Working with Norah was more intimate this time: Anoushka Shankar

Oct 02, 2013, 08:34 IST | Ruchika Kher

Anoushka Shankar wasn't born into just another musical family. With a legend as father, and a talented mother, she was always under the spotlight. In a telephonic interview with Ruchika Kher, she opens up about finding her feet, life after her father's death, and how her newest album brought her closer to half-sister Norah Jones

hen someone as prodigious as Pandit Ravi Shankar is your father, it is not just overwhelming but extremely difficult to create your own identity, but Anoushka Shankar, while maintaining her distinct style, has managed to follow her father’s footsteps successfully, without a stumble. The London-based sitar-player is now ready with her seventh album, Traces of You, where she collaborates with half-sister Norah Jones, who is the solo vocalist on
the project.

Sitar player Anoushka Shankar during one of her performances. Pic/ AFP 

Anoushka Shankar’s increasing versatility and lyricism on the sitar has grabbed eyeballs around the world and now with Traces of You, where she explores a range of topics — from social issues to her love for her legendary father, Shankar has tried to push the envelope a little more. Excerpts from the interview:

What was the main idea behind this album?
It gives a tribute to the resilience that people have. In our journey of life, all of us go through pain, love, anger and breakdowns, yet the idea is to continue and to flow through every situation, which is commendable. This music is about hope that helps you move through every situation.

The album touches upon several issues and emotions. In fact, there is a song on the December Delhi rape victim as well. What prompted you to create this song?
It happened very naturally. When that incident happened, I was feeling so much anger, like everyone else. I was in the studio and working on this album around that time, so, I started playing this piece that was my way of expressing my feelings. Hence, I decided to dedicate this song to her and to all the victims of sexual abuse and violence, in general.

The late Pandit Ravi Shankar’s family, including daughter Norah Jones (fourth from left), wife Sukanya Shankar (fifth from left) and Anoushka Shankar (sixth from left) offer a gesture in appreciation and thanks to those in attendance for the Ravi Shankar Memorial at the Self Realization Fellowship grounds in Encinitas, California on December 20, 2012

You lost your father, while working on this album. Did that affect your stream of thought and influence the trajectory of the thoughts with which you were creating your music?
Life influences my music, whatever my thoughts are at that point in time and what are my inner most feelings. So yes, my father’s death did influence my music. But, in retrospect, I feel grateful that I was in the process of working on this album at that time because I best express my feelings through music. So, it was cathartic.

You have collaborated with your half-sister Norah Jones on the album. How was the experience this time?
Working with her has been rewarding in the past, but this time it was more because our collaboration was much more intimate than before. Firstly, because this time we were collaborating on not just one but three songs and secondly, because while making music we were not part of a large group. We bonded more, writing music at her house. So, the whole process was much more meaningful.

Sitar maestro late Pandit Ravi Shankar spending time with his daughter Anoushka. Pics/ AFP

Your style is very different from Norah’s approach. So, what was the challenge of blending both sounds?
Yes, our styles are very different, but when I’m collaborating with someone it’s not always about blending the sounds together, it’s about co-existing in a distinct way and that’s what we have done. Our music is an interesting contrast between her piano and my sitar and you will see how both, although together, have distinct sounds.

Your career spans nearly two decades, yet you’ve released only seven albums. Why?
I was very young — 13 years — when I began touring. So, I didn’t release an album till I was 17. Then I released two-three albums in a short gap. But between the age of 21 and 25, I took a break because I wanted to focus internally, which I feel is very important. I felt I needed that time to grow and develop and not rush into things. As it is, I like making music when I have something to say, when things inspire me and I have something valuable to express. I feel the need to live and experience things and only then can I share my experiences through my music.

Anoushka Shankar arrives with her husband Joe Right and child Zubin at the Ravi Shankar Memorial on the Self Realization Fellowship grounds in Encinitas on December 20, 2012 in California. Pic/ AFP

Your son Zubin is growing up. Does he show any signs of a musical bone?
Music is a part of his life, he comes to concerts and music is around him even at home and I think he likes it because he does a little shake (laughs). However, he is too young and I don’t know whether he will grow up to become a musician
or not.

Your father inspired a whole generation. What is the one quality in him that you admired the most?
He is one of those men, who never cease to inspire you. So, there are so many moments that it is difficult to pinpoint one. He was an inspiring example of a man who was the greatest genius I knew; yet he was so humble. The humility he had was astounding. He never said great things about himself and still considered himself a student.

Traces Of You, Anoushka Shankar, Universal Music India, Rs 395. Album will be available in leading music stores from October 4. 

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