Thursday, March 20, 2008

Anoushka Shankar

To be the heir to a famous name is difficult enough. To follow in your father's footsteps makes things far more complex. But sitar player Anoushka Shankar, who has just released her second album Anourag, has no problems being the daughter of the great Indian sitar master Ravi Shankar. "I was brought up in the public eye. I was raised in a family where being on view is normal," she explained. At 19, she's already achieved more than most performers twice her age. Two years ago, the British Parliament awarded her the rare House of Commons shield for her artistry and musicianship. She's performed with classical orchestras, and worked with former Beatle George Harrison on the Chants of India record, as well as issuing her own albums. But while she admits she's "done a lot, I don't think I'm doing that much more than the average successful kid who gets good grades and does a lot."
"She's driven she's her father's daughter," said music journalist, and Ravi Shankar biographer Ken Hunt. "That's both in genes, and in music. She has the same fire for the music that he has."
And the heat she can generate is perfectly demonstrated in her playing on "Yaman Kalyan.". Shankar, who grew up in England, India, and California, began learning the sitar from her father when she was 9, at her mother's behest."My dad didn't want to teach me, he wanted to wait until I went to him," she recalled. "It was technically uncomfortable and difficult. But by the time I was 11, I was playing better things and grew to enjoy it."
She made her professional debut at 13, and since then has been accompanying her father on stage, since, she pointed out, "it was more that I was assisting him. But for the past year, as he can't perform a full show anymore, I do the first half on my own, then assist him in the second half."
Anourag puts her firmly in the spotlight, with its six Ravi Shankar compositions, including "Shuddha Sarang.". "None of the pieces were written for the CD," Shankar explained. "They were pieces he'd already composed that I was performing, or stuff he'd taught me that wasn't finished. I liked the way things sounded, and I wanted people to hear them."
Of particular note is "Pancham Se Gara," where father and daughter duet, something that meant a lot to Shankar, because "I don't think he's done that for anyone before."
On her current headlining Full Circle tour, where Shankar will play some dates with her father, she'll be performing another of his works, the "Sitar Concerto No. 1," which she debuted with conductor Zubin Mehta and the London Symphony Orchestra when she was 16. Performing the opus with orchestras around America will, she said, be a bit nerve-wracking, because "it's a different musical style for the orchestra. It's not Western classical music, so it's not part of their training, and it doesn't come naturally."
Indian classical music is most definitely her training, however, and for now, with high school behind her, it's the real focus of her life. "I love it and it's my career. But 20 years from now I might not enjoy it as much, in which case I'll stop."
She admits that many see her as the keeper of a flame, and "there's a lot of external pressure on me, people looking for the family tradition to be continued. But I've never had it from my parents. My father wants me to be happy, he's always said that."
Even with two albums under her belt, she doesn't feel comfortable yet. One thing missing from her work, as she admits, is improvisation. But, asserted Hunt, "she'll develop not just an ear for playing, but for improvisation. Right now she's playing with her father's trademark style. She's still young, and I think she'll reach that stage of spontaneous creation."
And Shankar herself knows she's not the finished article yet. "I still think there's a way to go. I haven't done a solo tour in India, which is the real test. And I'm only just starting to tour solo. A year or two from now I'll feel that my career is established."

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