Sitar virtuoso Anoushka Shankar talks to Chitra Swaminathan about the varied influences she brings to her music and her new album Traces of You ahead of her concert in Chennai on January 26
Anoushka’s Shankar’s heavily accented English belies her Indian moorings — of a childhood spent understanding complicated ragas, grappling with the 19 strings of the heavy sitar, sitting unwearyingly through long learning sessions with maestro-guru-father Pandit Ravi Shankar and accompanying him for concerts around the world from age 13. But what her crystalline thinking and language complement though is the new-age appeal of her classical tunes, the openness she brings to her creativity and her free-flowing dialogue across global musical cultures.
Her bold experimenter-father with his ethereal-toned sitar showed the way forward not only to his musical legatee but to artistes of the East. “Six decades ago he connected India with rest of the world through just music; making crossovers seem so easy and genres accessible. He raised the standard of performance and appreciation too,” says the proud daughter.
Any wonder that the opening track ‘The Sun Won’t Set’ (Ravi in Sanskrit means sun) of her latest album Traces Of You, deals with the emotions of loss and longing since Anoushka lost her father during its making. But there’s the sound of hope too because a year before her father’s death her son Zubin was born. “One important person entered and another left,” quips the 32-year-old sitarist. “The album is not just a string of songs. It’s a very intimate narrative. A reflection of my life and my strong relationship with dad, Zubin and husband Joe Wright (a popular British film director). This album is an emotional offering also because it re-establishes my faith in those who have often accompanied me during my many musical outings — producer-composer Nitin Sawhney, Tanmay Bose and Pirashanna Theverajah.”
But the talking point of the album is not the way Anoushka combines within her art’s improvisatory character musicality and bravura but the roping in of her half sister and nine-time Grammy award winner Norah Jones. The three tracks that blend Norah’s smoky vocals and Anoushka’s virtuoso instrumentation have come in for rave reviews internationally.
Anoushka will give Chennai-ites a peek into her latest work, apart from playing some Carnatic ragas that she had heard her father play, at her upcoming concert in the city as part of her India tour. “Chennai is special to me for many reasons,” she says. “I have performed here quite a few times with my father. Also, this is where my mother Sukanya hails from and I have come here as a child with her. My concert will bring back all those memories.”
Though her famous surname has always kept her under the spotlight, Anoushka is happier creating her own musical space that is markedly different from her father’s. “Since he was highly individualistic when it came to his music, he was very supportive of my desire to seek things on my terms,” she says.
“It’s very difficult for classical musicians to explain their art to the neophytes, to transcend the repertoire to reach out to a wider audience. But the uniqueness of our classical forms is their evolving nature that makes them relevant and fresh at all times,” she says explaining the need to repackage as her father did. And does Zubin hang on to her sitar strings? “He often accompanies me on concert tours but this time I have left him back in London. He is too young but when he grows up I will let him tune his life the way he wants to!”
At a glance
The Anoushka Shankar Project in association with The Hindu presents a concert by Anoushka Shankar along with Tanmoy Bose (tabla), Ravichandra Kulur (flute), Sanjeev Shankar (shehnai) and Pirashanna Theverajah (Carnatic percussion) on January 26 (7 p.m.) at Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao Concert Hall. Tickets are priced at Rs. 2,000, Rs. 1,500 and Rs. 750. For details call 2857 5807 or 2857 5831 or log on to www.bookmyshow.com or www.eventjini.com or www. indianstage.in