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.[citation needed] His father was an esteemed violinist,[weasel words] his mother L. Seethalakshmi played the veena and all his five older siblings were also proficient in music.[citation needed] His brothers include the renowned[weasel words] violinist L. Subramaniam and L. Vaidyanathan, a music composer for Indian films.[2] Shankar cites his family and Tyāgarāja as early inspirations.[3]

Shankar was "[c]apable of humming complex lines from accent Indian compositions" when he was three years of age, and two years later began his study of the violin.[4] He is said to have learned to play drums at the age of seven.[by whom?][citation needed] At the age of seven, Shankar gave his first public concert, at a Ceylonese temple,[4][1] Nallur Kandaswarmy.[citation needed] As Archana Dongre of Hinduism Today notes, "He gained considerable reputation in his early youth as an accompanist to some of the most eminent names in Carnatic music, playing all through India,"[3] names such as Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer,[citation needed] Chembai Vaithyanatha Baghavatar,[citation needed] Palghat Mani Iyer,[citation needed] and Alathur Srinivasa Iyer.[citation needed] Following the ethnic riots in Sri Lanka in the early 1950s, his family escaped to India.[3]

Formal training[edit]

As Dongre of Hinduism Today notes, "After obtaining a B.S. in Physics in India, Shankar came to the US in 1969, and earned a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University in Connecticut."[3] His doctoral dissertation was titled "The Art of Violin Accompaniment in South Indian Classical Music".[1] He worked as a teaching assistant and concert master for the University Chamber Orchestra,[citation needed] and through Clifford Thornton, he met jazz musicians Ornette Coleman, Jimmy Garrison, and John McLaughlin.[citation needed]


Shankar and jazz musician McLaughlin would go on to found Shakti in 1975,[citation needed] with Zakir Hussain and Vinayakram, a "groundbreaking acoustic group,"[3] which has been referred to as a "pioneering" and "highly influential" east-meets-west collaboration that has a "fluid sound" that manages to successfully combine seemingly incompatible traditions.[according to whom?][weasel words][editorializing][this quote needs a citation]

Shankar's 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, which released three albums.[when?][citation needed]

Shankar recorded periodically during the 1980s, doing both jazz-based material and Indian classical music.[citation needed] As World Music Central notes,

His 1980 release, Who's To Know, and Phil Collins' solo debut, Face Value, introduced the unique sound of [his] own invention, the ten-string, stereophonic Double Violin… [D]esigned by Shankar and built by noted guitar maker Ken Parker, [it] covers the entire range of the orchestra's double bass, cello, viola and violin.[5]

He has recently developed a newer version of his instrument which is much lighter than the original.[citation needed]

Shankar co-produced a one-hour film directed by H. O. Nazareth in 1990, which went on to be nominated for Best Documentary film at the Cannes film festival.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] He won a Grammy for his work on the latter in 1994.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] Since 1996, Shankar has toured internationally with his niece, and fellow virtuoso violinist Gingger as "Shankar & Gingger".[6] As World Music Central notes, they have garnered

critical acclaim and a growing fan base, performing at world even[t]s such as The Concert for Global Harmony and Nelson Mandela's 80th birthday celebrations. Shankar & Gingger's first release in the DVD-Audio format… One in a Million was released worldwide on… August 7, 2001.[5]

After a successful tour of North America, the DVD went to number 1 on the Neilsen Soundscan DVD charts and stayed there for four weeks.[citation needed] In 2004, Gingger Shankar composed music with Shankar and John Debney, and performed on the score for the film The Passion of the Christ (2004).[6]

Shankar has played with an extraordinary number of musical contemporaries, individuals and groups, many of which are considered great,[citation needed] including:[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.[7] He admits: "Ultimately, I would like to bring the East and West together. That, I think, is my role."[this quote needs a citation]

More recently, Shankar has used a new stage name, Shenkar, and has created recordings under this name.[citation needed] In 2006–2007, Shenkar provided the vocals for the opening credit music and other themes for all episodes of the hit TV series Heroes.[citation needed] Lately,[when?] he has been working with Jonathan Davis,[citation needed] Stephen Day,[citation needed] and Ana Maria Lombo[citation needed] on their next records.[clarification needed]


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

The following is an aim at a complete discography, based on information from the World Music Central article on Shankar,[5] and other sources:

  • Shakti, with Shakti (Columbia, 1975)
  • A Handful of Beauty, with Shakti (1976)
  • Natural Elements, with Shakti (1977)
  • Electric Dreams (1979)
  • Touch Me There (Zappa Records, 1979)
  • Who's to Know (ECM, 1980)
  • Vision (ECM, 1983)
  • Sérgio Dias (CBS, 1980)[citation needed]
  • Song For Everyone (ECM, 1985)
  • Epidemics, with The Epidemics (1986)
  • Do What U Do, with The Epidemics (1987)
  • Eye Catcher, with The Epidemics (1989)
  • Nobody Told Me (ECM, 1989)
  • Pancha Nadai Pallavi (ECM, 1989)
  • M.R.C.S. (ECM, 1989)
  • Soul Searcher (Axiom/Island/PolyGram Records, 1990)
  • Raga Aberi (Music of the World 131, 1995)
  • The Best Of Shakti (1995)
  • Enlightenment (Ganesh music)
  • Eternal Light (Moment! Records, 2000)
  • One In A Million, as Shankar & Gingger (2001)
  • Celestial Body (Mondo Melodia, 2004)
  • Open the Door, as Shenkar (Big Deal/Rykodisc, 2007)


Further reading[edit]

  • Underwood, Lee (1978). "Profile: L. Shankar," Downbeat (magazine, November 2), see [1], accessed 4 November 2015.


  1. ^ a b c Lavezzoli, Peter (2006). The Dawn of Indian Music in the West [Bhairavi]. London, ENG: Continuum International. pp. 308–315. ISBN 0826418155. Retrieved 4 November 2015. 
  2. ^ Special Correspondent (2007). "Music Director L. Vaidyanathan Dead". The Hindu (Chennai, May 20). Retrieved 4 November 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Dongre, Archana (2001). "Visionary Violinist". Hinduism Today (March/April). Retrieved 4 November 2015. 
  4. ^ a b Harris, Craig (2015). "Shankar: Artist Biography". ALLMUSIC (online). Retrieved 4 November 2015. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Romero y Ruiz, Angel (Ed.); et al. (2015). "L. Shankar: Biography [with Discography]". World Music Central. Retrieved 4 November 2015. 
  6. ^ a b Dasgupta, Priyanka (2007). "'I had to impress my dad'". The Times of India (June 7). Retrieved 4 November 2015. Gingger, daughter of L. Subramaniam, is the artiste and composer behind the score of Mel Gibson's The Passion Of The Christ. 
  7. ^ Titon, Jeff; Cooley, Timothy; Locke, David; McAllester, David & Rasmussen, Anne. "India/South India". In Schechter, John Mendell. Worlds of Music: An Introduction to the Music of the World's People (Shorter Version). Vol. 2 (3rd ed.). Boston, MA, USA: Cengage Learning. p. 223. ISBN 9780534627577. Retrieved 4 November 2015. 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. 

External links[edit]