A look at Gingger Shankar's Nari (Part 1 of 3)
Tigers love pepper, they hate cinnamon…
In 2009, Zach Galifianakis playing the role of Alan in the movie “The Hangover,” dropped this little nugget on us. Is it true? No idea (and I don’t really want to be locked in a cage with a tiger to find out). What I can tell you is that tigers love Gingger more than they love pepper. How do I know? Because I dare anyone (man or beast) who has heard of Gingger Shankar to not be immediately enchanted by her incomparable sound.
Gingger Shankar is not only a member of one of the most accomplished musical families in the world, but is a tremendous talent in her own right. She is the only woman in the world to play the double violin – a ten-string stereophonic instrument that covers the entire orchestral range including double bass, cello, viola, and violin. Since 2004, Gingger has worked with Katy Perry, Trent Reznor, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Zakir Hussain, Rabbit in the Moon and toured with the Smashing Pumpkins just to name a few.
She debuted at Carnegie Hall as a soprano in Osvaldo Golijov’s opera “Ainadamar.” Gingger has also composed for and performed on the soundtrack of several motion pictures including, Mel Gibson’s biblical epic “The Passion of the Christ” (nominated for best original score), Oscar nominated “Charlie Wilson’s War,” martial arts movie “The Forbidden Kingdom,” “Brahmin Bulls” starring Roshan Seth and Sendhil Ramamurthy, Sundance award winner “Circumstance,” and “Monsoon Shootout” which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. She is currently working on the film “Heartbeats” alongside Jay Z and his Roc Nation team.
I recently had the distinct pleasure of chatting with the very accomplished Gingger who is currently touring the country to promote her deeply personal new multimedia project, entitled “Nari: The Shankar Family Project”.
Nari is a Sanskrit word which means both “woman” and “sacrifice.” So it’s befitting that Gingger Shankar named her latest multimedia presentation “Nari: The Shankar Family Project” to share with us the unsung story of Lakshmi Shankar (Gingger’s grandmother) and her daughter, Viji (Gingger’s mother) — two extraordinary artists who helped bring Indian music to the West in the 1970s through their close collaboration with Ravi Shankar (Lakshmi’s brother-in-law) and George Harrison. This arresting, multi-generational, multimedia mash-up features animation, family archives, and a live performance.
“Nari” had its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival and its US premiere at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival as part of the Sundance Institute’s 10th Anniversary celebration of its New Frontier Program.
Gingger spoke with me candidly about this wonderful project, how it came to fruition and how Chicago is the perfect city for “Nari” to be seen. In her own words…
[GS on how Nari came to be]:
“This project (Nari: The Shankar Family Project) came about shortly before my grandmother (Lakshmi Shankar) passed away (in 2013). She was giving me scrapbooks and I didn’t really know a lot about her life and my mother’s life as to how involved they were in the cultural Indian explosion into the west. To me they were always mom and grandma and their accomplishments didn’t come up very much. So I was looking at these scrapbooks with her and I started to ask questions like ‘What were you doing at the White House?!’ The more pictures I saw, the more questions I had…it was insane. And her answers were always the same: ‘Well, we did these things, but they weren’t a big deal. Nobody really needs to know these stories.’
They were very modest women. That conversation started the whole journey for me to figure out who these women really were. I started to dig more and more and realized just how instrumental they were in this whole Indian music revolution. They were writing the music, they were singing, they were conducting the orchestras. They were such an integral part of this movement. If you look at the album covers of that movement, these two women are there. If you look at the performances, these two women are front and center yet nobody knows who they are. So ‘Nari’ started as a passion project for me to find out who my mother and grandmother really were and turned into this multi-media project after finding my mother’s recordings and archival footage of them.”
[GS on the multi-media nature of Nari]:
“The reason this became a multi-media project is because the visuals became such an important part of it. My grandmother was a dancer in the ‘40s and obviously there was all this awesome music and I found that this beautiful story couldn’t really have been told without the visuals to go with it.”
[GS on performing in Chicago]:
“I spent quite a few years in Chicago between working with the Smashing Pumpkins and the Opera. I have fond memories of the Palmer House Hotel and driving up and down Wacker Drive like Batman. I love the city and, to me, it is one of the most architecturally beautiful cities in the world. It’s clean, beautiful, and the food is amazing. I have a lot of friends there. Going to Chicago is like a homecoming.”
[GS on how the Chicago performances will differ from the TIFF premiere]:
“The cool thing about this project is that it is always evolving. The City Winery shows will have visuals that we didn’t have available in Toronto and the percussionist Prasanna Devaraja is joining us as well. He is a very talented South Indian percussionist from London whom Raviji discovered when he was a teenager.”
Click here for Nari tour dates, and for those of you in Chicago, don’t miss Gingger’s performances at the City Winery on Sunday April 17th at 5PM and 8PM featuring DJ Warp.
Stay tuned for more about the extraordinary Shankar family.