DP to present sitarist Shankar
This weekend, celebrated sitarist Anoushka Shankar brings her ensemble of Indian and flamenco musicians to Duke as part of the U.S. tour of her new album, Traveller. Sponsored by Duke Performances, the April 14 performance will explore the connections between classical Indian music and flamenco, featuring an ensemble of six musicians and singers from around the world. That is, for those who bought their tickets early—like several other Duke Performances this year, Shankar’s performance sold out about a month ago, said Aaron Greenwald, Director of Duke Performances.
Daughter and disciple of the legendary sitarist Ravi Shankar, who catapulted to fame in the US when he taught George Harrison of The Beatles to play the sitar, Anoushka is at once part of the classical Indian tradition and a multi-ethnic global music scene. Her father studied sitar under Allauddin Khan, an exponent of the courtly tradition in which sitar has been passed down from teacher to pupil since the court of Akbar the Great in the sixteenth century, said Jonathan Kramer, Adjunct Professor of Ethnomusicology at Duke University.
The only musician to be taught comprehensively by her father, Shankar made her performance debut at age 13 and has established a remarkably successful career in her own right. Her second album, Live at Carnegie Hall (2001), earned her a Grammy nomination for “Best World Music Album,” making her the youngest artist ever to receive the nomination. In 1998, the British Parliament presented her with a House of Commons Shield in recognition of her artistry and musicianship, and in 2004 she was selected as one of twenty “Asian Heroes” by the Asia edition of Time magazine. She is also the half-sister of Norah Jones and married to Joe Wright, director of Pride and Prejudice.
“She’s royalty, you know?” Greenwald said. “It’s a remarkable family. I think she has this incredible entrée to the world of contemporary music, via her father, via her family.”
In Traveller, Shankar explores the link between classical Indian music, a melodic and rhythmic art with enormous levels of complexity, and flamenco, a highly expressive dance form that was cultivated in Spain primarily by traveling gypsies, Kramer said. According to the latest theories, this classical tradition left India with a migrating ethnic group called the Roma, who were originally from Rajasthan and became known in Europe as gypsies.
To create Traveller, Shankar worked with producer Javier Limón to fuse the rhythm and sounds of both traditions, sometimes by setting the melody of a raga to a flamenco rhythm, and by collaborating with singers, musicians, and dancers from around the world. One song, “Dancing in Madness,” contrasts the sound from flamenco dancer’s hard shoes and the soft bells of Bharata Natyam, resulting in a fusion that, like the rest of the album, brings out the subtleties of both musical traditions.
“If you look at Indian classical music itself, what is pure?,” Shankar said. “It’s an oral tradition that’s evolved over generations and millennia. It’s a living tradition, and I think that it needs to continue to evolve in order to grow and in order to remain relevant. I’m not saying that raga needs something like flamenco in order to survive, not that. As a tradition, I think that to dry it and box it and freeze it does the music injustice.”
Shankar added that although she could spend her whole life trying to master the vast tradition of classical Indian, she explores lateral traditions to explore her own diverse upbringing in London, India, and California and the global perspective she has gained from traveling with her father.
“It’s not that I find anything lacking within the tradition that I’ve been given,” Shankar said. “It’s more that I think in a very, very natural way, art tends to be a reflection of the artist. I grew up across three continents. From the age of eight I was learning Indian classical music from my father but also obviously throughout my life I was listening to music everywhere I went. My influences were global; my friends were global. When I make art, it tends to be because of my experiences and my own desire to make sense of things in my world.”
Unlike many American music icons, Shankar has not been limited by her fame.
“To put it bluntly, I’m not a pop musician where my music has to be a particular way in order to do well, or where I have to present it in a particular way in order to keep my job. I feel like with classical music and the people working with me, they want the eclectic, they want the unusual. I feel incredibly lucky that I work with people who allow me to dream up what I want to do next.”
Anoushka Shankar and the Traveller ensemble will perform in Page Auditorium on Saturday, April 14 at 8:00 pm.