An international musician’s artistic homecoming

An international musician’s artistic homecoming

By PAYEL MAJUMDAR | | 5 December, 2015
Anoushka Shankar. Photo:laura lewis/dg
Known for being musically versatile, Anoushka Shankar has worked across genres, but her latest album marks a return to her Indian classical roots. She speaks to Payel Majumdar.

Anoushka Shankar’s new classical music album Home is accompanied by Ravi Shankar’s words, “A raga is the projection of the artist’s inner spirit, a manifestation of his most profound sentiments and sensibilities brought forth through tones and melodies. The musician must breathe life into each raga as he unfolds and expands it.”  After working on several non-classical experimental albums, Anoushka has returned to where she began her tryst with music — with her new album Home, composed entirely in Hindustani-classical style, inspired from her father’s work. Anoushka Shankar played with her father till his final concerts, and is an internationally renowned classical musician herself,  having been nominated for the Grammy Award for her albums Rise, Traveller and Traces of You. In an interview with Guardian 20, she speaks about returning to her roots.

Q. You’ve written a classical album after a long time, and you’re returning to India after staying away for a while. How much of India is present in your new album Home?
A. I made four albums in the last five years, which is a lot of music to write if you ask me. But it is my first classical album in a long time. There is a huge amount of India in that album. It has classical music, so it has a huge amount of my heritage, and my roots.

Q. Is there any particular reason that you were staying away from the Indian classical form?
A. There isn’t any particular reason I was staying away from it, as much as I was having fun exploring other forms of music. I’ve been making experimental records all this while. I have actually stayed in touch with classical music in my touring life, just how I did a mix of non-classical tours in support of my classical album. I’ve played with orchestras around the world, and I continued to play with my father right till the end. It was still happening to me; it was just not on record. Just before Home, I felt the urge to make a classical record again, and that is how this album

Q. Is the music in Home purely classical, or are there elements of fusion?
A. It is purely classical, but like any Indian classical record it is improvisational in nature. This is what makes it completely fresh; a one-off performance. The thing about classical music is that it is old, but also very new at the same time. Every time I play in a concert for instance, I collaborate. I think collaboration is another hyped term that people use to sell a

Q. What are you listening to right now from India?
A. I’ve got a lot of friends in the indie music scene whom I listen to. But otherwise, I’m listening to a lot of old music at the moment, returning to my father’s old records as well, trying to get an education from some of his earlier works.

Q. What do you think about independent music being produced out of India right now and being classified as “fusion”?
A. I feel that fusion is a ridiculously meaningless word. What do you mean by fusion music in India. Do you mean Indian classical with jazz, do you mean hip hop in Bangla, Indian film music with Western pop — fusion means any kind of crossover and I feel it is a ridiculous generalisation. Crossovers have been happening since decades, since centuries in fact, if you take into consideration Hindustani classical and Carnatic music. I think that a dialogue in music between cultures is very important. It is beautiful to experience how music can help people connect and build bridges. However, terming it all as “fusion” music does not mean very much.

Q. Is it important to learn classical music to be able to understand it?
A. It certainly helps! The more you learn about something, the more you understand it. However, I don’t think it is necessary to learn about it to be able to enjoy it, and there’s a big difference there. You can enjoy any kind of music, but the more you learn about it, the more you learn how to appreciate new layers of it. I often feel the need to remind people that it isn’t necessary to know about it to process it. Classical music can be quite intimidating to people sometimes, and it is important to take that away and let people relax.

Q. Among Western audiences, have you been able to find a section of listeners that understands as well as appreciates Hindustani Classical music?
A. I have been playing concerts in every country of the world and having sellout audiences, so yes, I would like to believe so. There are no reasons for me to believe otherwise. I wouldn’t say I begin my concerts by explaining anything. For instance, if an artist from the West comes and performs at a festival such as NH7, would you say Indian audiences do not understand that music?

Q. It’s not quite similar. Pop culture all over the world is homogenised to an extent, and what you do cannot be called pop culture, can it?
A. Yes, I agree, it is more about the style of the music than the culture. Therefore, it is not about which audience you play for. In my experience, it doesn’t matter what country I play in. For instance, I might play for a room in London, where people know more about my music than a room in Mumbai. The audiences in Mumbai at, say, Blue Frog might be very young and not be as familiar with this music. Therefore, it doesn’t matter whether I’m in India or abroad. If you play for an audience that listens to classical music, they know about it, and the ones who don’t, don’t. I find audiences across the world who are knowledgeable about it in any major city of the world.

Q. But classical music is still considered a niche form.
A. It is niche as far as music is concerned, but I don’t think that it is about culture anymore. It can appeal to anyone, across cultures.

Q. You hosted the world’s first pop-up radio station, Radio Everyone as part of Richard Curtis’ initiative towards UN’s sustainable development goals.
A. They asked me if I wanted to host it and I was quite happy to, because I have always believed in equality, and been a feminist for as long back as I can remember. Radio till today, reaches out and connects with people, and I was assured that the talk was about inspiring women to take things in their hands in doing amazing, heroic things. That was something I was really happy to be involved with.

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