guitar line, Ehsaan may write the vocal line, and Loy may do the Indian sitar part. We don’t have definite roles at all.
What are your thoughts on the remix culture of today? Do you think remixing old songs acts as a bridge between the old and the new?
To a certain extent, I do not have anything against remixes. It was a fun thing when once in a while you used to take a song and bring it into the modern world and do an interesting arrangement. But right now every single film has one. Now I’m bored of listening to old remixes. I don’t know why they’re doing it. Does it mean they don’t have faith in the composers they are signing? Do they believe that by remixing you can attract people to watch the film in the theatre? This is completely wrong. Honestly, the idea is not a novelty anymore. It’s just very boring.
Shakti completes 50 years of its inception, what were your thoughts when you were selected to be a part of it?
During my school and college days, Shakti was one band whose cassettes I would buy. I used to intently listen to them and learn from the pieces. It was like an education for me. One of my dreams was to meet this band and take a picture. Cut to about 20 years later, I was sitting with them on stage and performing. We ended up performing for about almost 20 years now. It was a dream come true because every musician in that band was a supremo in his field. I couldn’t ask for anything more.
You were the only vocalist on Shakti, how did the association come about?
John McLaughlin always had a dream of having a vocal performer in a band like Shakti where the music is complex and intense, with the need for a lot of speed, perfection, and precision. He was looking for a vocalist all over India and I was the lucky one to be selected. I was glad they felt I was worthy of being part of that group. Now it’s been a journey of more than 20 years.
How did you manage to assimilate yourself into Shakti which boasts of legendary names in the field of music?
Well, you should ask the maestros how I assimilated into Shakti. For me, just being on stage was a spiritual experience where every minute I was learning, growing as a musician, and getting a chance to be with the best in the world. It was truly an experience of love, joy, and an exchange of amazing music. We were all in a peaceful and happy space when we were together on stage and that translated to the audience.
What are you looking forward to in 2023?
I am looking forward to a wonderful and healthy year with a lot of music and collaborations. We are doing some interesting films like Sam Bahadur and The Archies, a film with Rajshri Productions, and a few others. We are also doing a lot of work for my Shankar Mahadevan Academy. Then a lot of live performances with new concepts and the launch of an amazing digital platform… So there’s a lot of work and I am enjoying every bit of it.