L. Shankar

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For other Shenkars, see Shenkar (disambiguation). For Hindustani classical vocalist, see Lakshmi Shankar.
L. Shankar
L Shankar.jpg
Shankar in One Truth Band, Jazz Bilzen 1978 performing with John McLaughlin
Background information
Birth name Lakshminarayana Shankar
Also known as Shenkar
Born (1950-04-21) April 21, 1950 (age 65)
Genres Carnatic, classical, electronica, progressive rock, soft rock, folk, fusion, jazz, occidental, pop, hard rock
Occupation(s) Musician, composer, conductor, photographer, arranger, producer, engineer, pedagogue
Instruments Vocals, double violin, viola, electric violin, kanjira, tablas, dholak, drums, percussion, sarod, tamboura, keyboard
Years active 1972–present
Labels Axiom/Island/PolyGram
Notable instruments
Custom-built double violin

Lakshminarayana Shankar (born 26 April 1950), also known as L. Shankar and Shenkar, is an Indian-born American violinist, singer and composer. He has worked extensively in both traditional music from India, and in jazz, free improvisation and popular music, notably with singer Peter Gabriel in the latter.

Early life[edit]

Shankar was born in Madras, Tamil Nadu.[1] Growing up in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, where his father V. Lakshminarayana Iyer was a professor at the Jaffna College of Music, Shankar was exposed to Carnatic music and other styles from an early age. His father was an esteemed violinist, his mother L. Seethalakshmi played the veena and all his five older siblings were also proficient in music. His brothers include the renowned violinist L. Subramaniam and L. Vaidyanathan, a music composer for Indian films.[2] Shankar cites his family and Tyāgarāja as early inspirations.[3]

Shankar began singing at the age of two, playing violin at the age of five, and learning to play drums at seven.[4] At the age of seven L. Shankar gave his first public concert,[1] at the Nallur Kandaswamy temple. He gained considerable reputation in his early youth as an accompanist to some of the most eminent names in Carnatic music such as Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Chembai Vaithyanatha Baghavatar, Palghat Mani Iyer and Alathur Srinivasa Iyer. Following the ethnic riots in Sri Lanka in the 1950s his family escaped to India.[3]


After obtaining a Bachelor's degree in Physics in India, Shankar moved to America in 1969, and for the next few years worked to earn a doctorate in ethnomusicology at Wesleyan University. His doctoral dissertation was titled "The Art of Violin Accompaniment in South Indian Classical Music".[1] Through Clifford Thornton, he met jazz musicians Ornette Coleman, Jimmy Garrison, and John McLaughlin; all the while working as a teaching assistant and concert master for the University Chamber Orchestra. In 1975 Shankar and McLaughlin founded Shakti, a pioneering, groundbreaking and highly influential east-meets-west collaboration, with a fluid sound that managed to successfully combine seemingly incompatible traditions. His first solo album, Touch Me There, was produced by Frank Zappa in 1979.[5] Shankar founded his own band - The Epidemics, in 1982, with the composer Caroline. He released three albums with the band.

During the 1980s, Shankar recorded periodically as a leader, doing both jazz-based material and Indian classical music. His 1980 release of the album Who's To Know on ECM introduced the unique sound of his own invention, the ten-string, stereophonic double violin. This instrument, designed by Shankar and built by noted guitar maker Ken Parker, covers the entire orchestral range, including double bass, cello, viola and violin. He has recently developed a newer version of his instrument which is much lighter than the original.[5]

1990 saw Shankar co-producing a one-hour film directed by H. O. Nazareth, which went on to be nominated for Best Documentary film at the Cannes film festival. Shankar worked on the score of the film The Last Temptation of Christ (1988),composed by Peter Gabriel, with his music ending up on both albums of the score - Passion: Music for The Last Temptation of Christ and Passion - Sources. He won a Grammy for his work on the latter in 1994.[6] 1996 saw a Grammy nomination for the album Raga Aberi.[3] Shankar has performed on several of Peter Gabriel's records such as So and Us. Since 1996, Shankar has toured internationally with fellow-violinist (and his niece) Gingger as "Shankar & Gingger", garnering critical acclaim and popularity.[7] The two performed at events including the Concert for Global Harmony and Nelson Mandela's 80th birthday celebrations. Shankar & Gingger released their first DVD One in a Million in 2001. After a critically successful tour of North America, the DVD went to number 1 on the Neilsen Soundscan DVD charts and stayed there for four weeks.[5] In 2004, Shankar composed additional music with Gingger Shankar for John Debney and performed on the score for the film The Passion of the Christ (2004).

Shankar has played with some of the greatest musical contemporaries of his time, including Lou Reed, Echo & the Bunnymen, Talking Heads, Frank Zappa, Peter Gabriel, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Charly García, Jonathan Davis, Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Stewart Copeland, Yoko Ono, A. R. Rahman, John Waite, Steve Vai, Ginger Baker, Toto, Nils Lofgren, Mark O'Connor, Rodrigo y Gabriela and Sting.[5] Shankar has been praised for his ability to mix Eastern and Western influences, assimilating Carnatic music with pop, rock, jazz and contemporary world music.[8] He admits: "Ultimately, I would like to bring the East and West together. That, I think, is my role," he says.

More recently, Shankar has used a new stage name, Shenkar, and has created recordings under this name. In 2006–2007, Shenkar provided the vocals for the opening credit music and other themes for all episodes of the hit TV series Heroes. He has been lately working in Jonathan Davis', Stephen Day and Ana Maria Lombo's next records.


For a more comprehensive list, see L. Shankar discography.



  1. ^ a b c Lavezzoli, Peter (2006). Bhairavi: The Global Impact of Indian Music. Continuum International Publishing Group. pp. 308–315. ISBN 0-8264-1815-5. 
  2. ^ "Music director L. Vaidyanathan dead". The Hindu. 20 May 2007. Retrieved 16 January 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c Archana Dongre (March–April 2001). "Visonary Violinist". Hinduism Today. Retrieved 15 October 2008. 
  4. ^ "Shankar Biography". AllMusicGuide. Retrieved 10 December 2007. 
  5. ^ a b c d "L. Shankar: Short Biography". World Music Central. Retrieved 25 February 2007. 
  6. ^ L. Shankar-Biography, World Music Central. Retrieved January 20, 2013.
  7. ^ Dasgupta, Priyanka (7 June 2007). "I had to impress my dad". Times of India. Retrieved 29 January 2008. 
  8. ^ Todd Titon, Jeff; Linda Fujie; David Locke; David P. McAlleste. "India/South India". Worlds of Music: An Introduction to the Music of the World's People. p. 223. ISBN 978-0-534-62757-7. The presence of the violin, the saxophone, the guitar and the mandolin in Carnatic music, and the all inclusive nature of South India's cine and pop music industry are obvious examples...Since the 1970s, South Indian musicians have seen the connection between jazz improvisations and India's classical music traditions. From that awareness, the genre known as fusion was born, an interface between East and West that continues to excite a younger generation of musicians and listeners. The violinists L. Shankar and L. Subramaniam have worked extensively with American and European jazz and rock musicians over the past twenty years, as has the extraordinary tabla player Zakir Hussain 

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