Takes two to Tango
Anoushka Shankar discusses reinventing her music by collaborating with an array of artistes on projects that are set to release this year
Anoushka Shankar warns us against romanticising how immersive the period of lockdown could be for artistes like her, moments before confessing that it has been precisely so for several industry friends who aren't parents. Shankar's managerial skills were put to test as she juggled home-schooling her sons Zubin, nine, and Mohan, five, and keeping them occupied, while honouring her work commitments.
"The concept of what work-life balance entails became evident to me amid the lockdown. And while I loved the time I got to spend with my kids, I benefited more by doing contained work. [I didn't encounter] the kind of immersive experience that people fantasise about, as far as musicians are concerned," says Shankar over a video call from London. But "contained work" for Shankar is far from a bunch of assorted projects that she got her hands on only when afforded the luxury of time. Apart from Mira Nair's A Suitable Boy — which has already commenced airing in the UK — she was occupied with an array of projects, including a collaboration with American singer-songwriter Patti Smith, a solo for the audio collection of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, and a release in Dalai Lama's recently unveiled music debut album, Inner World.
"I have interacted with His Holiness on a couple of occasions in the past. The recording process this time was remotely done. I liked the [song] Ama la, due to [its message] of compassion, and the fact that you could teach it to people from [childhood]," says Shankar of the 11-track album's longest number, which honours mothers.
Working on her segment for Smith, though, was an entirely different ballgame, given that Shankar had to weave the melody of her sitar amid spoken poetry. "I loved her as an artiste, and a woman. Her artistry is inspiring and I jumped at the chance to do this. Her album comes out this year. It is set against the spiritual lyrics of René Daumal's [1940 novel, Mount Analogue]. It is easy to see that those working on this album are creating something introverted."
She admits it takes an understanding of intricacies to have the melody and verse interdigitated in a way that neither overpowers the other. She looked out for punctuations in the verses to enhance the song's musical quality. "Spoken word can be tricky. The music can distract one from the [verses], or can become a [redundant] backing track. One needs an understanding of spaciousness to allow it to breathe. I play the sitar in an introverted way, and she [Smith] speaks emotionally, not aggressively. Both aspects flow in their own way, without fighting with the other. You have to be cautious about serving the words with the music, instead of fighting for attention. One must use the spaces between words. As I learnt the poetry's rhythm, I understood how to respond to it," says Shankar, who is also working on a compilation album of bed-time songs for children.
The track-list includes songs by female artistes who have recreated songs by women.
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