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August 9, 2023

The Origins of Shakti


Shakti World Tour artists

If you are a fan of fusion music, you probably have heard of Shakti, the groundbreaking band that blended Indian classical music with jazz and rock. But do you know how this band came to be, and why their upcoming performance in Ann Arbor is a rare and special opportunity to witness musical history?

Shakti was formed in 1973 by John McLaughlin, a British guitarist who had already made a name for himself as a pioneer of jazz fusion with Miles Davis and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. McLaughlin was fascinated by Indian music and spirituality, and he met Zakir Hussain, a young tabla prodigy who was the son of the legendary Ustad Alla Rakha, Ravi Shankar’s longtime accompanist. The two musicians felt an instant connection and started to jam together, exploring the possibilities of combining their musical traditions.

McLaughlin decided to leave the Mahavishnu Orchestra and form a new band with Hussain, violinist L. Shankar, and ghatam player T.H. “Vikku” Vinayakram. They called themselves Shakti, which means “divine energy” or “power” in Sanskrit. The band played acoustic instruments and created a unique sound that was both complex and captivating, blending intricate rhythms, melodies, and improvisations.

McLaughlin speaks about “innate nature of Joy” of the ensemble in this brief promo video:

Shakti recorded three studio albums and one live album between 1975 and 1977, and toured extensively around the world. They received critical acclaim and influenced many musicians who followed their footsteps in creating cross-cultural musical fusions.

Shakti reunited in 1997 for concerts in India, with Vinayakram’s son, V. Selvaganesh, replacing him on percussion. Since then, Shakti has introduced two new members, vocalist Shankar Mahadevan and violinist Ganesh Rajagopalan, to join the original duo of McLaughlin and Hussain.

Now in 2023, Shakti is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a new studio album called This Moment, which features eight new compositions by McLaughlin and Hussain. The album showcases the band’s evolution and maturity over the decades, while retaining their original spirit and vision. The album also features guest appearances by Jerry Douglas on dobro, Béla Fleck on banjo, Edgar Meyer on bass, Jordan Rudess on keyboards, and Jeff Coffin on saxophone.

As he shares in this video, Hussain describes the ensemble as “the only group where anything goes, musically…”

To mark their 50th Anniversary milestone, Shakti is embarking on a world tour that will bring them to various cities in Europe, Asia, and North America. One of their stops — in fact, their only Michigan appearance — is here in Ann Arbor, where they will perform at Hill Auditorium on September 14 with very special guest, Béla Fleck. This is a rare chance to see Shakti live in action, as they have not toured in the U.S. since 2007!

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