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Online music sensation jazzes up culture fest
RAGINI BHUYAN  23rd Sep 2012

Shankar Tucker

t's easy to believe that Shankar Tucker was born to do what he's doing today. Even his name epitomises fusion – a blend of the old world, classical Indian with a modern, Western base. The young American, who shot to fame with his YouTube channel, The ShrutiBox, was in Delhi recently for the concluding leg of The Park festival. Playing along with his troupe – a guitarist and the singer/tabla player duo of MaaKiBaani, he left no doubts about his prowess as a clarinetist and an original composer.

Ask him why he has worked almost exclusively with vocalists from the South, and Tucker says it's a mere coincidence. "Shweta Shubram and Rohan Kymal are Americans and I recorded those songs when I was in the US. South Indians are pretty well knit, and they promote what they like. Maybe that's why it's been this way. Though someone like Shweta Shubram has a voice that I would describe as more North Indian folksy," he explains.

Born to parents deeply immersed in the arts – his dad (William Tucker) is a sculptor, his mother, Pamela Avril is a painter, and sister Akshaya is a talented Cello player, Tucker picked up the clarinet at the age of 10, and studied orchestral music at the New England Conservatory. "I enjoyed learning to be a part of the orchestra, but finally I realised that a career as a professional player in an orchestra was not for me. In an orchestra, you are only 1 or 2 % of a much bigger team, and your roles are set in stone. There is not much room for creativity. There are people who enjoy being a part of one, but I decided to take a different route," he elaborates.

But how did he get the idea for The ShrutiBox? "I was inspired by musicians like Jack Conte who were working on YouTube through simple, low budget videos. The first singers on my show were my friends. Gradually, I started reaching out to other singers – people who were not only talented but also had something unique to offer. They also had to be nice people!" he smiles. The ShrutiBox, he explains, is the name of a machine that plays the sound of the Tanpura. Vocalists use the instrument while practising.

Even though fusion is the adjective used most liberally to describe his compositions, Tucker does not seem to be quite at ease with it. He smiles wanly when I mention the "f-word", complaining ever so mildly that his work is labelled so because he's a white person doing Indian music. "The term fusion's been bandied about since the '70s. I don't define my music as fusion – for me it's all about the technique, the taal, tihai, and things like that," he says.

Tucker seems shy and perhaps a bit nervous; one can presume it's just a case of nerves before the upcoming performance but he says it's only because he didn't sleep last night. "I had an early morning flight," he rues. He's quite happy with the time he spent in Chennai. "I composed the music for an Indie film by Vignarajan. I have been working on it for the last six months. This was my first time working on a movie, and I enjoyed it because the director gave me full creative reign," he explains.

Does he see himself working ever in Bollywood or Hollywood movies? "You mean like Pritam? Well, as an outsider, it's doubly hard for me to enter the industry. As for Hollywood, it would not make use of the skills that I have. I doubt it. Maybe one day. But I will have to move to LA then," he muses.

 
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