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Anoushka Shankar celebrates 20 years of genre-defying music with ‘Reflections’ | Music | stltoday.com

Anoushka Shankar celebrates 20 years of genre-defying music with ‘Reflections’ | Music | stltoday.com

Anoushka Shankar celebrates 20 years of genre-defying music with ‘Reflections’ | Music | stltoday.com
March 09
09:01 2019

Anoushka Shankar’s 20-year career as a sitar player and composer has explored a wide enough expanse of musical territory that “Reflections,” a compilation album released last week, could have gone in any number of different directions.

“As you can imagine, I put a few versions together,” Shankar, a six-time Grammy nominee, says by phone from her home in London.

“Usually, I really only look at any one particular album at a time when I’m making it. I’ve never really sat and looked at the journey through all of my albums to see if I could find a thread through them. It was difficult because, obviously, you could make very different stories and moods in a compilation.”

She made one, she says, that was mellow and meditative, then another that was upbeat and energetic. “Finally, I just tried to find the right balance,” she says.

That balance required that she pay attention to the various aspects of her career: the intricate, improvisatory Indian classical music taught to her by her father, world-renowned sitar player and composer Ravi Shankar; cross-cultural experiments, including journeys into electronica and flamenco music; and collaborations with vocalists, including her half-sister Norah Jones.

Shankar started playing sitar at age 7 — “My parents had a small one made for me. It was still quite intimidating.” She made her recording debut at 13 and at 15 appeared on her father’s album “Chants of India,” which was produced by George Harrison. Her debut album under her own name, “Anoushka,” appeared in 1998, when she was 17.

Being the daughter of Ravi Shankar certainly opened doors for her, but it took her own talent and determination to become more than just an echo of her father’s legacy.

“My father was a pioneer and a leader in the things he did and the way he did them,” she says. “But it’s not just that he was the pure classicist and I’m not, you know? He was a great innovator and experimenter. But if I were to follow exactly the way he did it, I wouldn’t be finding anything new to say.”

It didn’t hurt that, as she grew up in London, Delhi and Los Angeles, Shankar was a bit of a rave kid. Electronic instruments and dance rhythms began to make their way into her sound as early as her 2005 album “Rise,” which she produced herself.

“From there it kind of plays across different albums,” she says. “For me, it felt like, growing up, I had this very sort of intense experience with Indian classical music and learning and performing it. To be a traveler in that wild, psychedelic world of dance music felt like the complete polar opposite. But there were a lot of similarities in what I was getting out of both kinds of music. So that set me up to have a really broad range and to have an open mind about music.”

Being taught by her father, she admits, was an occasionally intense experience. She didn’t always know that she wanted to follow in his footsteps, but even during periods of doubt, she continued to practice.

“I lived with my teacher and he was my father and he practiced every day so I practiced every day and we practiced every day together,” she says.

She recalls an interview that George Harrison gave in which he talked about being a student of Ravi Shankar and about how strict and demanding a teacher he was. And then he mentioned Anoushka.

“He said, ‘Yeah, I really feel sorry for her because she can’t escape him!’” she says with a laugh. “That sums up the beauty and the intensity at the same time.”

Despite the popularity of her father’s work, Westerners regard the sitar as an exotic instrument, and it’s still not widely heard. Shankar is helping to break down those barriers, but it’s a work in progress.

“What is amazing about the sitar can also end up being difficult for it,” she says.

“Even though my father had a really successful career before the ’60s, that kind of insane pop-culture splash that happened was so massive. People hear the sitar and immediately think, you know, flying carpets and tie-dyed T-shirts and wafting smoke.

“One of the things I’m trying to do is still respect the instrument and its culture but also kind of demystify it — not play it in a context that is just instrumental and exotic, you know? That feels important to me.”

What Anoushka Shankar • When 8 p.m. Thursday • Where Sheldon Concert Hall & Art Galleries, 3648 Washington Boulevard • How much $15-$45 • More info 314-534-1111; metrotix.com

Source: Anoushka Shankar celebrates 20 years of genre-defying music with ‘Reflections’ | Music | stltoday.com

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Martin Nethercutt

Martin Nethercutt

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