This past weekend, I had the opportunity to hear Shankar Tucker and group, live in concert at Chabot College in Hayward, CA. For those who havent heard of Shankar, he is probably the first Internet musician of the Indian music genre. His claim to fame is covers and original compositions made popular on his YouTube channel, ShrutiBox over the past couple of years. Some of them have racked over a million views and going strong. From the response in the sold-out auditorium yesterday, it does seem like his star is on the rise.
The concert’s proceeds went to a pioneering charitable organization in the US, Association for India’s Development (AID). If you have not heard of them, please check out the stellar work their doing on their official website.
What follows is not as much a concert review as much as my experiences at the concert. This genre of music is new to me. It is an experimental and occasionally western take on Indian music which stretches the boundaries of what is considered the traditional concepts of raga and tala. Nevertheless, the fundamental elements of any good musical performance namely shruti, voice and overall confidence in execution is worth inspection. So here goes.
The evening started at 6:00 pm but I did not make it to the venue until 20 minutes later. I caught the end of the opening act by local music group, Eastern Brew. Of what I heard, the instruments were great especially the guitar and the group was very much in sync. Hope to hear more of them in the future.
The First Half
Shortly after, Shankar and team took the stage. Shankar started with a clarinet solo which nicely set the stage for the evening. He exuded a calm but definitive command over the instrument and the medium. At once, he was at ease.
Shankar was accompanied by 4 singers- Rohan Kymal, Mugdha Hasabnis, and local Bay Area singers- Iyer Sisters (Vidya and Vandana). T
The first vocal piece was by Mugdha which is from Shankar and her new album. Unfortunately I didnt pick up on the title of the song, just that the repeating words were “Sawan aaya hai”. The song was good but it felt as if Mugdha was holding herself back.
The next vocal piece was the popular “Munbe Vaa” piece featuring local talent Iyer Sisters. The song is a cover of a popular A.R.Rahman song from “Sillunu Oru Kadhal” where Shreya Ghoshal did wonders with the original song. The song was well done but I wish there was more to it. It felt clean and executed without the magic of going live. Maybe that was the intention but it felt like opportunity lost with all the talent in place.
This was followed by a nice clarinet solo by Shankar in what felt like Brindavana Saranga to me. Brought his mastery over the instrument to the fore and it was a pleasant experience.
The next vocal piece was another Youtube release “Caught in the Rain”, the first by crowd favorite Rohan Kymal. The song is a mellow Hindi-English composition that plays well. Rohan was a tad hesitant to hit the higher notes but showed a lot of promise.
We went into a break after this piece. The first half felt like the singers were still not fully warmed up. They showed a lot of promise but didnt reach the capabilities that their fantastic voices offered them. Hopefully the second half would take care of it.
The Second Half
The first song after the break was another popular Youtube piece and Shankar’s first major claim to Youtube fame- “Nee ninaindhal” featuring the Iyer sisters. Set to beautiful Darbari Kanada, the song was well sung and well received.
The next song-an original composition by Mugdha and Shankar was an ode to the women of India to stay strong and positive after the recent multiple incidences of rape. Mugdha started to flex her vocal chords with this one and it was a joy to hear her this time over.
Mugdha was finally her true self with the next song- I caught the word “Banjaara” and thought to be the title of the song. She let it go and it was by far her best piece and the best song of the day in my opinion. Her full throated voice reverberated all over the auditorium to great applause.
The next song was probably one of the most anticipated of the evening- Rohan Kymal’s Youtube hit, “Ore Piya (rolling in the deep)”. Rohan who was relatively mellow in the first half turned things around and was fantastic this time around. It was almost as it Mugdha and Rohan needed the first half to settle down to their true selves.
The next song was a cover of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s song from “Luck by Chance” titled “Sapnon se bhare naina” rendered by Shankar Mahadevan himself. The song set to wonderful Sindhu Bhairavi was sung by Mugdha. The ShrutiBox Youtube cover features Rohini Ravada. Mugdha did good justice to the original.
The Iyer sisters came back in for an original composition celebrating Holi- “Rang Lo”. The song featured some nice beats with a distinct folksy nature to it. The song also brought the hardworking organizers for an extemporaneous dance.
The final piece of the day was something of a mish mash of Indian folksy tunes that had a nice uptempo feel to it. Particularly of interest was the singers (Mugdha, Iyer sisters) segueing to the traditional kummi tune towards the end of the piece. A fitting finish to an interesting musical night.
I walked away convinced that Shankar was a real talent who brought in some interesting young artists to showcase that their great voices. His understanding of the medium and his audience at such a young age will surely take him places as will it for his singers.