Ananda Shankar


The Ananda Shankar Experience & State of Bengal
'Walking On' CDRW83

The first thing to say about this music is that it wasn't made by a band; it was put together as a project. The whole thing went from rehearsal, to tour, to studio, in seven weeks. At the end of those weeks the people involved became more than a band, they became a family. And as a family we were all shocked to hear that our most important member had passed on. So now we had not just a record, but a tribute to an artist who pioneered the bringing together of Eastern and Western music and through that the joining together of people. It was Ananda's last studio session in a long and illustrious career and like the early days he was back, once again, at the heart of fusion and experimentation. Shanti te tahko.

Ananda was born in Almora, Uttar Pradesh in 1942. The son of dancers Uday and Amala Shankar and the nephew of Pandit Ravi Shankar, he was raised in an artistically creative atmosphere. He studied sitar with Dr Lalmani Mishra in Banaras at the Hindu University. In the late 1960s he travelled to the west coast of America when the flower power generation was in full swing. The pop world was fascinated by all things sitar. Informal jam sessions with Jimi Hendrix in 1969 soon resulted in attention from producers at Warner Reprise. The ensuing LP Ananda Shankar saw the young musician flexing his skills as composer and arranger. It featured amazing cover versions of the Rolling Stones' Jumping Jack Flash and The Doors' Light My Fire, ensuring the record's cult success, then and to this day.

Ananda returned to India in the '70s to pursue his personal musical vision. He was one of the earliest to combine traditional Indian instrumentation with Western music, blending mridangam with guitar and sitar, and sarod and veena with jazz and rock drums. On the album Ananda Shankar And His Music it all fell into place. Two tracks in particular, Streets Of Calcutta (featured live on this CD) and Dancing Drums are absolute classics of their time and still sound totally fresh today. Wild rhythmic patterns from rock and pop collided and colluded with gorgeous Indian melodies. His band Mudavis toured the world to great acclaim, and he continued to make records - although he quickly branched out into compositional work for radio, film and television, along with hugely successful musical direction for his wife Tanusree's internationally admired dance company. The pop and rock world is well-known for its ephemeral nature and, in the West, Ananda became part of the secret history of pop culture. A story waiting to be told.

In the nineties the Shankar back catalogue became sought after for its rich vein of eclectic breaks and beats. Those wild rhythmic patterns were perfect for hip-hop and drum and bass heads. But in England a more serious appreciation of his contribution to world music emerged at club nights like Anokha in London's East End. DJ, musician and producer Sam Zaman, aka State Of Bengal, played a seven-hour vinyl tribute to Ananda at one legendary session. Some long-deleted tracks from the sixties and seventies began appearing on official and not- so-official compilation albums. The original vinyl began to fetch very silly prices.

It was while running a club night called Hypnotique, with The Big Chill's Pete Lawrence, in the mid-nineties that I came across the Shankar grooves. Wondering whether he was still working, I was amazed to find that I knew a close friend of his, an ex-dancer with Mudavis, Piali Ray. We both had offices at the Midlands Arts Centre in Birmingham and from there a plan was conceived to bring Ananda over to the UK to rehearse a live touring project, which later became what you hold in your hands now, when WOMAD booked the project and Real World whisked it into the studio during Recording Week. State of Bengal was immediately and naturally brought in as a musical partner, adding a unique and up to the minute dimension to what was already an amazing fusion experience. Sam Zaman had been listening to Ananda since his early teens and sometimes even remembered tunes that the maestro had forgotten.

State of Bengal's eclectic mix of Indian classical music with breakbeat, hip-hop, tabla-driven beats and melodic vocals seemed perfect as a '90s response to Ananda's sound. Fresh from work with Björk, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Massive Attack, Sam Zaman found time off from making his own album (Visual Audio on One Little Indian) to throw himself fully into the project.

The tour was a crazy and glorious affair. After three weeks' rehearsal - at the start of which Ananda and Sam met, literally, for the first time - the band opened at Brighton Concorde and were overwhelmed by the welcome. The place rocked. The live tracks on this set were recorded at a heaving Band On The Wall in Manchester. The London show was a sell-out, mad success. The party rolled into WOMAD to perform an emotional set in the Siam tent. On the way vans broke down, houses set on fire, and Ananda played as many practical jokes as he could to liven up the already hectic proceedings. When lightning hit the Big Room at Real World on the last day of recording we knew the music would be electric. Wherever he played people came out of the woodwork clutching treasured copies of the old stuff for him to sign. We said our last goodbyes at Heathrow, after seven weeks that had changed all of our lives. Little did we know that it would be the last wave.

Ananda used to say: "My dream is to break barriers, any kind of barrier - through music, love, affection and compassion. I have this dream of musicians from all over the world playing for an audience all over the world. When we are all here we are one, and when we go out I am sure we will all be one."

He was an original musician of the world before the term "world music" was invented. Open minded and far-sighted, he opened a door onto possibilities that seem even more relevant now than they did in the sixties. Somewhere, somehow (and with this last recording), Ananda walks on.

Ananda Shankar born 11 December 1942; died 26 March 1999.

- Alan James, June 1999