Anoushka Shankar tells Harshini Vakkalanka one has to find ways to let Indian and Western music complement rather than fight each other, even differences can be harmonising
Anoushka Shankar, who is about to release her latest album Traces of You a collaborative work with Nitin Sawhney featuring her sibling Norah Jones, says her music is a combination of intuition and hard work.
“The more hard work I put in, the more instinctive it becomes. Hardwork increases fluidity which then gives greater freedom. So they are not two separate things,” says the former Grammy-nominee over telephone.
Traces of You features Anoushka’s sitar, which blends together with various influences both Eastern and Western, sometimes accompanied by the vocals of Norah Jones, strains of guitar or electronic sounds by Nitin Sawhney, a gentle cello by Ian Burdge, or sometimes the ghatam by Pirashanna Thevarajah. The album, though this time is deeply connected to her life stage as it is the first work she is bringing out after the passing of her father the legendary sitarist, Pandit Ravi Shankar.
“It is not new that an album traces an internal story. I was not so attached to my first few albums because I was not composing them. I put my life and soul into my music, which then becomes a picture of a certain time in my life. I did Traveller during my pregnancy, it was an intimate time. And while I was doing Traces of You, I was raising my son, being with my husband and losing my father.”
The album, like her previous work is collaborative and Anoushka once again crosses over genres and blends them together to create a new sound, a style that she seems to have evolved.
“It wasn’t accidental. It was deliberate but slow. When I was a teenager there was a resurgence of Indian music in the global scene and I was getting huge offers to crossover. As I was still learning at that time, I didn’t feel ready. I took my time and I did Rise in 2005, at that point it was a discovery. I have always had an open outlook with music and this plays a part in the music I write.”
Anoushka says such collaboration and crossing over is all part of the journey of the evolution of music, which she believes is not static.
“I love how classical music has evolved as an oral tradition. It’s a living, breathing tradition. It’s the nature of music to evolve and it’s normal for younger generation to be at the forefront of change.”
At the same time, she says, she puts a lot of thought into music and arrangement, using a conscious approach. “One has to be careful while mixing Indian and Western music because there are issues, like tuning, which have to be thought about. A lot of Indian instruments are in the middle and upper range while many Western instruments are in the lower range with a broader depth. So one has to find ways to let them complement rather than fight each other, even differences can be complementary.”
Anoushka often sketches out her compositions in her sitar, which are then worked out on the other instruments and replaced with the original sounds. “I work best in a room full of musicians, which I find most inspiring. It’s my favourite way to work. Their presence helps me create work in other ways but since I can’t do that all the time, a lot happens on my instrument.”
And Traces of You is an album that is a whole, according to Anoushka, as opposed to being a series of songs.
“The way music is today, album making is less relevant because it is a culture of singles. Everything is taken bite-size. I prefer having an opportunity to tell a story, making connections and allowing the music to breathe. In classical music, ragas sometimes tell stories and one raga can take up an entire album. This album features small songs that tell a longer story and can approached the way a raga album is.”