Anoushka Shankar celebrates her culture-bridging new album at Luckman
By Bliss Bowen 04/19/2012
Parents typically discourage their children from pursuing unstable careers in music. But Anoushka Shankar’s father is not typical: He is internationally celebrated sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar, who introduced millions to his instrument and Indian classical music. Responding to his daughter’s interest in music, he began teaching her the sitar while she was still a child; by her early teens, she was performing with him. She released her first solo album, 1998’s “Anoushka,” at age 17. Since then she has released five albums, including 2001’s Grammy-nominated “Live at Carnegie Hall” and the new, flamenco-infused “Traveller,” which she is currently promoting on a tour that brings her to the Luckman Saturday. Her 2002 book, “Bapi: The Love of My Life,” pays loving tribute to her legendary father.
“It’s hard to explain,” she says during a phone interview. “It was my only experience of having a teacher and a parent, so they’re inextricably intertwined. But it’s such a deep relationship because of that. There are so many dynamics involved; he’s obviously a father figure and a parent, but he’s the person who gave me music, which has become my art and my expression and my life. Also, we end up communicating musically constantly, so when we play together and perform together there’s this whole other dialogue on another dimension that’s happening. It’s very beautiful.”
Born and now based in London, where she lives with her husband, film director Joe Wright, and their son, Zubin, Shankar admits to having to “struggle a bit with legacy.”
“I’m generally very comfortable with who my father is and the career that I have. But when I think of what am I going to add to [his legacy], it makes me a bit nervous.” She laughs. “The best I can do is do my best, whatever it ends up being.”
Remaining rooted in Indian classical music, she experimented with electronic programming with her albums “Rise” and “Breathing Under Water,” the latter a collaboration with tabla player Karsh Kale. She created her newest release, “Traveller,” with producer/songwriter Javier Limón and guests including Spanish diva Concha Buika, pianist Pedro Ricardo Miño and flamenco dancer Farruco. It’s a sophisticated, rhythmically appealing work that uncovers considerable common ground between Indian classical music and Spanish flamenco. Marrying their contradictory rhythms was a challenge, but Shankar maintains that while the rhythms are “completely different,” the method of approaching them is the same in both traditions. She grows excited while detailing the mathematical calculations involved.
“In flamenco and in Indian music, [musicians] tend to improvise upon repetitive rhythmic cycles, unlike in other Western forms of music. And we have divisions of cycles the same way. So in flamenco, almost all music is based on a version of a 12-beat cycle, but not all 12 beats are the same. You can divide 12 up in many different ways, and those are all different cycles; they have different styles in which to be played. We have the same thing; we might have a seven or a 10 or a 16, divided up different ways. … I always found the connection of music and math. Some people go in a more lyrical direction and don’t get it, but I always have been fascinated by numbers.”
She cites the sequence of “Dancing in Madness” and “Boy Meets Girl” as an example of the album’s balance between mathematical calculation and gentle lyricism. Her explication of “Boy Meets Girl” provides insight into how she and guitarist Pepe Habichuela crafted a rhythmic bridge between cultures without sacrificing the music’s inherent emotionality or spiritual uplift.
“We found a [flamenco] form first, which was the granaina, which traditionally is done as a vocalist accompanied by a guitar. I was learning the form but trying to find a melody that would be authentic to my instrument. There is a particular chord progression that happens in the granaina, where the singer, if you will, has to finish on a sequence of notes, each phrase that they sing, for the guitar to then respond to. [We found] in that particular key, I could play phrases that were incredibly authentic to one of my absolute favorite ragas and just keep the sequence in mind of which notes to end on. The flamenco musicians were going, ‘Hey, how does she know how to do this?’ [But] I was playing purely in a raga, and Pepe was responding in the granaina. It was really one of my highlights of the record, because it is a moment where the two styles are actually existing together in a symbiotic manner.
“It doesn’t sound that complicated when you’re listening to it. It’s only if you’re interested to know that it becomes cooler. It actually just sounds like two musicians playing a sweet melody.”
Anoushka Shankar and her band perform in concert at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex on the Cal State LA campus, 5151 State University Drive, Los Angeles at 8 p.m. Saturday; $25-$40. Info: (323) 343-6600. anoushkashankar.com