In conversation: Anoushka Shankar tells Chitra Swaminathan what it is like to be nominated again for the Grammy
Her iconic sitarist-father Pandit Ravi Shankar was a restless voyager who redrew the musical map of India by extending its frontiers across continents. The sartorially and musically elegant Anoushka, a prodigious artiste, is a long-distance Traveller too. Her impromptu and intended creative stopovers have resulted in numerous well-received concerts with established world artistes and recordings that have triggered experimental sparks and made deep inroads into cultures. Though she began her journey with the piano, Anoushka was nine when her father turned her guru and tutored her in the instrument that was to dominate her life. By 14, she was touring the world with him, performing at prestigious venues and silently upholding a legacy.
With Traveller, an exploration of the commonalities and differences between Indian classical music and Spanish flamenco, Anoushka gets her third Grammy nomination. Interestingly, her father has also been nominated this year in the same category.
Before heading to Los Angeles for the awards, Anoushka takes time off to talk about the weight of inheritance, blossoming into her own under Bapi’s (Panditji)shadow and cross-genre collaborations.
Panditji was both a father and guru. How did he help you understand the nuances of music and develop your identity as a musician?
As my guru he took me through a lifetime of intensive training in the traditional manner in which he had learnt and the techniques he had developed during his long and legendary career. This is the foundation on which I built my music. But he also encouraged individuality, as he himself was extremely inventive.
Is Traveller an outcome of your individual perception of music?
It’s an outcome of a lifelong love for flamenco and of course Indian music. It’s an outcome of two years of hard work through marriage, pregnancy and moving countries, and the outcome of being lucky enough to work with outstanding singers and musicians who contributed so beautifully to the record.
How did you think about tracing the cultural connect between Spain and India through this album?
I’d always been curious about their common roots and whether it would be possible to explore them in music.
Through such projects do you want to take forward the East-West musical synthesis that your father pioneered?
I would be very grateful if I were able to keep pushing global art dialogue forward.
Do you think such collaborations help contemporarise and deconstruct classical concepts for modern youth?
People love hearing fresh things. I am not a fan of doing something new for the sake of it. But I recognise the value of attempting something new, especially if it is done keeping in mind the traditional values, those that are close to your heart. It’s then easier to give people the best of both worlds.
Does classical training aid musical experiments? How do you respond when traditionalists are critical of innovations?
I don’t need to respond to anyone about the choices I make. I believe in being truthful as an artiste, and I believe there will always be listeners for music that comes from the heart, whatever genre that may belong to. I feel grateful that I have a career playing music I love, what more is there to ask for? Classical training is of huge help when it comes to creativity — it gives a grounding, a framework and the necessary tools to work with. My classical training is at the heart of everything I do.
How have you been able to pursue Indian classical music in a Western environment? And do you think over the years the walls between genres have crumbled making exchanges easy?
There are still countless unique and varied styles of music around the world which need to be preserved. But dialogue between cultures helps new things to be borne from the old and this fosters mutual appreciation, which is hugely important.
Your husband Joe Wright’s film Anna Karenina has come in for much critical acclaim. How much creative rapport do you share as a couple?
We certainly share a lot about our work and respect each other as artistes and listen to each other’s advice.
Panditji and you have won Grammy nominations this year while the Norah Jones’ song ‘Everybody needs a best friend’ has received an Oscar nomination. How does it feel to be part of India’s first music family? How do you plan to carry forward the legacy?
My father’s music lives on in his countless recordings and in the music of all his disciples, including me. And in the souls of his listeners. But I don’t plan to purposefully carry his legacy forward as I don’t think of it in those terms.
Regarding the awards this season, it’s certainly remarkable for so many of us in one family to be recognised at once and I feel pride and joy in that, but it’s not what truly matters at the end of the day.