Shakti, the Indo-jazz band started by John McLaughlin and Zakir Hussain, is set to perform in the city on Tuesday as part of its 50th anniversary India tour.
McLaughlin, 81 and Hussain, 71, are the only original members who still remain. The current line-up includes vocalist Shankar Mahadevan, violinist Ganesh Rajagopalan and kanjira player V. Selvaganesh.
The band will take the stage at CC&FC, 7.30pm onwards as part of the Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet (Kalam), in association with Victoria Memorial and The Telegraph.
The 11th edition Kalam starts at the Victoria Memorial on Saturday.
“If seeing them play is rare, hearing them speak at a public event is unprecedented,” said Malavika Banerjee, festival director.
On Tuesday afternoon, at a Kalam session at Victoria, the Shakti members will look back at the five-decade journey of the band.
“I’m always happy to return (to Kolkata). First of all the city is renowned over the world for its marvelous musicians. That means the general public is accustomed to great music and as a consequence, more discriminating. Generally speaking, all audiences are as good as the music that is being played and, in this sense, audiences are the same all over the world. Another personal element is the proximity of the Kali Temple and the personal room of Sri Ramakrishna,” McLaughlin told this newspaper in an email.
The last time the band played in Kolkata was on January 14, 2020, at Saturday Club.
But Tuesday is, in all likelihood, going to be the last time Kolkata is going to see Shakti or McLaughlin — a legendary guitarist who has taught Jimmy Page, played in a band with Ginger Baker and is the creator of the Mahavishnu Orchestra — perform, as he is retiring from touring.
He was one of the early musicians from the West to have been influenced by Indian music and spiritualism. McLaughlin has often spoken of being influenced by the teachings of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Swami Vivekananda.
Asked to look back at five decades of Shakti, McLaughlin told The Telegraph: “The essential nature of Shakti is joyful and at the same time profound. The journey has been and continues to be a joy for me. Wherever we play, the essential nature of Shakti is there and perhaps this is why we have had such a long life.”
On calling it a day, he said: “It is my personal conviction that at a certain point in life, musicians can no longer perform as they did in past times. I am against waiting for that time to arrive and be embarrassed by my own performance. So, my philosophy is, quit while you’re ahead.”
Hussain, tabla player, composer and music producer with a bouquet of Indian and international awards, said he felt a “growing sense of awe and reverence, because John bhai, as revelation slowly dawned on me, is not only one of the greatest Ustads of the music he represents, but also a man of strong conviction and principles.”
“He is charming and generous to a fault, his humour is limitless. To be with him then and even now is to be in a place full of joy, happiness and creativity,” said Hussain.
Shakti played in Bangalore on Friday.
The band is slated to perform in Mumbai on January 22, Kolkata on January 24 and Delhi on January 28. A world tour follows.