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World Music Features

Anoushka Shankar

By Derek Beres
Published July 14, 2006

Anoushka Shankar was afforded the opportunity to learn from a true master, sharing blood and time with a legend. However you look at the statistics, what matters most is the focus and soul she puts into her muse.

“There’s very few things in the world that really make you forget your head. That’s the whole element of true meditation. Some people never get to experience that in an entire lifetime. I try through yoga and meditating, but with music I can do it. When I’m in the midst of it, not knowing what’s happening, I feel this intense buzz inside me. It’s just that moment, lost, orgasmic. It’s my plug into presence.”

The great yogi Paramahansa Yogananda noted that one must be careful when beginning meditative practices. One should not, he said, try to raise kundalini (sacred energy) too quickly, as it’s like pumping 1,000 watts of electricity into a 50-watt bulb. For sitar player Anoushka Shankar, her cord was charged at birth. This does not imply her musical path has been easy. Given that she’s daughter to the world’s most well-known classical Indian musician, her 24-year journey has been a double-edged sword, one she has used to slice silence with beautiful sound.

The shortcoming of being born into royalty is expectation. Her father, Ravi Shankar, not only introduced the traditional folk music of his homeland to the planet, he revolutionized how that music was presented; the introduction of tablas as a lead instrument, for example, was his device. On the flip side, Anoushka was afforded the opportunity to learn from a true master, sharing blood and time with a legend. However you look at the statistics, what matters most is the focus and soul one puts into their muse. And if her three prior albums—Anoushka, Anourag and Live At Carnegie Hall—didn’t solidify her place, Rise certainly will.

What’s unique about Rise is the conscious choices Anoushka Shankar has made in stretching the rules of structure while staying completely faithful to the raga. She’s obviously had access to India’s greatest musicians, and on subsequent efforts used them to their utmost on interpretations of pre-existing rags. There might have been minor tweaking to develop a voice—one of the features of ragas is the colorful ornamentation the performer adds, and the greatest are those who employ passion over technicality. With Rise we find her journeying into composition, using old foundations as Lego blocks to build a launching pad. Each of the nine songs were arranged and produced by Shankar, two (“Red Sun” and “Beloved”) featuring no sitar at all. For a woman honing her craft while playing origami with the template, this is a bold move that pays off brilliantly.

Rise appears during a time when Indian music is receiving major attention from mainstream media in America. The arts of India—from paintings and yoga to cuisine and music—have taken hold of the cultural imagination. South Asians are experiencing a certain indigenous pride akin to African-Americans throughout the 20th century with gospel, jazz, blues, soul and hip-hop, and Latin-Americans in waves with mambo and salsa and later rock en español and the Latin pop explosion. Indian music has had two major entry points in the past half-decade: bhangra and Bollywood. Of course, this is building upon what Ravi and Zakir Hussain started with the Beatles and Shakti in the late ’60s. The sounds of these respective genres are as distinctive as, say, bluegrass and polka, but when a foreign citizenry is cracking the psyche of new territory, we first lump together. By the time we divide the whole, we realize how integrated the parts have become into the fabric of our own cultural nu-identity.

Today we have the overlaying of Indian instrumentation into various blueprints, much the way reggae and hip-hop have morphed into progressive, though bastardized, takes on the original. Bhangra has been engulfed by hip-hoppers nationwide with the dhol and tumbi now canvassing 80 beats-per-minute tracks (which makes sense consideri

Anoushka Shankar Discography:

Anoushka (Angel, 1998):
At just 17, Anoushka’s debut was very much fostered by her father, Ravi Shankar. Besides producing the record, the five ragas were either written or adapted by him. This does nothing to take from Anoushka’s apparent virtuosity, and her love for the classical mode shines through with written descriptions of various terms and explanations of rags in the liner notes.

Anourag (Angel, 2000):
These six ragas were all composed by Ravi, but his presence is less as Anoushka begins stepping into her own. Her playful interplay with tabla masters Bikram Gosh and Tanmoy Bose carry this complex, yet completely easeful, performance. In the hands of the great, impossible feats seem easy, and we see Anoushka peering around the corner.

Live At Carnegie Hall (Angel, 2001):
Continuing the international circuit her father created, Anoushka’s touring schedule is rigorous, to say the least. A yearly New York stint produced these beautiful interpretations of eight songs, including a tabla duet and a stunning, meditative alap. Here Anoushka proves the live performance is where the soul of India lies.

Rise (Angel, 2005):
Anoushka’s proudest proclamation regarding her latest album involves the fact she composed every song. While still heavily involved in classical India, Rise breaks boundaries in both its use of polished electronica and unique instrumentation. At 24 she’s got the boundless future ahead, and the title is fitting for this invocation: an ascension toward a new way of experiencing Indian music.