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Anoushka Shankar continues to bring a new energy and excitement to one of the noblest and most sublime legacies in the world of contemporary music. Anoushka is the daughter of Indian sitar master Ravi Shankar, and she is the first and only sitarist in the world trained completely by him.
Ravi Shankar has guided his daughter through her emergence as a performer and as a recording artist, writing and producing the five works she plays on Anoushka, her debut album. For Anourag, her second recording, Anoushka once again performed music written and produced by her father. This time, Ravi Shankar also joined Anoushka as performer, in his first studio recording in three years.
When Ravi Shankar’s friend and protégé George Harrison first worked with Anoushka in 1997 -- when she conducted on the Chants of India album -- he saw that she had inherited not only her father’s virtuosity but also his musical soul. "Most people are musicians simply because they play a certain instrument when they play that instrument, the music appears," Harrison said. "But Ravi -- to me, he is the music; it just happens to be that he plays the sitar. And it’s like that with Anoushka. She just has that quality. She could play the banjo, and it wouldn’t matter – she is the music."
The release of Anourag coincided with the extensive "Full Circle" tour of the United States, in which Anoushka and Ravi Shankar performed together in concert in celebration of Ravi’s 80th birthday and the 70th anniversary of the beginning of his career in music. On August 15th, India's Independence Day, Anoushka performed alone in New York at Summerstage in Central Park. Throughout the tour, she o shared the stage with her father, performing his Sitar Concerto No. 1 and conducting master classes.
Anourag continued the Shankar family’s extraordinary presence in the world of Indian classical music. The recording’s six tracks feature traditional ragas that reflect Ravi Shankar’s influence on both the composition and performance of sitar music. In his first new recording as performer in several years, Ravi Shankar joined Anoushka on "Pancham Se Gara," the final track on Anourag. In addition to her father, Anoushka was joined on the recording by Bikram Ghosh on tabla and mridangam, Tanmoy Bose on tabla.
After her graduating high school with high honors in 1999, Anoushka decided to delay her entry to college to tour the world once again with her father. Highlights of their 1999 schedule included performances together at London’s Barbican Theatre and at the Evian Festival in France, where Anoushka joined the world-renowned cellist Mstislav Rostropovich in playing the world premiere of a new work for cello and sitar by Ravi Shankar.
Anoushka Shankar has begun to shape a career that reflects her own artistic ambitions while carrying on the Indian classical traditions her father has instilled in her. In 1998, the British Parliament presented Anoushka with a House of Commons Shield in recognition of her artistry and musicianship -- at 17, she was the youngest as well as the sole female recipient of this honor. She has toured extensively with Ravi throughout her cultural homeland of India, as well as Europe, Asia and the United States. In 1998, Anoushka played at Peter Gabriel’s WOMAD Festival in Seattle, at Carnegie Hall and in a special concert at New York’s Town Hall. Anoushka also joined her father in London in March 1997 for a historic performance of his Concerto No. 1 for Sitar and with Zubin Mehta conducting the London Symphony Orchestra.
Growing up in London, New Delhi and, later, Encinitas, California, Anoushka at first resisted the legacy of the sitar, a complex and ancient instrument with between 17 and 21 strings. Anoushka learned her first Indian songs and dances from her mother, Sukanya, and she became her father’s student at the age of nine. Her initial dislike of the specially built "baby sitar" on which she cut her musical teeth gave way to a love of the instrument and the music. She made her performing debut at age 13.
Rise, Anoushka Shankar's fourth album for Angel Records, marked a defining moment in the career of the young musician in 2005. Having previously recorded strictly in the classical tradition, Anoushka emerged as a potent creative force. "It's very much my own music and my journey and who I am right now," said Anoushka, who turned 24 in June of 2005 "I felt that on a personal level, Rise signifies growth."
On Rise-which was composed, produced and arranged by Anoushka-she collaborated with a select crew of virtuoso Eastern and Western musicians wielding a variety of both acoustic and electronic instruments often engaging in unexpected ways to create tantalizing new sounds.
Having toured almost non-stop since her adolescence, in addition to having attended school until her graduation from high school in 1999, Anoushka felt that she needed a break and elected to take 2004 off. But her vacation swiftly became a working one as concepts were planted for the album that ultimately became Rise.
"I was going to go disappear for a while but wouldn't you know it, I made an album," she says "The sabbatical gave me the space to take risks. It was really an organic, natural experience. I was traveling from India to the States and meeting friends and adding people along the way. It was really beautiful."
From the first notes of "Prayer In Passing," which opens Rise, it becomes instantly clear that Anoushka was on to something inspiring and uncommon. The track features Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, a renowned Indian slide guitarist alongside the flamenco-style piano of Ricardo Miño, Pedro Eustache's bansuri flute and duduk (a Middle Eastern wind instrument) and Anoushka's sitar. "This one's very languid," says Anoushka. "It's just nice and dreamy-it's set in a morning raga that's very moody and simple. It was lovely to have so many different things that shouldn't go together but seemed to flow really nicely."
"Red Sun," the second track, features Anoushka on keyboards and is highlighted by the percussive Indian "bol" vocalizing of Bikram Ghosh and Tanmoy Bose, her longtime tabla players. "We've always incorporated that into my shows when they play with me, and I definitely wanted to feature that-they're improvising on that," says Anoushka.
"Mahadeva" is based on a four-line song by Ravi Shankar that was re-composed and arranged by Anoushka. "He never developed it into a piece of music," Anoushka explains. "It was just something that I sang as a kid and it came into my head while we were in Calcutta recording. It started developing into a really strong rhythmic, dark-feeling track, which I was really excited about. Mahadeva is another name for Shiva, and one aspect of Shiva is that he's the destroyer. This sort of brings out that feeling of anger and insanity."
"Naked" turns the mood around completely-Anoushka, all alone, on sitar and keyboards. "It was a very conscious decision to add a little pretty track with sitar being the focus," she says. "We'd gone very mysterious and heavy and it seemed nice to have something light."
"Solea" was co-written by Anoushka and Spanish flamenco pianist Ricardo Miño. The luminous background sounds, Anoushka explains, were all created on the piano. "I'm holding the piano strings muted while he's playing one of the other background synth sounds. It was really creative and fun for me, and very physical, too, because of the rhythm, the flamenco approach."
The album's other sitar-less track, "'Beloved,'" says Anoushka, "was my first experience writing lyrics from scratch and fitting it to a melody. It was flute-focused and I thought it would be nice to have it be about Krishna because he's always associated with the flute. The lyrics are from the viewpoint of Radha, who's his eternal lover. She's searching for him everywhere and then she understands that the reason she hasn't been able to find him is because she's not looking within herself."
The intriguingly titled "Sinister Grains," like "Prayer In Passing," is another instance where Anoushka juxtaposed seemingly incongruous ingredients, here using Indian shehnai and vocals, didjeridoo, South American vocal percussion, bass and electronic elements, including her sitar which was fed through a filter to create some of the track's ambient effects. "It's just a funky little mysterious track," she says. "The song is in a Sufi-sort of mood where he's talking about the pain of living, and the music is also very moody."
Anoushka compares "Voice Of The Moon," which matches the Western cello and violin to the Eastern sitar, tabla and santoor, to her father's collaborations with the late violinist Yehudi Menuhin. "It's very much composed within an Indian raga yet the fact that the cello is there gives it a smoothness," she says. The Indian percussion is amended with an electronic HandSonic drum pad as well, "to give it a little more depth," Anoushka explains.
Finally, "Ancient Love," the longest track on Rise is "my favorite one by far," says Anoushka. "This is the one closest to my heart. It was also the easiest track because it constantly flowed. Every time someone added to this track, it would get more beautiful. We ended up taking out a lot, too, to retain a bit of simplicity. It's got a nice mix of the electronics and several flavors."
The sequencing of the tracks on Rise, adds Anoushka, is hardly random. "Each one is in a certain raga, and it flows from morning to evening through the course of the album, which is a pretty unique feature. It's not something that happens very often or that can be made to work, but if you do believe that ragas have moods and have significance it does enhance the overall flow."
Anoushka Shankar continued her explorations of Indian music and global sounds on Breathing Under Water, recorded with global electronica musician Karsh Kale. Thanks to her popularity and prestige, Anoushka Shankar was able to invite an impressive line-up of guests. In addition to her renowned father, Ravi Shankar, she is also joined by pop stars Sting and her sister Norah Jones, Indian electronica pioneers MIDIval PunditZ, as well as Bollywood soundtrack composer and keyboardist Salim Merchant and Vishwa Mohan Bhat.
Anoushka Shankar‘s evolution took her from Indian classical music to world music and then to pop. Karsh Kale provides his characteristic electronic beats and guitar, which create the backdrop for Anoushka Shankar‘s extraordinary sitar. "With the sitar being such a distinctive instrument, it conveys so much to hear it travel through the range of musical styles and genres that it does on this record," says Anoushka. "One of the greatest aspects of creating this album, for me, was giving unabashedly full reign to my creative desires, pushing and being pushed far outside my comfort level, and working with people whose talents complemented my own to the point that I was able to give the best of myself as a producer, writer, and instrumentalist."
Breathing Under Water shows another side of Anoushka Shankar. In addition to her role as sitarist and composer, she expands her responsibility to producer, keyboardist and lyricist. The songs on Breathing Breathing Under Water were "conceived organically, written mainly on sitar and acoustic guitar before taking them in all different directions," Kale says. "There were two ways that we composed for the most part," Shankar adds. "Some songs came from an acoustic space, coming up with the melody and then orchestrating around it. And there were a few pieces like ‘Slither’ and ‘PD7,’ which we started creating and programming on the computer first, and layered on top of later."
"I’ve not really had this type of intense musical experience with anyone, other than my father," says Shankar. "To be creatively free with somebody else and trust them with your ideas before they’re already formed, that was very new to me, and it allowed both of us to do things we don’t usually do. I think the real surprise to most people on this album is that a lot of what we’re known for switched–a lot of the hardest, most rhythmic moments on the album came from me, and a lot of the prettier, melodic moments were from Karsh."
"Being an Indian musician in the world we live in right now, when there’s the amount of fusion and crossover music that’s being made, it’s a challenge to find a genuine and sincere way of making these different sounds work together," says Shankar. "Our end goal with this record was to create an honest picture of how dynamic a world we live in, and how natural and beautiful it can be for seemingly-incongruous elements or ideas to co-exist."
Anoushka (Angel Records/EMI 56729, 1998)
Anourag (Angel Records/EMI 56969, 2000)
Live at Carnegie Hall (Angel Records/EMI 34922, 2001)
Rise (Angel Records/EMI, 2005)
Healing the Divide: A Concert for Peace and Reconciliation (2006), with Tom Waits, Philip Glass, Foday Musa Suso, R. Carlos Nakai, Nawang Khechog, Kronos Quartet
Breathing Under Water (2007)
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|Indian, World Music, Sitar, Keyboards|