Shani Diluka has many firsts to her credit. A Sri Lankan born in Monaco, she is the first ever artiste from the Indian subcontinent to get into Conservatoire de Paris, first to enter the prestigious Lake Como International Piano Academy, she is signed by the prestigious label Warner Classics as an exclusive artiste. Currently, one of the greatest pianists of her generation, Shani is knighted by France and Monaco!
Trained under the masters, Shani feels fortunate for the position she is in, and finds it her responsibility to share all the knowledge she has gathered over the decades.
In Chandigarh, on Thursday, for a concert organised by the French Embassy in India, Institut Français, Alliance Française de Chandigarh, the Chandigarh Cultural Department and Furtados, the piano virtuoso opens up on high-flying life.
Born to Sri Lankan parents, Shani was spotted as a music protege at the age of five under a programme set up by Princess Grace of Monaco to promote classical arts in her country. Each year music specialists visit kindergarten schools to find child prodigies on the basis of a series of tests over rhythm and melody. Her parents were reluctant as they wanted her to pursue academics but relented. After a year of exposure to all musical instruments, Shani found her calling in the piano!
Her training started right then, practising the piano after school, waking up early to keep up with academics. In fact, she barely slept. At 12, she was offered to pursue music in New York full time, but Shani and her parents opted out of it.
“I lived in Monte Carlo, Monaco, but my family was in Sri Lanka. It was hard for me to fathom how these two distinct worlds existed on the same planet. Education helped me make sense of it, while music became my identity,” says Shani.
Music was to continue for life, as Shani got into Paris Conservatory followed by training under masters at Vienna, Austria and Lake Como International Piano Academy. Calling Paris home now, for about 20 years, Shani travels the world – holding master classes and performing.
“I realised power of music early on. I played for my family, who were never exposed to western classics and responded positively to it. Music is the universal language of love and peace.”
Shani’s love for Indian classical music is as intense. “I have listened to Pandit Ravi Shankar extensively. While the construct is different, I feel western and Indian classical are quite similar.
In fact, when signed by Warner Classics, her first record was Cosmos: Beethoven & Indian Ragas. “Now, who would have guessed that Beethoven was interested in Upanishads? In his quest he was captivated by the translation of the Upanishads that was published in Germany in 1816.”
The piano hasn’t been an easy choice for Shani. For every new place, every new country she finds a new piece. “It’s like meeting a new friend each time. In some regions like India and Sri Lanka, due to humidity and other factors, it’s difficult to find a good piano. But for me this is an experience of meting someone new that I cherish.”
A regular in India, she often comes for master classes at Zubin Mehta Foundation. Shani has read Tagore extensively and is happy to perform at Tagore Theatre. Her performances take her all over the world.
“I am almost always on the move. It does get hectic adjusting to different scenarios. The temperature in Sri Lanka was 28 degree C, in Chandigarh it’s 14 and I will be going to Germany where it will be -2 degree. I find my energy from the performances and the joy that music brings to people!”