Lakshmi Shankar holds her
listeners spell-bound... her whole presentation, suffused as it were with
tender lyricism, leaves nothing to be desired. It is perfect in itself.
(Times of India)
Lakshmi Shankar, one of the foremost and well-known vocalists of India, had her training in the North Indian tradition from Ustad Abdul Rehman Khan of the Patiala Gharana (style or school). Later she learnt from many masters including Prof. B.R. Deodhar and also from the sitar Maestro, Pandit Ravi Shankar, whom she assisted in most of his projects for ballets, films, fusions and festivals.
The magic of her rich, melodious voice, her sense of proportion and the emotional content of her singing are some of the qualities that have made her one of the foremost and most popular vocalists since the last fifty years.
She is the first Indian
classical vocalist who has done pioneering service to popularise vocal music
in the west. She has numerous recordings to her credit and has lent her voice
to many films, including
the Academy Award-winning Gandhi by Sir Richard Attenborough.
She is at present a recepient of the Durfee Foundation(L.A.) to teach Indian music to American students.
'Lakshmi Shankars performance sent the audience into ecstasies...' - The Times, London
No one at the festival communicated so much, so directly and so beautifully. Lakshmi Shankar displayed an elegant virtuosity and musical complexity unknown to the tradition which represents the coloratura soprano as the highest achievement of the female voice. - Shiraz Festival, Iran
A voice trained to perfection. Her beautiful, crystal clear voice... easily traversed three octaves expressed a myriad exquisite little nuances...intensively imaginative decorations...clarity of musical form...serenely evocative. - The Indian Express, Madras
...recital of Lakshmi Shankar full of superfine artistry. The sweet tonal quality and the splendid presentation cast a spell. - The Mail, Madras
Treasure chest of melodic inspiration...the Hindustani concert of renowned artiste...wafted in like the gentle west wind with its balmy breeze... the artistes voice traversed the octaves with amazing felicity and the swara patterns fell into place with clock-work precision. The elaboration... was a miniature musical saga. She sang with an easy effortless grace... - The Hindu, India, 97
Lakshmi Shankars Hindusthani music brings with it a basic thrust. The sweet voice of this inspired singer... suggests a basic angst. Her music is a search for significance...her performance for Hamsadhwani had many an inspiring moment - Indian Express, Chennai, 97
Among the Southerners in Hindustani musicians, Lakshmi Shankar occupies a pre-eminent place - The Indian Express, Ahmedabad, 97
My recent stay with Smt. Lakshmi Shankar in her spacious and beautiful home in Los Angeles, USA was of immense personal satisfaction for it was the occasion of her seventy fifth birthday celebrations. But, above all, it confirmed what I have observed and admired her for since the twenty years I have had the privilege of being associated with her: that here is an immensely simple, modest, charming, unpretentious yet practical lady, a pleasure to be with and a source of great inspiration to me and many others. Whose intense love and devotion for her music go beyond that of a mere professional artist, for whom singing is simply an end in itself. Humility before her art is her guiding force, her success is a many splendoured event in her life. Below are extracts from our interview:
Lakshmiji, you are often termed as the dancer turned singer,
your beginnings as an artist are less straightforward and more interestingly
different from those of other musicians.
Q: How could you take to dancing
coming from an orthodox South-Indian Brahmin family?
Q: When did your association with Uday Shankar
and his Centre in Almora begin?
In the dance item
Q: And then, your hopes of becoming a dancer came
to an end.
A: I developed pleurasy and was forbidden to dance. My dreams were shattered. It was then that, encouraged by my husband and family, I took to vocal training. By then, we had moved to Bombay where I learnt intensively under Ustad Abdul Rehman Khan and completed my Bachelor of Music degree under Professor Deodhar.
|Q: You were also briefly associated
with the film world in Bombay.
A: In fact, I could almost say that, had I not fallen ill, my life would have taken a different turn, into the world of cinema. I took an active part in playback singing in Hindi and Tamil films, even acted in a Tamil film Bhakta Tulsidas, singing the songs and directing the dances. I had also performed in the ballet Discovery of India based on Jawaharlal Nehrus work. But classical music was now my main focus and interest so, after the initial five years of my training with Ustad Abdul Rehman Khan, which equalled fifteen to twenty years in intensity, I gave my first public concert in Calcutta. Here, I may add that my earlier training in Carnatic music greatly facilitated my rapid progression.
Q: When did you first perform outside India?
A: In 1962-63, in the US, Canada and Europe with Uday Shankar, as a vocalist and director of the ballet orchestra. My second trip was in 1968, in the Festival from India organised by Ravi Shankar. And then, in 1970 as a solo performer to Florence, Venice, Rome and the Shiraz Festival in Iran in what was to be the first of innumerable tours abroad.
Q: Your style is from the Patiala Gharana. Did you
find this style particularly suited to you?
A: My Guru, Ustad Abdul Rehman Khan, was of the Patiala Gharana. A womans voice is meant for sweetness and I feel this style is most ideal for her. Moreover, the words are sung clearly and this is necessary for the enhancement of the audiences understanding. However, at present, gharanas have less significance as each takes the best from the other, thereby making a breakthrough in tradition without losing its classicism. That is what I have aspired to do.
Q: With your sound grasp of both Hindustani and Carnatic
systems of music, yours is a case of wedding of south with north in more than
A: My sound training in Carnatic music in my early years helped me immensely when I started learning Hindustani vocal. Acquiring a knowledge of both systems also helped me to learn many Indian languages. Today, I sing bhajans in Sanskrit, Tamil, Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Gujerati, Kannada and Telegu.
Q: How do you view your audience and particularly
the western audience for whom you have sung - and continue to sing - so extensively?
A: I believe a performer on the stage is never a completely different entity to the audience. As a performer, I must be able to feel the pulse of the listeners and react
accordingly. In that sense, presentation is an important factor which every musician must bear in mind. As for western audiences, what began as a matter of curiosity in a novel experience many decades ago has burgeoned into a full-fledged understanding and proves once again that music is universal, transcending all languages and cultural barriers.
Q: Your music reflects what people perceive you to
be: a person with a sympathetic insight, certain gentleness, clarity and sweetness.
Your music goes straight to the
heart, reflects serenity. These attributes must help you in your approach to the music world and your critics.
A: I never worry about criticism for critics have a right to give their honest opinion. Besides, I welcome it, as long as it is not biased, for it helps me to correct myself.
My music helps me to acquire this serenity for it is to me something divine in which Ican lose myself. Through my bhajan compositions, I try to infuse devotion, for
devotion is an important element to draw the listeners to music and to render it emotionally effective. I am grateful to God and the public for whatever I have
achieved although I know there is no end to ones accomplishments.
Q: Lakshmiji, you have just celebrated your seventy-fifth birthday and fifty years of performing. We too, at Association Sargam, sincerely look forward to celebrating this event - and incidentally our twenty years together! - by presenting you in a Hindustani vocal recital on Saturday 13th October 2001 at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. in London. It will be a source of immense pleasure and a great privilege. Thank you.
Shireen Isal: June 2001
Salman Asif describes his and Fida Hussain Khansahib's tribute to Lakshmiji.
"Poetry and music, together, have enchanted the human heart and uplifted
the human soul since the times immemorial. The evening celebrates this inimitable
union of the two, the vision and the sound in a rare tribute to great classical
singer Laxmi Shanker. Breaking the barriers, transcending thresholds
taking you to a timeless journey into medieval, classical and contemporary Urdu
poetry recited by writer-broadcaster Salman Asif, and sung by veteran classical
singer Ustad Fida Hussain the evening aims to orchestrate a tapestry
of haunting unforgettable images."
- Les Heures et les Saison - Ocora, France
- Songs of Devotion - Auvidis (Ethnic), France
- Live Concert from Los Angeles - Ravi Shankar Music Circle, USA
- Live in London - Navras, UK
- Bhakti Ras - Navras, UK
- Shringar: Thumris - Music Today, India
- Ecstasy - Audiorec (Cat No 1052-2)
- Amrut Ras - Audiorec (Cat No 1055-2)
- Divine Love - Navras UK (Cat No NRCD 3515)
- Live in London - Navras, UK
- Bhakti Ras - Navras, UK
- Songs of the Seasons - Music Today, India
- Shringar: Thumris - Music Today, India
- Thumris - HMV - India
- Lakshmi Shankar Vocal with Zakir Hussain and L. Subramaniam - HMV, India
This page will be updated with further notes and discography of Lakshmiji.