Tucker’s Taal

Vidya and Vandana Iyer

An American clarinetist's experiments with Hindustani classical music is going viral.

The notes of the clarinet are surprisingly like the bansuri, though a pitch lower, as they segue into the warm tones of Rohan Kymal's voice. But by the time you hum the opening line, the tune seems to have changed its mind, from Raga Pilu to the bluesy tones of British singer Adele's Rolling in the deep. The pitch is high, the tempo is faster, the clarinet takes over and the fusion is complete. American musician Shankar Tucker's cover version of Rahat Fateh Ali Khan's O re piya has simplicity and surprise. It is one among many videos and compositions that is making him an internet sensation. His five-month-old YouTube music channel The Shrutibox has already garnered more than two million hits.

In his covers and compositions, Tucker, a 24-year-old clarinetist who grew up in Massachusetts, sets up a unique jugalbandi between jazz and Hindustani classical music, playing the clarinet like a bansuri, or slipping in the sounds of the kanjira, the small drum used in Carnatic music, into an ensemble of guitar and piano — all instruments that he plays. Tucker is also a student of flautist Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia at the Brindaban Gurukul based in Mumbai. He began composing music last spring. "And this year, when Guruji had a Europe tour for a few months, I had some time. I bought a video camera and began work on my compositions. That was the beginning of The Shrutibox — I saw a lot of people making music careers online, so I decided to give it a shot," he says.

Tucker's most popular collaborations have been with Mumbai-based classical singer Nirali Kartik and Washington DC-based vocalists, Vidya and Vandana Iyer. The Iyer sisters' version of Carnatic compositions Nee Nenaindal and Asham Mugai, set to the clarinet by Tucker, went viral on the internet, prompting the sisters to start their own Facebook fan page. "We had never anticipated such a response. We just record with Shankar and he does the rest. From composing to playing the instruments to making the video," says Vidya over the phone from Washington DC.

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