Her father’s daughter
In conversation with Grammy-nominated composer and sitarist Anoushka Shankar
It isn’t easy to define Anoushka Shankar. One moment she is your regular chilled out girl-next-door and another, she is a picture of concentration and focus as she mesmerises audiences with her magical performance on stage. Exposed to Indian classical music at a very tender age alongside her father, the legendary Ravi Shankar, Anoushka went on to carve a niche of her own experimenting with different genres like western classical music, jazz, electronica among others. Her list of achievements run long. She released her first album when she was just 18, and her consecutive albums Live At Carnegie Hall and RISE won her recognition at the Grammy Awards making her the youngest ever nominee and the first Indian to perform at the most elevated stage in the world of music.
Anoushka was in the UAE recently for the Abu Dhabi festival that celebrates the finest achievers in the world of music. Masala! chatted with the prodigious composer about her recent album Traveller, performing in the Middle East and of course, her famous father.
What excited you most about your visit to Abu Dhabi?
This was my first visit to Abu Dhabi but it was a short one packed with events. I was disappointed that I couldn’t do any sightseeing in this beautiful place of towers, trades and traditions. Nevertheless, I am happy that the first leg of the Traveller tour happened in the UAE and that I was finally able to catch up with a lot of my old friends here.
The Abu Dhabi festival’s theme was ‘cultural connections’ – a topic that you greatly relate to. How do you try and reach out to different cultures and communities through your music?
I believe music has a way of bridging the gap on its own. However, I must say it is not a conscious effort on my part to bridge cultures. Simply by adapting to various musical styles of different regions, musicians ensure that they are able to reach out to everyone.
Can you tell us more about your latest album Traveller – what was the inspiration behind the music?
I have been in love with Spain and its culture for a very long time. One day it struck me that I could cut an album where I could fuse Spanish and Indian classical styles. It was really fascinating for me to learn that both the countries share a common history. I spent a lot of time studying flamenco and practising the technique of the form.
What were the challenges of merging flamenco with Hindustani classical music traditions?
Despite the commonalities between the two countries it was evident that they were distinct in many ways. But then I had decided to be creative and experimental. So I came up with a composition that stayed true to tradition but also allowed me to take some creative liberties.
Can you share any interesting experiences on the Traveller tour last year?
It was just incredible! With all the hard work that went into shaping this project it was quite a treat when people came up to me and appreciated my effort. I felt truly blessed and humbled to be recognised by people from various walks of life.
A lot of veterans lament the lack of interest among Indian youngsters for their own musical traditions. What should be done to keep our musical legacy alive?
The only way our heritage can be kept alive is by making it relevant to the present generation. We need to ensure that it evolves continuously and doesn’t become a talk of the past. If you observe closely, Indian music has incorporated various styles and if we listen to music and analyse this aspect we’ll truly be able to appreciate its beauty.
How do you feel when you are called a ‘role model’ and ‘youth icon’ for young musicians around the world?
It’s wonderful to be referred to as a role model. But I try not to take these titles too seriously. I just try to focus on my work; my objective is to continue to produce good work and explore various facets of music.
You authored Bapi: The Love Of My Life way back in 2002. Any plans to write another?
I am not sure. I haven’t consciously thought about it as such. But maybe there will be another book as I enjoyed writing the first one very much. I also had a stint as a columnist for the Hindustan Times and it was a fantastic experience. So you never know, I might just pen down something again!
You have also had a brush with Bollywood before (she had acted in Dance Like A Man in 2004). Aren’t you tempted to face the cameras again?
I don’t think so! Acting is something that doesn’t come naturally to me. I just tried it for its novelty. Next to singing, writing is the only other profession I could see myself being a part of!