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I am a hybrid: Gingger Shankar


She is all Indian, genetically speaking, but truly global in sound. Her father, with whom she is not the closest of friends, is well-known violinist L Subramanium, and her mother Viji, a classical singer, passed away in 1995.

Raised in India and the United States, Los Angeles in particular, Gingger studied voice, violin, piano, dance and opera, starting her performing career at 14. Touring with her as-famous uncle L Shankar, tabla maestro Zakir Hussain and ghatam expert Vikku Vinayakram took her to festivals all over the world. Adding to this already distinguished resume has been work she has done with musicians of the ilk of Smashing Pumpkins, Talvin Singh, Steve Vai, Sussan Deyhim, James Newton Howard, Rabbit in the Moon, Tony Levin and Steve Lukather. Her 2004 triumph rings the high note in her collaboration with composers John Debney and L Shankar for the musical score of Mel Gibson's The Passion of The Christ, in which her voice and her instrument, the double violin, are audible right through. Films, concerts, albums, she has them all to her credit, from Charlie Wilson's War and The Forbidden Kingdom to live venues like the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, the San Diego Indie Music Festival and the Sundance Institute Composer's Lab.

Gingger is perhaps the only woman in the world who has mastered the ten-string double violin, which covers a whole orchestra worth of double bass, cello, viola and violin in tonality and range. In an interview, she tells us a little of what she is all about. . .

Tell us something about growing up with music - you come from a family well known for its artistry, is that where your talent was honed?

I was around music from the time I was born (probably earlier!). I was very lucky to have a mother who exposed me to so many different types of music. We'd go to classical concerts and listen to rock music on the way back home. She was a very open-minded person and because of that I was able to soak up so much. My mother taught me singing, my grandfather taught me violin. I also studied piano, opera and Western music. All those influences definitely make me the artiste I am today.

The Indian (especially Carnatic) raga explores a different and more intricate scale than the Western musical repertoire. Does understanding one make the other easier to play with?

I think having both influences definitely gives me a larger palette to work with. I love crossing the boundaries of both and creating new soundscapes. Especially in the land of film scoring, taking a Western traditional score and putting an Indian twist to it is so much fun. It entirely depends on the project. When I toured with the Smashing Pumpkins, I added Indian influences to what I was performing. In the movie world, some projects want Easternsounding scores, others want very traditional Western scores. My record has hints of Indian influence. I think my music reflects me - modern, traditional, Indian, Western, electronic. I am definitely a hybrid!

Have you ever considered Bollywood?

I would love to. I have just never been approached to do it!

The double violin is your speciality. How is it different?

It definitely has a unique tone that no other instrument can produce. It is fantastic for movie soundtracks as well as live performances. It covers the whole orchestra, so it has quite a range as well as dynamics.

You have worked with so many wellknown musicians. Who has had a significant influence on your own work?

I think when you collaborate with an amazing musician, you both influence each other a bit.

What kind of music makes you really happy? And what makes you cry?

I listen to loads of music, and it all depends on where I am in my life. Right now, I love Kanye West's new record. That is my driving music. My mom's music always makes me cry

Banal question: What does music mean to you?

Music is woven into every part of my life. I am very blessed to do what I love for a living. Besides that, I listen to so much music as well. My friends constantly give me tracks. And, like everyone else, I have my workout songs, my angry songs, my break-up songs, my memory songs, etc.

What are you working on currently?

I recently finished scoring the feature film Circumstance, which just won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival. It is being released in the summer. I also completed another feature film, Homecoming, which is by a very talented new director, Sean Hackett. Now I'm working on my album as well as a theatre play in Los Angeles.

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