Artist Profiles: L. Shankar

L. Shankar

Virtuoso violinist L. Shankar was born on April 26, 1950 in Chennai, India. He was born into a renowned family of musicians, the son and disciple of V. Lakshminarayana. Both of Shankar’s parents were vocalists and his entire family was into music. Shankar started learning vocal techniques at the age of two. His parents were not just Carnatic vocalists, but had a fair bit of exposure to world music. His father was trained in Indian classical music. His mother L Sitalakshmi played the veena while his father sang and played the violin.

At the age of five, Shankar started learning violin. By seven, he gave his first public concert at a temple in Ceylon during a festival.

Early in his career he built a considerable reputation as an accompanist to masters of the South Indian vocal tradition, such as Semmangudi Srinivasar, Chembai Vaithyanatha Baghavatar and Alathur Srinivasa lyer. He was also a member of a unique violin trio with his brothers L. Vaidyanathan and L. Subramaniam.

L. Shankar extensively performed with Palghat Mani, known as the greatest mridangam player of all time.

In 1969 he left India and settled in the United States.

As a soloist and collaborator with such performers as tabla master Zakir Hussain and Vikku Vinayakram, he has been at the forefront in expanding the horizons of Indian music throughout the world. He has received numerous awards including Best Violinist Award from the Madras Music Academy in 1982. Shankar’s numerous collaborations with Western musicians have brought him new international audiences. His association with guitarist John McLaughlin, first as a member of the Mahavishnu Orchestra and then as co-founder and co-writer of Shakti, a group that included John Mclaughlin, Zakir Hussain and Vikku Vinayakram, brought him critical acclaim throughout the world.

Shankar is a virtuoso vocalist / violinist whose vocal range covers five octaves. His 1980 release, Who’s To Know, and Phil Collins’ solo debut, Face Value, introduced the unique sound of Shankar’s own invention, the 10 string stereophonic Double Violin, to listeners around the world. The Double Violin, designed by Shankar and built by Ken Parker, covers the entire range of the orchestra’s double bass, cello, viola and violin, and is the only one in the world. The combination of Shankar’s haunting vocals, double violin and also as a composer has brought him worldwide acclaim as an innovator.

In 1982 Shankar formed the pop-rock group Sadhu, later known as the Epidemics, with British composer, vocalist and keyboardist Caroline. Their two albums included a wide array of pop stars as guest Frank Zappa, Peter Gabriel, John Mclaughlin, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Yoko Ono and Sting among others.

Shankar collaborated with Peter Gabriel on the song Across the River for the premiere of the Nomad double album Music and Rhythm that included tracks from David Byrne, Pete Townsend, etc. Shankar’s own song, Himalaya, was the album’s single, which he wrote, sang and produced. Other projects have included the Sun City Album (Artists Against Apartheid), The Princess Trust Rock Concerts, featuring artists such as Elton John, Eric Clapton, Bee Gees, Joe Cocker and others, and the United Nations Peace Day Festivals which included Bob Geldoff, Bono (Us) and Yoko Ono, among many others.

The rock extravaganza Human Rights Now World Tour in 1988, featured his own group, who were joined in performance by Bruce Springsteen and Peter Gabriel, in addition to several other musicians. In 1993, he completed a long world tour with Peter Gabriel (Secret World Tour), as a special guest, singing and playing violin, besides performing with his own band in several places. The tour ended at the Woodstock Festival in 1994.

Shankar co-produced a one hour BBC film directed by award winning director, H.O. Nazareth. The film featured live concert footage of Shankar in Bombay, India. It was nominated as one of the best documentaries at the Cannes Film Festival. Shankar has also worked on many soundtracks included Jacob’s Ladder, Jennifer 8, Robin Hood, and the Grammy award winning and controversial The Last Temptation of Christ, in which he co-wrote 13 of the tracks with Peter Gabriel. He has also worked as a composer, arranger, producer, singer, violinist and performer with Frank Zappa, Phil Collins, Talking Heads, Lou Reed, Marianne Faithful, Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Peter Gabriel, Van Morrison, U2, The Pretenders, Echo &The Bunnymen,John Lydon (Sex Pistols) and Dave Stewart, among many others.

In 1996, Shankar formed a duo with fellow violinist Gingger. Touring internationally as “Shankar & Gingger” since 1996, they performed at world evens such as The Concert for Global Harmony and Nelson Mandella’s 80th Birthday celebrations. Shankar and Gingger’s first release in the DVD-Audio format, which presents the music in stunning six channel surround sound, One in a Million was released worldwide on Silverline Records August 7, 2001.

Shankar & Gingger eventually moved away from world music and attempted stardom making pop music.


Shakti, with Shakti (CBS, 1975)
A Handful of Beauty, with Shakti (CBS, 1976)
Natural Elements, with Shakti (CBS, 1977)
Touch Me There (Zappa Records, 1979)
Who’s to Know (ECM, 1980)
Vision (ECM, 1983)
Song For Everyone (ECM, 1985)
Nobody Told Me (ECM, 1989)
Pancha Nadai Pallavi (ECM, 1989)
M.R.C.S. (ECM, 1989)
Soul Searcher (Axiom, 1990)
Raga Aberi (Music of the World, 1995)
Enlightenment (Ganesh music)
Eternal Light (Moment! Records, 2000)
Shankar & Ginnger (2001)
Celestial Body (Mondo Melodia, 2004)
Open the Door (Big Deal/Rykodisc, 2007)


Shankar & Gingger’s One In A Million (2001 · Silverline)

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites and Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.


One thought on “Artist Profiles: L. Shankar”

  1. This is a Greeting to L. Shankar.

    I remember years ago,
    you played the most incredible concert with Frank Zappa…
    …few years later, you had a pop band, my brother Whitney was your drummer… I saw you all play a few places, including “Trax”…

    I am a recording artist myself now,
    my name is Jesus Oldman,

    and my music is free to download,

    Thank you,
    Be Well,
    God Bless You.

    ~Jesus Oldman

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