The musical traditions of southern India have been combined with world influences by violinist and vocalist L. Shankar (born Lakshminarayana Shankar). A founding member of influential mid-'70s Indo-Brit roots group, Shakti, with McLaughlin, Shankar continues to explore ways to bridge diverse cultures through music. In addition to solo recordings and collaborations with his composer/keyboardist wife, Caroline, and with Indian percussionists Zakir Hussein and Vikku Vunayakram, Shankar has worked with such internationally known artists as Peter Gabriel, Jan Garbarek, David Byrne, Pete Towshend, John McLaughlin, and the late Frank Zappa.
The youngest of six children, Shankar was raised in a highly respected musical family. His father, V. Lakshminarayana, studied Indian classical music, played violin, and sang. His mother, L. Sitalakshmi, played veena. Capable of humming complex lines from ancient Indian compositions by the age of three, he began studying the violin two years later and performed his first public concert at a temple in Ceylon, at the age of seven. After a long period of apprenticeship, during which he accompanied many south Indian vocalists, Shankar formed a trio with his brothers, L. Vaidyanathan and L. Subramaniam, that toured throughout India.
Moving to the United States to study ethnomusicology at Wesleyan University, Shankar sought ways to combine the musical traditions of the East and the West. His first opportunity came when he met McLaughlin, who was studying veena, an ancient Indian stringed instrument, at the Connecticut school. Striking up a friendship, the two musicians decided to form a group, Shakti. Performing their first show for a private party at South Hampton College on July 5, 1975, Shakti went on to recorded two groundbreaking albums: Handful of Beauty and Natural Elements. Inheriting the position from Jean-Luc Ponty, Shankar played electric violin for a short period with Zappa. The experience paid off as Zappa agreed to produce and contribute lyrics for his debut solo outing, Touch Me There. In addition to collaborating with Peter Gabriel on the soundtrack of the 1989 film The Last Temptation of Christ, Shankar has perfumed often with Gabriel's band, including an appearance on The Tonight Show in 2000. He joined with Bruce Springsteen, Lou Reed, Sting, and Tracy Chapman for an international tour, Human Rights Now!, sponsored by Amnesty International in 1989.
Shankar recorded three albums — Who's To Know in 1981, Song for Everyone in 1985, and MRCS in 1991 — with Hussein and Vinayakram. He formed a pop/rock supergroup, Sadhu, later known as the Epidemics, with Caroline, in 1982. Their two albums included such guests as Zappa, Gabriel, McLaughlin, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Yoko Ono, and Sting. Shankar has played a ten-stringed, double-necked fiddle, designed with guitar builder Ken Parker since 1980. With five strings that sound like a double bass or cello and five strings that sound like a violin or viola, the instrument gives him greater flexibility as an instrumentalist.