On his last trip to India, in February 2009, Herbie Hancock took a moment to think. It is customary to the Grammy award winning composer-pianist to generally take time out to travel the nation.
Only, this time around, his travel inspired him to make music. “I imagined a project that would include songs from musicians around the world. And I immediately started writing and recording with artistes I revered,” says Hancock. Hancock recorded a song called The song goes on with Ravi Shankar, Anoushka Shankar, playback singer KS Chitra and vocalist Chaka Khan in Mumbai last year, which made it to his new album, The Imagine Project. The album is a collection of Hancock’s collaborations with pop, rock and world musicians from across the world.
Recorded in seven countries including India, UK, France, Ireland and Brazil, the album features artistes such as Pink, K’Naan, Los Lobos, Seal, Dave Mathews, India Arie, Jeff Beck, Lisa Hannigan Tinariwen and Kokono No 1. Released in USA in June this year, The Imagine Project will make its way to India at the end of August.
But for Hancock, 70, it is the work of a lifetime. “Music is very powerful. I remember this guy after a concert somewhere, and he said to me ‘Thank you for your song Maiden Voyage. I wouldn’t have been born otherwise.’ That was a big compliment. It’s a funny example, but songs that have inspirational value last a lifetime. I think I yearned for that, which is why I thought of putting all the great artistes of the world together on one album,” Hancock says.
Each of the ten tracks are mixed and recorded with instruments that are unique to the culture the artiste belongs to, with Hancock improvising the melodies and harmonies. Hancock also filmed the whole process of making the album, and is going to release it on DVD. Scenes that feature him show him wearing a camera saddle strapped across his shoulder and a piano in the studio. India, he says, happened by chance.
“When I came to India last year, I got the opportunity to interact with these great Indian musicians. I was hoping for a day off in order to record a track with Anoushka (Shankar), Ustad Ravi Shankar and Chitra. Chaka Khan was also visiting with me, so I tossed the idea around and they eagerly hopped on board. We did a live studio recording in Mumbai and then Wayne Shorter added saxophone to it,” Hancock says.
Although The Imagine Project has travelled to a few festivals across the globe since its June release, Hancock is uncertain if he’ll be able to make it to India. “Since the idea germinated in India, it’s only fitting that I bring Imagine live to the country. But it all depends on the reception and whether people want me there,” Hancock says.