Back to the roots

Back to the roots

New album

Back to the roots

The unerring sense of calm is palpable when she slides her fingers on the strings of her sitar. On one occasion, she shuts her eyes in soulful contemplation as she engages with her composition Guru: Jogeshwari – Jod, Jhala, but when she opens them, her face suddenly lights up. She looks at her instrument with deep yearning, bestowing on it the same unrestrained attention that she does to her music.

This reverential love towards the process of music-making is visible as she performs to the track that is part of her recently-released album, ‘Home’. The fact that the album has won the sitar virtuoso her fifth Grammy nomination not only goes to show her extraordinary prowess, but also makes it clear that the music Pandit Ravi Shankar exposed the world to, rests safely in the hands of his talented daughter Anoushka Shankar.

Value of recognition

The artiste, who resides in London with her filmmaker husband Joe Wright and her two sons Zubin and Mohan, recently performed live in Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru during a three-city concert tour in support of her new album.

The cherry on the cake for Anoushka was when ‘Home’ received a nomination for Best World Music Album at the 58th Grammys, just a few days before she kickstarted her Indian tour. “It’s a matter of great honour and pride. Of course, I am really happy for my music,” she says, without dwelling too much on her laurels. Anoushka believes that being recognised for one’s work adds value to what you do, but that’s not the end purpose of making art. Artistes are spurred and moved by the need to fill a vacuum or a musical desire.

In Anoushka’s case, the experience of creating this particular album emerged more out of a personal experience to reconnect with her classical roots, and most importantly, with her father, who, during his lifetime, lived this music in its truest sense. “Also, I was feeling this growing desire to play an album of classical music again,” adds Anoushka, who, of late, has moved over to exploring crossovers between Indian music and a variety of genres including flamenco, jazz, electronica and Western classical music.

“Crossover music is something I really enjoy doing. It is a reflection of me as a person. As someone who grew up across three continents, and has had a very multi-cultural life, eventually having that reflected in my music felt like a very natural process. But I wanted to do something that would help me reconnect with my journey into music and find myself,” she says.

Anoushka’s own journey into music began when she was very young — way before she actually started learning to play the sitar. “I lived in London as a child and my earliest memories of being involved with music were when I would accompany my mom to classical music concerts within the city. My mother made it a point to take me to all the Indian shows that happened in town and she would really be focused on showing me the talas and getting me to sit and listen to the music, rather than running about like most children. It really exposed me to music as a listener. To me, it felt like a natural understood form of music,” she recalls.

By the age of 13, Anoushka had already started performing at concerts. “But I didn’t think of taking it seriously. That isn’t the kind of thought one has as a child,” she says, as a matter of fact. Though she doesn’t rule out that the experience of being trained under Pandit Ravi Shankar eventually reeled her into appreciating the vastness and richness of the Indian classical tradition. “When I was a teenager, my father would compose and produce my music. So he was deeply involved in the way I took my music forward,” Anoushka recounts.

Progressively, as she went on to make more albums, her father gave her the artistic space required for her to grow. “Obviously, as a teacher and mentor, he was always listening and observing,” she says. “And we were still performing together, so that connection always stayed.”

Did she miss his mentorship while creating ‘Home’? “No, not really, because in terms of music-making, ‘Home’ was all about reconnecting with my past,” she argues, adding that in that sense her music was a natural extension to her father’s body of work.

Veering back to her classical music roots wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t tough either. “Anytime I do something that I haven’t done in a while, it requires some amount of practice. But I still continue to perform classical music and that is kind of the root of everything I do. So, I never really lost touch with it.”

From the heart

She adds, “I have always tried to approach music from a personal level as much as possible. I don’t believe that you can make music from a form of pressure. From the spirit point of view, music has to come from the heart and only because you are passionate about it. If I stay connected to the fact that I play music because I love it... everything else falls in place.”

At her home, too, Anoushka ensures that any conversation on music is not forced. “I don’t try and consciously expose my kids to classical music. It is a part of our lives. When I make a record, I come upstairs and get my husband and kids to listen to it. My youngest child is only nine months old, but my older son knows his mom is a musician and sometimes, he also gives his opinions about my songs. But, beyond that, I don’t really do anything intentionally. My son is his own person and he will make his own decisions.”

Music, after all, is a very organic process, says Anoushka, “You need to absorb it slowly... let it get under your skin, let it breathe and give it its time. You will evolve and so will your music.”

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