Anoushka Shankar excited to be back on stage

Anoushka Shankar   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“The lockdown is neither a time to look back nor ahead but to be in the present,” says Anoushka Shankar from her London home. And going by the rave reviews of her concert at BBC Proms live-streamed recently from the Royal Albert Hall, she is living up the present.

It was her first major musical outing during Covid-19, which halted her original plans to celebrate her father's birth centenary with performances across the world, including with her half-sister Norah Jones.

Though she has played at the Proms earlier, this year was special. The evening was dedicated to sitar virtuoso Pt. Ravi Shankar; the mood both introspective and inventive. Besides revisiting and reinterpreting her father’s compositions with electronic music producer Gold Panda, Anoushka did what she loves doing — blending sounds and influences. Along with conductor and arranger Jules Buckley, she presented new arrangements of her own works with the Britten Sinfonia and her regular collaborator, percussionist Manu Delago.

The missing element

“It was exciting to be back on stage after six months and make music with artistes,” says the multi-Grammy nominated sitar player and composer. “But it felt strange to perform in an empty auditorium. Though we went through the same process of rehearsals and dressing up, much of the energy of a concert comes from the people. The artiste-audience interaction is crucial to the music experience. I missed it very much. But it was incredible that at least there were so many artistes on stage. We have to now feed off each other's responses.”

She feels music has always responded to changes. “Art is informed by the situation. We are seeing it happen once again with music moving to the digital space during the lockdown. But there has been too much happening online, may be a natural nervousness about the future,” says Anoushka, who has chosen to relax and stay calm. “Memories of this stillness will help us perceive things differently in the future.”

She was in India just a month before the lockdown to tour with her new EP Love Letters. She has now launched a vinyl edition of the EP. With its all-women team comprising German-Turkish singer-songwriter Alev Lenz, cellist Ayanna Witter-Johnson, Lisa-Kaindé Díaz of the Cuban group Ibeyi, writer/director Shirin Anandita and singer Shilpa Rao, the album’s gentle, simple songs brim with “female energy and dwell in the vulnerable space within them.” The lyrics are disarmingly honest and talk about love, heartbreak, loss and healing, written as they were after Anoushka’s divorce from filmmaker Joe Wright.

She also recently released a video for one of the tracks, ‘Those Words’, by Shilpa. “It has shots of nostalgia. Memories are crucial to everyone, not just artistes.” Anoushka, Shilpa and Ayanna recorded the footage on their phones from their homes in London, Mumbai and Norway. The video, directed by Anoushka, captures the melancholy in the song’s lyrics.

“Your music reflects what you are going through. It’s your emotional response to a situation. It could be about your life or about people. ‘Land of Gold,’ for instance, was my reaction to the refugee crisis. Art can mean differently at different times. Sometimes it could be a political tool, sometimes a social statement, sometimes it might be about love.”

Anoushka with father and guru Pt. Ravi Shankar

Anoushka with father and guru Pt. Ravi Shankar   | Photo Credit: R_Ravindran

The musical heir of the inimitable Pt. Ravi Shankar, Anoushka, like her bold experimenter father, who tread the world of collaboration like no other Indian musician, enjoys entering into a dialogue with ensembles and artistes from across genres. “There has to be a strong impetus for me to do a project. Something should excite me. There has to be some learning in the process; it has to trigger some emotion. That helps me decide who I want to work with,” she says.

That explains why she played the sitar for a track ‘Knowledge of the Self’ in Punk icon Patti Smith’s new album, Peradam. “She is one of my heroes. I have paired my music with her spoken words that are inspired by French writer Rene Daumal,” says Anoushka.

She has also played on the track ‘Ama La’ from the Dalai Lama’s first music album, ‘Inner World’ that was released in July on his 85th birthday. “It was beautiful, meditative, immersive to be playing the sitar to his voice. It was a huge honour.”

A tribute to mothers, it’s not surprising the track resonated with Anoushka, who, alongside raising her two boys, Zubin and Mohan, has chartered her own musical course.

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Printable version | Oct 26, 2020 1:29:21 AM |

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