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This article by Elaine Struss was prepared for the October 4, 2000
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Anoushka Shankar: Keeping the Tradition
Child of the artist who, in the 1960s, brought Indian
music to the west, Anoushka Shankar grew up breathing the rarefied
air of musical prominence and worldwide adulation that surrounds her
pioneering father, Ravi Shankar. Through his collaborations with
Yehudi Menuhin and with the Beatles, Ravi made the sitar, the tall
traditional Indian stringed instrument, part of the world’s musical
landscape. Steeped in the tradition of Indian classical music, he
devised modifications of the instrument and streamlined the notation
of traditional Indian music.
From the leisurely Indian tradition of lengthy musical rumination,
he made adaptations suited to audiences who have been taught that
time is money. He told People magazine, "I would be happiest if
Anoushka can keep up the traditions I have guarded."
For the last decade Ravi has been systematically passing on his
to his daughter Anoushka. At 80, he commands respect in traditional
Indian circles because of his age. Anoushka, who is 19, is the only
person to have been trained completely by him. Father and daughter
are celebrating Ravi’s 80th birthday and the release of Anoushka’s
second solo CD with an American concert tour that includes U.S. 1
Anoushka Shankar opens the season of the Hightstown-East Windsor
Concert Association at the Peddie School in Hightstown on Saturday,
7, at 8 p.m. Accompanying her in concert are tabla players Bikram
Ghosh and Tanmoy Bose. The Hightstown concert comes a day after Ravi
and Anoushka play in Carnegie Hall. The pair visits New Jersey again
on Tuesday, November 21, to play at the Performing Arts Center.
In an interview from a hotel room in Nashville, Tennessee, Anoushka,
who has the air of a tested performer, talks about breaking into the
Indian music scene as a teenager. "I started performing at
she says. "Whatever I did, people were impressed. By the time
I was 16 or 17 people began looking for more substance. Now that I’m
19 people may take me more seriously. It’s been really gradual."
"In India," she says, "age is respected. I’m still a baby
as far as Indian culture is concerned. People my father’s age refer
to us younger performers up to the age of 28 as `the kids.’ When they
come to a concert they look at me in terms of what I’m doing, but
also in terms of my potential."
Does Anoushka find that being her father’s daughter is a burden?
the most difficult question to answer," she says. "Look, how
many fathers have I had?" Appreciative of her father, she adds,
"It’s not a burden. It’s more a matter of privileges and
It comes with the territory. Being my father’s daughter opens doors.
Look at the opportunities I’ve had. I’ve had opportunities to tour
with him in the most wonderful halls, and to meet unbelievable
Someone without his name would have to go through a lot of effort
for that. Once they’ve done it on their own, they’ve proved
I have to prove myself afterward."
Her remarks ring a bell in the memory. Hidayat Khan, son of Ustad
Vilayat Khan and the upcoming member of a dynasty of sitar players,
is 25, and also one of "the kids." He told me (U.S. 1, May
26, 1999) how natural it was to make music in his family. "Who
taught a fish how to swim?" he asked rhetorically about his early
mastery of India’s complicated music. He, too, was aware of the
of being his father’s son. "Being the son of my father was like
being the son of a king. India is a society where age is respected.
But when I was 10, 50-year-old men would be touching my feet. These
people would do anything for us because we were my father’s sons."
Like Anoushka Shankar he refined his skills on the sitar by touring
with his father, and is at home both in India and in the west.
Anoushka was born in London. According to People
her mother is Sukanya Rajan, a former banker 30 years Ravi’s junior,
whom he married in 1989. The family moved to the United States when
Anoushka was 12. The move was fueled, in large part, by her father’s
chronic heart problems. "We moved to California partly because
of the weather," she says. "But also, the doctors were
We were visiting friends when my father suddenly needed angioplasty.
The doctors were brilliant. He wanted to be where they were and we
moved here the next year."
Anoushka started seventh grade in Encinitas. By that time she had
been studying sitar with her father for three years, using a
small instrument. A year later she would begin touring with him. She
graduated with honors from high school in 1999 despite a somewhat
spotty attendance record. "I took a few months off every winter
because we went back to Asia," she says. "I also took off
days in fall and spring when we toured in the United States. We always
do Europe in the summer, so that was never a problem."
As a hobby Anoushka plays piano. She mentions Debussy and Chopin as
favorite composers. "I’m not a professional," she says about
the piano, "and I don’t have lessons anymore. I’m never in one
place long enough. I cheated a lot on the piano because I had learned
to play by ear on the sitar. I always had my piano teacher play a
piece; then I knew it. My level of piano playing is better than my
reading. Still, when I play with a western orchestra, I can explain
things to them because I do read music." In 1997 she performed
her father’s Concerto No. 1 for sitar and orchestra with Zubin Mehta
and the London Philharmonic Orchestra for the first time.
Her musical tastes are eclectic. "I listen to all kinds of
she says. While she was in Nashville, she attended a jazz workshop
and a bluegrass concert. When she played in Ravinia, summer home of
the Chicago Symphony, she heard the banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck and
his Flecktones. She listens to Madonna. The interest is mutual.
declared herself to be a fan of Anoushka’s in a recent story in
Anoushka has postponed college in order to give concerts with her
father. She told George Varga of Copley News Service, "I got
at every college I applied to, but I was half-hearted when I applied.
I do want to go to college eventually. But I decided college won’t
disappear, and I want to be with my Dad. There is a lot of urgency
on his part and, hence, on my part, too, although it’s not so often
spoken. He feels rushed to give me so much. He doesn’t know how much
time he has left."
Ravi Shankar is very much a part of Anoushka’s discography. The same
year she made her performing debut she played on her father’s
"In Celebration." Two years later she joined her father and
former Beatle George Harrison in "Chants of India." Then came
her exclusive recording contract with Angel/EMI and her first solo
CD, "Anoushka." Her second solo album,
was released in August.
Ravi composed the five pieces for "Anoushka" and the six for
"Anourag." He performs for the first time in many years as
his daughter’s recording partner in the final track of
In Hindi the word "anourag" means love and affection. A note
on the liner declares, "As a token of deepest love for his
Ravi Shankar is proud to make a special appearance on this
A strip of four color photos of Anoushka in various moods form the
back of the liner notes. She appears relaxed and barefooted, wearing
casual clothes in a lush tropical garden; elegant and dignified in
an opulent setting; sophisticated and sultry in a darkness illuminated
by a flash exposure; and exotic, wearing Indian jewelry, including
a diamond in her nose. Inside the liner notes she looks dreamy in
a black and white photo. The multiple facets she displays in the
are as varied as the music she plays.
The liner notes include a glossary of Indian musical terms that helps
the western listener understand the structure of a raga, the basic
Indian composition, which is associated with a time of day or season
of the year. Notes about individual tracks point out the rhythmic
basis of each raga.
Tala, or rhythm is a distinguishing feature of Indian music. Its
is decisive, and it may be complex. A common pattern is teental, 16
beats divided 4-4-4-4. "Anourag" includes a piece
the 50th anniversary celebration of India’s independence for which
Ravi Shankar developed a new tala. "It’s a very interesting
Anoushka told Billboard, "because it’s weirdly divided into 50
beats. So it’s a real headache — but amazing when you get into
The new CD is compelling. From the very beginning a rich and robust
sound awakens the ears. The pieces are fast-paced. Those who have
found listening to ragas tedious because of their length will not
have a problem here because the traditional slow introductions are
shorter than usual. Throughout, the CD performances sparkle with
and authority. The final track, with its two-sitar climax bursts out
like the final display of fireworks on the Fourth of July.
The CD includes a duet for two tablas, the pitched Indian drums used
to accompany musical performances. Both of the tabla players on the
recording, Bikram Ghosh and Tanmoy Bose, will participate in the
concert. "We all understand each other," says Anoushka.
look at one and he’ll play, then I’ll look at the other." She
laughs as she owns up to being in charge. "I usually let them
do a duet at the end of the show. I’ll play in the background and
they do their thing."
Taking command may be one of the ways Anoushka breaks out of a
mold. Quietly, and with the help of her father she has broken another
barrier. She was the first woman to play at the Ramakrishna Centre
in Calcutta, which she describes as being "a mission, with monks
and meditation. It’s one of the few places that’s exclusively
"I got in thanks to my Dad," Anoushka says. "He was to
give lecture, and he was not well enough to play. I played for him.
I felt good to do it." Actually, playing at the Centre was simply
another way of expressing one of her long-term proclivities. Asked
if feminism is part of her life, she seems at first surprised at the
naivete of the question. But then she sturdily shoots back, "I
ran a feminist club in high school for three years."
— Elaine Strauss
Peddie School, Hightstown, 609-490-7550. With tabla players Bikram
Ghosh and Tanmoy Bose. $20. Saturday, October 7, 8 p.m.
Arts Center , Prudential Hall, Newark, 888-GO-NJPAC. With tabla
players Bikram Ghosh and Tanmoy Bose. $10 to $46. Tuesday, November
21, 8 p.m.
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