New sounds always fascinate Gingger Shankar, the only woman in the world to play a double violin. The Passion of the Christ composer also comes from an enviable lineage, she is the daughter of violinist Dr L Subramaniam and classical singer Viji Subramaniam, and her grandmother is Hindustani classical vocalist Lakshmi Shankar, sister-in-law of sitarist Ravi Shankar. "I like things that make me uncomfortable and push me to be better," says Gingger, who is currently busy with the post production of her upcoming album Nari, based on the lives of Lakshmi and Viji Shankar. The singer-cum-double-violinist player spoke to HT about Nari and more.
How did the idea of Nari come to you?
The idea came to me after the death of my grandmother, Lakshmi Shankar, in 2014. Dave Liang (my collaborator) and I were on our way to a concert in Washington DC. I told him about the scrapbooks she had given me and the story of her and my mother. He said that we had to do this project and I agreed. I wanted her and my mother's story to be told. It's such an important one for music and I wanted to tell the story of these two people who greatly influenced my life. The album consists of 13 songs.
What is Nari all about?
It is the unsung story of the lives of Lakshmi and Viji Shankar, two extraordinary artistes who helped bring Indian music to the West in the 1970s through their collaboration with Ravi Shankar and George Harrison. In Sanskrit, 'nari' means both woman and sacrifice. The visuals will take the audience on a behind-the-scenes journey of my mother and grandmother's incredible lives and career. From being rooted in conservative Indian culture, they were catapulted into the stratosphere of American rock and roll and suddenly they were touring with icons such as Ravi Shankar, Billy Preston and George Harrison. Along with the songs, the visuals of Nari will bring to life the pivotal, but seldom-recognised role these women played in the musical revolution that bridged East and West.
Tell us about the videos that you have recorded?
I was in India 2014 December working with my collaborators Dave Liang (producer of the electronic group The Shanghai Restoration Project) and Yunfan Sun (artistic director) filming. We have shot at various places, from Los Angeles and New York to Mumbai, where my mother grew up. The visuals will be a combination of film, archival footage, old photographs and concert posters, animation and fine art.
When are you planning to release Nari? Will it simultaneously release in India and abroad?
We are planning to release the album by the end of 2015. We are planning to release and tour India as well! I cannot wait to premiere it in India.
Any plans of reprising any of your father's popular creations?
When it comes to projects, I never know what the future holds.
Coming to your personal life, being born in the family of legends, how did your passion for music develop?
I was raised in a family of musicians. I grew up with music around me; it was part of my everyday life. I was learning music and dance from the time I was very young and was always going to concerts. Looking back, I realise how lucky I was--running around the studio as a child, playing in the halls during sound checks, always being around music, shows and musicians. It definitely shaped the artiste in me today. I was born in Los Angeles, but was taken to India shortly after. I feel like I grew up there in some ways because of how much time I spent there as a child. I also went to Kalakshetra in India at the age of five.
Musically, what are the genres that you love experimenting with?
I love classical music and pop music. I also like big orchestral sounds. I love bridging the gap between the different worlds I grew up in.
How does it feel being the only woman in the world to play a double violin?
It is an instrument that covers the entire orchestra range - violin, viola, bass and cello. There are only two in the world and I love the sound of it. It provides a tone and sound unlike any other instrument. Whether I am performing live or doing soundtracks, it gives me such a wide range of sounds to work with. The challenge is that so many people have never heard of it, but that is slowly changing.
After Monsoon Shootout are you composing or singing for any other Bollywood film?
I just worked on a film called Love Comes Later, directed by Sonejuhi Sinha, which is going to the Cannes Film Festival in May 2015. I haven't worked in Bollywood since Monsoon Shootout, but would love to.
After Katy Perry, are you collaborating with any India or international artiste? How about working with AR Rahman?
I worked with Linda Perry (who wrote for Christina Aguilera and Pink) on my upcoming record. I have some projects coming up that I can't quite talk about yet! I would love to work with AR Rahman.
Members of your family also stay in Kolkata. Any plans of visiting the city?
I haven't been there in a few years. I have a lot of family in the city, including superb artistes such as Mamata Shankar, Tanushree Shankar, of course the legendary Amala-ji Shankar. I am inspired by these amazing women and can't wait to come back.