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Photo essay –  The Joy of Shakti at the JAZZx Festival

JAZZx Festival, Timisoara, Romania

Photographs and commentary by John Watson

John McLaughlin – joy and inspiration with Shakti in Timisoara. Photo copyright John Watson/

I find the music of Shakti so captivating that concentrating on photographing the group in concert might be considered the biggest challenge I face.  I could almost forget that I have a camera in my hands, and be swept away by the music.

However, the greatest challenge for a photographer at the JAZZx Festival in Timisoara, Romania, was the extraordinarily high stage, a temporary structure set up in Liberty Square.

The height of the stage posed a particular and formidable problem when photographing Shakti, for they perform while seated cross-legged – and though they were crouched on a low riser it was difficult to see John McLaughlin’s guitar without standing in front of the audience, and to take photos including at least some of the instrument.

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The mood of the music, however, was reflected in the joy and passion revealed in the faces of the players, so I have tried to capture that intensity in these images.

McLaughlin hand jiving during a percussion duet. Photo copyright John Watson/
Zakir Hussain – the Shakti cornerstone. Photo copyright John Watson/
Singer Shankar Mehadevan – passion and grace with Shakti. 
Photo copyright John Watson/
Intense percussion from Salvaganesh Vinayakram with Shakti, Photo copyright John Watson/
Ganesh Rahagopalan – sweeping melodic lines with Shakti,  Photo copyright John Watson/

McLaughlin is defying the years, and at the age of 81 is clearly as passionate about the music as he was decades ago. It is extraordinary that he has found the energy to undertake such an extensive touring programme in Europe and the USA. His fingers are nimble around the fretboard, only once briefly fumbling a phrase in a near-two hour performance, and his expression on the instrument blends wonderfully with the other instruments.

Shankar Mehadevan conveys deep spirituality with his soaring voice and graceful hand gestures. Zakir Hussain’s dazzlingmastery of the tabla is the cornerstone driving the group’s performance, and his rhythmic artistry is well matched by Selvaganesh Vinayakram on multiple percussion instruments.

Violinist Ganesh Rajagopalan is the newest member of Shakti, and his sweeping melodic lines are delivered with confident intensity.

Such wonderful music to listen to, and such inspiring musicians to photograph.

Zakir and John on stage at the end of the concert. Photo copyright John Watson/

4 replies »

  1. Let me both salute and commend you, professional colleague, for taking into consideration how distracting you might be if you were sufficiently impolite to stand up for extended periods of time in front of the audience (or, as disgruntled management at more than one festival and night club has called “the paying customers” when shooing – or, in some cases, yanking – me out of their sight lines). Equally grating is the jack-in-the-box who’s popping up and down repeatedly, ad nauseam. Too many of our less considerate colleagues fail to take into account that one photographer misbehaving often visits condemnation upon us all.

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