Anoushka's music is a marvellous mixture of Indian and Spanish
Attending Anoushka Shankar's recent Indo-Flamenco concert in Chennai, I couldn't help looking back to a Kathak-Flamenco dance performance by the London-based couple Pratap and Priya Pawar and their foreign colleagues Jose
Garcia and Juani in 1988, at the India Internatinal Centre in New Delhi. Reviewing that event, I had written as follows in The Hindu's New Delhi edition:
"On one side of the stage floor are seated a group of Hindustani musicians playing an assortment of instruments (sitar, sarod, pakhwaj, tabla, tanpur). On the other sde of the stage, on a chair, sits a foreigner playing the Spanish guitar. Between them are four dancers: two men and two women, alternately dancing the Kathak and the Flamenco.
"..... At first the Indian couple dance to the Indian music , and the foreign couple to the Spanish music. Then they exhange roles, and the Indians dance to Flamenco music and the foreigners to Indian music. But their styles are not really altered. The heavy pounding and the hard tapping of the hard Flamenco shoes on the wooden floor -- or the sharp clapping of the palms -- do nothing to impair the quality of the Indian music, but add only an extra dimension to the roll and thunder of the pakhwaj and the tabla. And the shimmering sounds of the multiple bells on the Kathak dancers' anklets blend beautifully with the strummed sounds of the Spanish guitar.
"The distinct rhythms of the Indian and Spanish music flow in parallel streams, but evenly and in the same direction. The melody too is closely matched. Now you hear the raag Jhonpuri, and now some authentic Spanish tune; they keep alternating frequently and creating a clear contrast. But after a while you can hardly distinguish between the two, so striking is their mutual compatibility. Before you are able to sort out your impressions and grasp what exactly is going on, all the musicians and dancers are performing together in a rapid, tumultous progression. It is Kathak, it is Flamenco, it is both! Quite a mystery!..."
Akin to Flamenco
That was the highly intriguing impression of Indo-Flamenco music and dance obtained by a simple (though articulate) Indian music-lover in New Delhi in 1988. Now, just compare it with the following sentiment expressed by a
highly accomplished and successful Spanish musician-producer, Javier Limon, who has not only played the acoustic guitar in Anoushka's album 'Traveller,' but also helped her in visualising the whole venture:
"When Anoushka plays pure Indian music, for us she is playing pure Flamenco. For all the Gypsies, for Paco de Lucia and me -- for all of us -- when she plays Indian, we sometimes say: 'Hey, you play Flamenco very well, this is Flamenco!' And she always answers: 'No, no, no, this was Indian, pure Indian!' The frontier is not clear, because many centuries ago, the Gypsies came from Rajasthan and brought a lot from there to the Flamenco style, to Flamenco music..." (Quoted by Nitin Sawhney, a multi-cultural Indo-British musician and producer, in the notes enclosed with the album).
In this context, I am also tempted to quote the following paragraph from my review of Pratap and Priya Pawar's 1988 New Delhi show:
"...Being a music critic and not a connoisseur of dance, I feel justified in closing my eyes now and then and listening only to the music; and honestly I cannot say that it is an artificial mixture. On the contrary, I get the strange impression that I have heard this music somewhere before, though I have never really done so... True, it is only a mixture; but it
is not just a clever mixture, but a soulful blend! A phenomenon arising from some inner vision in someone's mind!..."
Well, that was 24 years ago, when my familiarity with the Flamenco tradition was very marginal, and I had written my review under the headline 'The mystery and marvel of a mixture.' Having obtained many close views and intimate impressions of Spanish music and dance since then, I am no longer mystified by the phenomenon of Indo-Flamenco; but listening to Anoushka's album and recalling her recent Chennai concert, I do think it sounds even more marvellous than before!
(To be continued)