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Simplicity of the sitar

Updated on: 08 January,2024 06:08 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Sonia Lulla |

Ahead of her India act at the Lollapalooza festival, Anoushka Shankar shares that the desire to showcase “my instrument” in a new light paved the way for the making of her multi-edition album

Simplicity of the sitar

Anoushka Shankar

A decade spent serenading music aficionados via live stage shows has been instrumental in enabling Anoushka Shankar to learn the tropes of pulling off an entertaining gig. The British-American singer with Indian roots is well aware that her lineage draws large crowds of diverse musical sensibilities, a fact that holds prominence in determining how she opens her act. “I want people to know that this isn’t a standard classical sitar show. It’s far from that. So it feels important to establish that at the beginning. Other than that, I don’t think there’s a huge difference in my shows based on where I am playing. My fans in India often make requests, and that’s a beautiful feeling,” says the singer, set to play to her Indian fans at the upcoming two-day Lollapalooza festival that begins on January 27. 

At the city gig, Shankar will play “a mix of things”, with an emphasis on music from her new album, Chapter One: Forever For Now. “But, there will be new arrangements that you won’t find on the album. I’ll also be looking back at some of my favourite stuff from my catalogue that may be suitable for a festival set-up. There’s a lot of improv in my shows. We give a lot of room to the band to [gauge] how the audience feels.”

As is essential for every artiste, Shankar admits that she attempts to showcase “as many shades as is possible” in her shows, while ensuring that her set list doesn’t lack structure. Drawing parallels between crafting an album and performing on stage, she asserts that taking her fans on a “journey” is essential in both scenarios. “There has to be some purpose and direction when it comes to where you’re choosing to travel. For example, [if I play] dark music at a point, that’s usually done to thereafter reach a place that feels peaceful.”

Shankar has already commenced working on the third edition of her album series, a project she kicked off to “continue to explore the sound world of my instrument, the sitar”. “I want to see how it can be taken towards new [dimensions]. On this album, there’s the sitar, accordion, and glass harmonica, which are all unusual instruments to play with. The idea is to surprise the ear and deliver interesting sounds. It’s important for me to work with simplicity and intimacy. I wanted to make music that had a lot of space in it so that it could invite the listener in. They should feel like they were there in the room while the music was being played. I believe, working with my key collaborators was important to pull that off. I was down to the bare bones, which sounds easy, but can be hard, because it’s a naked feeling to write in a way that’s not too adorned. I had to allow the song to be its authentic self.” 

The “modern way of making music”, which involves working on a computer in isolation, hasn’t appealed to Shankar. “It doesn’t bring me the same joy. To structure the remaining chapters of this album, I had to get in a room with people who inspire me.”

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