Shakti’s violinist Ganesh Rajagopalan on being part of a Grammy-winning band

The air was electric with triumph and cultural convergence, as jazz-fusion ensemble Shakti secured the prestigious Grammy for Best Global Music Album with their seminal work, “This Moment.” It marked not only the band’s first release in over forty years but also their victorious comeback to the forefront of the world music stage at the 66th Recording Academy Awards, held merely a fortnight ago.

From the other end of a video call in Seattle, Ganesh Rajagopalan, Shakti’s master violinist celebrated for his solo endeavors and his part in the renowned Carnatic duo Ganesh-Kumaresh, expressed sheer disbelief at the nomination initially, a feeling that eventually translated into a confident premonition of victory. Understandably, the official announcement of the win elicited a reaction akin to prophetic fulfillment.

At the star-studded ceremony in Los Angeles, Rajagopalan, along with Shankar Mahadevan and V Selvaganesh, ascended the Grammy stage as representatives of Shakti. They were, however, incomplete, as Zakir Hussain was backstage, basking in his own Grammy success, while the band’s founder, John McLaughlin, chose not to make the transatlantic trek.

Despite the physical absence of some of its members, the group quickly united in celebration via a conference call, with Rajagopalan humorously recalling the event as if it were “the last day of our lives.”

Stepping into a legacy act like Shakti, Rajagopalan, relatively new to the band’s lineup, has enjoyed a strong musical rapport with members such as Hussain and McLaughlin for nearly a quarter-century. His defining moment with the band’s distinct sonic essence dates back to 1999, during a memorable set at the Cannes Film Festival, which earned him his place among the fusion legends.

Acknowledging the massive shoes he had to fill, Rajagopalan was acutely conscious of the honor and responsibility that came with his role in Shakti. He joined the band with the intent to drive it forward while respecting its fifty-year heritage, a vision that aligned with the expectations set by McLaughlin and Hussain.

While fans might have drawn comparisons with the prior lineup in light of the Grammy win, Rajagopalan noticed no shade of resentment. On the contrary, Shakti’s global tour, before and after releasing “This Moment,” demonstrated the unanimous joy of audiences witnessing the band’s reenergized performances. Evidently, Rajagopalan was gracefully deemed fit to be part of the ensemble, buoyed by robust encouragement from all members, particularly the affirmations from McLaughlin and Hussain.

Meanwhile, back home, Rajagopalan and Kumaresh performed a duo of concerts in Karnataka, continuing their time-honored tradition of Carnatic music—a tradition fetching renewed global appeal following the Grammy recognition.

The brothers’ dedication to their art form was nurtured from childhood, guided by their father, TS Rajagopalan, who inspired them to harness the potential of music and to embrace each opportunity with open arms, regardless of the occasional critiques encountered during career milestones such as their film roles.

Looking ahead, Rajagopalan’s itinerary is replete with music and tours, including a stint in the US and subsequent performances in India. With an aura of jovial anticipation, he aspires for a Shakti tour to bask collectively in their Grammy success, an event that would undoubtedly be a cause for global celebration in the music community.

As the news of Shakti’s remarkable Grammy accolade spreads, the world is reminded that the power of transcultural music remains timeless and ever-evolving, a testament to the indelible spirit of artists like Ganesh Rajagopalan and his fellow maestros of Shakti.

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