Funkifying Hindustani Clarinetist and composer Shankar Tucker (27) is making waves ever since he launched his YouTube channel The Shrutibox in 2011. Known for blending Indian classical and jazzy sounds in soulful tracks, his video’s have received millions of views and touched audiences worldwide. On July 28th, Tucker’s crowd funded debut album Filament will be released on YouTube and iTunes.
“My track ‘Chal Chal Sakhi’ with Ankita Joshi already is online and just like the other songs it’s an original composition”, Tucker shares. “Most of the album is in Hindi, but I did record a Tamil track with Shaktisree Gopalan. There is also a Malayalam boat song from Kerala which is more part of a folklore tradition.”
In 2013 he managed to collect more than $34.000 dollars on Kickstarter for the funding of the album within a week. “It’s been a long time ago since I’ve raised the money, but I felt a great pressure to make the album perfect. So, I started from scratch a couple of times”, he laughs.
With Filament, Tucker continues into the same path he started with his YouTube channel formerly known as The Shrutibox. He started it 4 years ago and named it after the way Indian musicians call their electronic tanpura equipment: a ‘shruti’ – in Sanskrit it means: that which is heard-. His collaborations with fine artists such as Nirali Kartik, Shweta Subram and the sisters Vidya and Vandana Iyer brought Western and Eastern styles together and went viral.
Tucker: “What I do is very much about working with other musicians and giving them a showcase to let them do what they do naturally. I don’t know if there is a lot I could add to a traditional song, I don’t want to mess with that. What I can do is present it in a different way, so that somebody who is not Indian for instance, can be able to listen to it better.”
Now, he has baptized the channel back to his own name with other plans for The Shrutibox. “My goal is to start a small record label signing some of the artists I’ve already worked with and others as well. I want to repurpose the name for this label”, Tucker says.
The composer was not always this versed in Indian classical music; born and raised in an all-American family in Boston, Tucker initially went on to study Western orchestra music and jazz after high-school.
Still, traditional Indian music styles always surrounded him. His parents were followers of the Indian spiritual leader Mata Amritanandamayi, also popularly known as Amma. It was she that came up with his name and eventually named him Shankar.
“When I was little, we would visit programs of her every year and there would also be devotional music in the background”, Tucker explains. “So, that definitely seeped into my ears and I’m sure it was an unconscious part of how I got into Indian classical music”.
Never truly fulfilled just playing jazz and Western orchestra music, it was not easy for Tucker to find his own style.
“I was and I still am very interested in improvisation. Growing up, I was also really into jazz, which is all about that”, he shares. “But, it was hard to actually improvise with the clarinet; its sound is very cut through, but not loud enough compared to the saxophone or some other instruments”, Tucker explains. “I was always struggling to be heard.”
It was not until he stumbled upon the fusion album “Remember Shakti” by John McLaughlin in his local library around 10 years ago, that he found new inspiration. “When I listened to the album, I remember thinking it was a good context to fit in with the clarinet; the instruments do not have an aggressive sound and the clarinet can be a full part of that ensemble”, Tucker shares.
His focus on Indian classical music became serious when he got a scholarship to study in India under greatest living master of the bansuri Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia in 2010. Tucker: “It would be fine if he would just teach a class for a half hour, but he is so dedicated. For him, music is like meditation and he takes time to train others. I think that is amazing. I have to go back to play him my new songs, but I am very nervous”, he laughs.
Inspired by world famous Indian composer A.R. Rahman and indie rock music, Shankar wants to experiment even more with Indian classical music.
“I’m still really fascinated with Indian classical music and there are so many angles to it, that it seems endless. When I went to India, I found the music scene to be so diverse. So, when I compose now, I try to have fun”, Tucker says.
“I’ve recently been composing and working on video’s with Vidya Iyer, in which Western pop meets Indian pop. I also have worked with Jomy George, a great tabla player on a composition with a hard hitting hip-hop and trap sound to it. I just try to jam different sounds up together and make it work.”
Judging Tucker by his accomplishments, his album and other productions are definitely something to look forward to. With a promising career ahead, it seems music lovers will be able to enjoy his music for a long time to come.