Linda Shanson (also known as Linda Shanovitch) is the CEO and co-founder of the Baluji Music Foundation. And the manager of the Inner Vision orchestra, the UK’s only professional orchestra for blind musicians.
She is married to the internationally acclaimed blind Indian musician Baluji Shrivastrev, who she met on tour in Paris when she was an aspiring singer and songwriter. Together Linda and Baluji founded the Baluji Music Foundation in 2008 – a charity to help musicians overcome discrimination and a network for them to perform and learn music. Four years later they founded the Inner Vison Orchestra.
Linda’s story is one of selfless sacrifice. She has supported her blind husband in his rise to music excellence, managing his career, finding venues for performances. And she is the lifeline to the many musicians who turn to The Baluji Music Foundation for support. She arranges tours, sets up rehearsals and uses her home in north London as the base for the charity. Many of the musician’s call it ‘Aunty’s house’ because of the number of people who constantly come and go.
Linda is an artist and producer in her own right with several albums with Jazz Orient-Re-Orient on ARC Int. She combines jazz and Hindustani music with dance. Her extra-vocal improvisations have earned her the title of “Bjork on Helium.“ by the London Evening Standard.
Linda, what does your career overview look like prior to launching the Baluji Music Foundation in 2008?
I was juggling working as a performing and recording artist, together with writing fiction and poetry and managing the career of my husband as we could not find any agent or manager to take him on, I think because of prejudice about him being blind despite him being a talented and much-loved musician.
You met your husband Baluji Shrivastav on tour back in the 80’s, whilst embarking on your own career as a songwriter, can we explore how you have since dedicated a huge part of your life to helping blind musicians, and how both of these key factors played a major role in where you are today?
We met in Paris in 1982 while I was studying mime and theatre at the famous Ecole Jacques Lecoq. It was, as he says: “ love at first bite!” It was obvious to me that he was a musical genius but he was struggling because he was an outsider and totally blind. Someone had stolen his money and he was longing to get back home to India. I thought that he could be successful if given the chance and felt inspired to help him.
I knew nothing about the music business. I just believed that if he could be heard opportunities would follow. I had no idea how difficult it would be though. People treated me differently when I was with him in Paris. I hate to say it but people looked down their noses at us in Paris. One extreme example was when Baluji asked for a glass of tap water in a café (the public drinking fountains were closed so Cafes were required to offer free drinking water). They tried to charge him 10 francs. He questioned this and offered 5 francs instead. They got very cross and came over and started pushing him towards the street. I was very upset and tried to stop them. Then the proprietor came up to me and slapped me hard with both hands on my face. That is one extreme example of how we were not welcomed in many places.
Yes it’s shocking but true! So we came to London. I thought that with so many people from the Indian Sub-Continent in the UK he was bound to be welcomed. Another mistake! Blindness makes people blind to what is really beautiful. So I found myself drawn to the political dimension of disability issues.
Meanwhile, we had two children and worked together writing music. Then I wrote a children’s book, accompanied by my songs which we recorded together. The book was called Journey With The Gods and was published by Mantra.
We also formed our group called Jazz Orient. Baluji was passionate about helping other blind musicians. We could see that so much needed to be done to open up opportunities for them and that no one else was doing anything. I thought that we should establish a charitable foundation and so we did!
In 2012, you both founded Inner Vision Orchestra, the UK’s only professional orchestra for blind musicians. How did you find time to juggle both ventures?
I think when you are driven you find the time but at a cost! It would have been easier if I was more organised and had more money to buy in help. I always feel like I am on a journey of discovery about myself and about life. Being able to improvise and sometimes just letting go helps you to deal with some of the challenges that life throws up. When I hear the fantastic music we have produced over the years it reminds me that it is all worthwhile.
If we reflect over your first published song, ‘Winter In Spring’ after it was broadcasted on BBC when you was just 13yrs old, as well as how you’ve successfully established yourself as an artist and producer releasing several albums with Jazz Orient-Re-Orient on ARC Int, what would you describe as a seminal moment in your career so far?
When Baluji was awarded his OBE for services to music at Buckingham Palace in 2017 and we were together with our beautiful children. I felt that my belief in him and our work was justified.
How have you been professionally challenged and how did you feel after overcoming that obstacle?
The greatest challenge have been dealing with the ‘gate keepers’. In the music industry and many creative industries, gatekeepers are those who guard entry to opportunities and networks that can promote your career. They are difficult for any “outsider” to penetrate. There are barriers of race, class and disability to name a few. For example I approached one Indian institution in London hoping they may employ Baluji as a sitar teacher. But they took one look at him and sent him away with no interview. Years later when he was successful they asked him to work for them. Also We have tried to get him a manager but many would not take him on! That is why I decided to manage him myself. He would not have got the work that he has if it wasn’t for that.
In this industry, you need a mentor on your side. I get great joy from being with people who are good at what they do. Sadly many people feel threatened by talent especially when it is a woman or a disabled person. Of course it feels satisfying when I overcome an obstacle and then I get ready for the next!
What has been your most valuable life lesson learned to date?
Stop and feel the wonder of having been born into this incredible world.
What is your most favoured aspect of your career timeline?
Performing on stage with Baluji when we are improvising together listening carefully and letting that moment surprise and delight the audience.
What does 2021 look like for you?
I hope we come through it more appreciative of so many of the people and things we took for granted before the Pandemic.