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Ganesh Rajagopalan exclusive interview: ‘The Grammy win is yet to sink in’

Shakti bagged the Global Music Album award at Grammy Awards 2024 last month. The Fusion band featuring vocalist Shankar Mahadevan, Ustad Zakir Hussain, John McLaughlin, percussionist V Selvaganesh, and violinist Ganesh Rajagopalan won for the album This Moment. In an exclusive interview with Hindustan Times post the momentous success, Ganesh Rajagopalan sat down for a chat where he opened up about the making of the album, and his decades-long association with the band. (Also read: Grammy Awards 2024 winner Shakti: 5 things you need to know about Shankar Mahadevan and Zakir Hussain’s fusion band)

Ganesh Rajagoapalan.

Congratulations on the Grammy win. We were so euphoric and excited when that happened. What does this recognition mean to you as an artist?

Thank you! (smiles) Grammys! It is like whatever you get in India, it is like very dear because that is from our home right? But when it comes to the Grammys, it means that we get to the world stage where we get recognition; which is really huge. Everybody knows about it. That’s one thing that is yet to sink in! (smiles)

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Tell me a little bit about your decades-long association with Shakti and how it has evolved over the years.

For me, as a young boy I have been fortunate enough to be playing with Vikku (T. H. Vinayakram)Ji, who has been part of Shakti since the beginning and with Zakir (Hussain) Bhai for the past 25 years. Also with Selva Ji (V. Selvaganesh), with whom I have been friends since childhood! I have heard so much about John (McLaughlin) Ji as well. Vikku ji would record things in his small cassette, and play that with us while touring, saying, ‘This is what Shakti sounds, this is what the music is all about.’ You know, Shakti, when you hear it, you are just hooked on to the music it is just so beautiful that it can absorbs you in. There’s so much energy and so much positivity in it, that you can feel it. It is the most beautiful aspect of Shakti’s music.

To listen to the music is one thing but to play that onstage is another thing itself. It is like floating in heaven, drenching in the fantastic music of the great legends. It is beautiful. I think I am really fortunate to be part of the band.

Positive is certainly a word that also resonates with me with Shakti’s music. I have heard that The Moment was conceptualized during the pandemic. Tell me a little bit about that process of collaboration, in such a tumultuous time.

I will tell you one thing. Before the pandemic hit, we were planning to tour Shakti in India. I think it was around 2018-19, when we did two concerts. One was in Kolkata and the other was in Singapore. After this happened, then the next year we were all supposed to tour the whole of India. Unfortunately due to the pandemic, it didn’t happen.

So then, one day John Ji wrote a long message where he said that he and Zakir bhai talked about this and they want to do an album and he wants to talk about it. How we can do it, and we were all in zoom calls in different parts of the world! (smiles) That’s how it began, where he put all his thoughts with all of us and then the compositions came one by one. It was all put together and everyone contributed with their stuff. It was all in the drop box, in the clouds! (smiles) We heard back, got the feedback and then again mixed… it was a long process. The whole thing took more than one and a half years. I mean, we had nothing else to do but even then it took one and a half years. On hindsight, it was a beautiful journey, and very fruitful in fact, because last year we also toured Europe, had lot of concerts in India. So that was beautiful, after the album came out we did the tour and it also culminated into the 50 years of Shakti! (smiles)

Tell me about that celebration…

It was all the same for Zakir bhai and John ji because they were having fun on stage. That’s what you know, because when you get on stage and play with these masters, you immediately become a student. You try to see how they are playing and every time they play it is like a revelation. Something reveals, and you learn. (smiles) So, the chemistry between them and how they egg the others to do better is just beautiful. It is just so miraculous to see John ji play like this at his age and I can see when people say how he was during some years ago!

So, this fifty year tour we did quite a few concerts in Europe and America. In America we did about 16-17 concerts and they were all big shows. You name it and we were playing there! We had beautiful opening acts with Bella Flake, Jerry Douglas and they just lifted the concert to another level. It was at that time when I saw how Shakti affected people’s lives and musicians. I remember Zakir bhai telling me that when they first came up with this record, they did not know where to fit it as a genre. It was not jazz, it was not Indian Classical… but it was something so different. They were the ones, with Shakti, who gave meaning to the word ‘fusion.’ So, it was a lot of fun.

I want to conclude by asking about whether you have any specific principle or rule that you have always kept in mind or followed as an artist.

I always think of my spiritual guru and my musical guru, my dad. I always think of them as blessing me it helps me a lot. That’s what I do. Because we create all the time, I just want to feel very good and that all goes well. That all of us play well, and the concert goes well. These are very, very fundamental things that I have always kept in mind, that’s all.

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