Cover Story [Issue
CD Angel )
to Anoushka Shankar on the ONE WAY CD 16
23, daughter of legendary sitarist Ravi Shankar and half sister of Norah Jones,
commands recognition in her own right with the release of Rise, her fourth
album for Angel Records.
While Anoushkas father is considered one of the most prestigious classical
Indian artists, Ravi Shankar has nurtured his daughter as both a parent and
teacher. Musically, hes got a huge influence on everything I do,
says Anoushka. He has trained me so much that a lot of what I do, and
my musical preferences are what he does. But now, I go away from him more with
modern traditional composing that is more individual.
Anoushka has not only learned a lot about music from her father, but he has
shaped her entire sense of the male species as well. Its almost
nauseating how cute he is. There is a really high standard of what to expect
with him, says Anoushka. Hes chivalrous, considerate, and
caring. Women swoon for him. They just love him. He makes women feel so good.
I have high standards with men because of what I see in my father who is possibly
the most significant male in my life. The standard of achievement that
Ravi Shankar instilled in his daughter not only spills over into her taste in
men, but also plays a huge role in her artistic development. No matter where
she plays, Anoushka displays the gumption and focus of her father.
Wandering the World
Anoushka had a diverse upbringing spanning three continents with her permanent
residences. She spent her formative years in London where she had a predominantly
Indian upbringing. In London, she heavily involved herself in the arts by studying
Indian music, and she took dancing lessons to gain a strong foundation in the
Indian way of life.
As she entered her pre-teen years in New Delhi, India, Anoushka solidified what
had been ingrained in her while in London. I started becoming a little
more my own person, finding my own tastes, she says. Anoushka relocated
again to Encinitas, California, where more than music shaped her identity. There
she gained a definition of self beyond her craft.
Because I traveled so much, I always tried to be independent because there
was nothing to attach to, remarks Anoushka. I did not feel entirely
Indian, American, or English. I was very confused. I was lost about who I was
and where I come from. Playing the sitar grounds Anoushka and helps her
to place herself. Just as it is difficult to catalogue her music in a single
category, Anoushka denies boundaries, boxes, and labels by reaffirming her individuality
to herself and others. I dont fit into a box, Anoushka says.
I am determined to just be me and not try to fit into what people consider
to be this music.
Sitar The Music
In India, the sitar is the most common of stringed instruments. According to
Anoushka, the instrument dates back to the 13th century Persian insurgency when
the three-stringed sehtar came about. This instrument then morphed into the
vina, a South Indian stringed instrument that branched off into the instrument
that has been known as the sitar for the past 120 years. The sitar played today
has nineteen strings. Ravi Shankar added the lowest bass string as well as a
gagging system to allow multiple tones to be produced during fast play, while
retaining a clean sound.
On Rise, as in other traditional Indian music, there is an absence of
harmony, counterpoint, and chords in a music principally based on melody and
rhythm. They [melody and rhythm] are both so vast, says Anoushka.
Rhythmically, each measure is usually allocated groupings of sixteen beats with
the ultimate goal of landing on the one. In flamenco, you land on the
last beat, she says. Here, you do something free and try to land
on the one.
Heard on Mahadeva and Voice of the Moon, the tehai is
the rhythmic pattern that is repeated three times, especially when a section
is coming to an end and all the musicians are striving to hit the first beat
in tandem. Its very mathematical, says Anoushka. Theres
a lot of mental work going on while improvising. Were doing very intense
calculations, but when you finish with one beat less than expected it can be
very exciting. You gotta love numbers.
The music is so full just from melody and rhythm that you dont miss
harmony and you dont miss counterpoint. But when playing alongside
her father, Anoushka says she often utilizes harmonic elements rather than mirroring
her fathers notes verbatim. Within this style, light harmony elements
add a new dimension to a genre heavily rooted in musical mores.
The music often hinges on the raga, the melodic form over which the musician
improvises. You never leave the heart of a raga, explains Anoushka.
There are thousands of ragas each with six or seven notes, five at the very
least. The same third and seventh notes may be flattened, but the ascending
(Arohana) and descending (Avarohana) patterns often vary from one another. There
are certain tones that are the most important in a raga. Each note creates
the entire focus, says Anoushka. As you start to reach in a raga,
it may become similar to another as any raga is very close to several others.
Because of the improvisational element of ragas, comparisons are sometimes drawn
between Indian music and jazz. This is a relatively superficial comparison,
says Anoushka. The improvisation in this music is rather modal and the
approach is different. In jazz, a group can progress and modulate whereas
classical Indian improvisation often sticks to a particular theme for a songs
duration. We have freedom within improvisation, but could never modulate,
she clarifies. To me, whats similar is the energy and freshness
because improvisation has a momentaryness in both forms.
The ties between jazz and Indian music may be tenuous, but just as jazz musicians
try to create or leave space, Anoushka likes to play fast to showcase her technical
acumen. She agrees, Sometimes it is better to play calmly and quietly
and let the music breathe.
Classical Indian music distinguishes the Anahata Nad (unstruck sound) from the
Ahata Nad (struck sound). The Anahata Nad is the space between all the flurries
of notes and percussion. In Indian culture, music can be a path to self-realization
as tradition has it that sound is God Nada Brahma. This concept of the
divinity is present in both the Anahata Nad and the Ahata Nad. The former illustrates
the quietness within oneself while the latter evokes the expressiveness within
oneself. Musically, ragas are conventions for elevating ones individual
consciousness to a level of awareness on which one can truly appreciate the
essence of the universe.
Each raga is principally dominated by one of nine rasas that stem from the concept
of Nava Rasa - the nine sentiments. Rasa literally means juice
or extract, but here is used to describe emotion or
sentiment. There is Shringara (the romantic and erotic), Hasya (the
humorous), Karuna (the pathetic), Raudra (anger), Veera (the heroic), Bhayanaka
(the fearful), Vibhatsa (the disgusting), Adbhuta (amazement) and Shanta (the
peaceful). Anoushka captures each of these sentiments during Rise in
a musical display as emotionally intriguing and inspiring as a showing of Cirque
du Soleil. Her refusal to restrict her music to the ears of those familiar with
it may strike non-Eastern eardrums as foreign at first, but in a way that invites
you to learn, listen, and appreciate.
With a seemingly infinite number of genres and sub-genres used to describe music,
it is a wonder why so often the term world music is haphazardly
used as a blanket reference for music originating outside the West. This
is a very tricky term, says Anoushka. It gives respect to it [the
music]. It makes it seem exotic or oriental. The term is very Western-centric.
You [Americans] have so many categories: rap, hip hop, rock . . . if you grouped
this music together and called it world music that would make sense
Created by all continents of the globe, world music has evolved
from such unique histories and cultures that the term could really refer to
anything. It is quite meaningless, she grapples. As an umbrella
term, I dont like it, but for a lot of the crossover music nowadays, it
sometimes works. In Anoushkas opinion, the amalgamation of the worlds
musical styles warrants the use of the term, but fails to truly differentiate
her music from other Eastern or Western music.
Labels are just labels. You cant box them [musical styles],
urges Anoushka. I find the world all the more beautiful because its
full of surprises. There are more people that do yoga in California than
in India and theres a better nightlife in India. I find the contradictions
On Rise, Anoushka proves she should not simply be labeled Ravi Shankars
prodigy daughter. Rather, she deserves recognition as an independent, bold musician
bringing Eastern music to the West with respect for her rich heritage, but with
a treatment all her own.
to (Anoushka Shankar) on the ONE WAY CD