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Feb 13, 2009

Picking up where her famous father left off, sitarist Anoushka Shankar is making music that’s all her own.

By Amy Van Vechten

For music lovers who grew up in the 1960s, the sitar conjures up images
of George Harrison and Ravi Shankar, the Indian musician credited with
bringing the sound of the traditional Eastern instrument to the masses.
Now you can add another name to that list. Already a star in Asia,
Anoushka Shankar, the 27-year-old daughter of Ravi, is establishing
herself as the next great sitar virtuoso.
Her latest triumph was her first headlining performance at Carnegie
Hall, which she played in January as part of a four-city tour with the
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. The concert at the prestigious venue
featured the world premier of a new sitar concerto composed by her
“This performance definitely feels like a big step forward in my
career,” Shankar says. “I was honored to perform the first composition
my father wrote for someone besides himself.”
Shankar has studied sitar since she was 8 years old and began recording and touring with her father in her early teens.
She released her debut solo album, Anoushka,
in 1998, and has since released four more albums that blend Eastern
classical sitar ragas—five note scale patterns unique to Indian
music—with Western influences, especially electronica. She attributes
this unique mixture to her eclectic upbringing in India, England and
“I’m a product of my life,” she says. “The fact that it comes so easily
for me to be all over the world and think of music in terms of
multiculturalism and connection—I’m sure that’s directly affected by
the fact that I’ve lived on three continents my whole life. There’s an
ease with which I can do that, and a way in which I need that.”
Shankar’s breakthrough in establishing her own musical identity came in 2005 with the release of Rise.
She calls the album, which she composed, produced and arranged, “a
landmark” for the way it challenged her abilities and pushed her to
create a unique blend of sounds and styles that, she says, finally
feels like her own.
“When I’m recording, I end up delving into other things besides the
sitar,” she says. “Whether that’s keyboards or trying to sit at drums
or piano. I express myself better, and I compose better.”
Like her father, who she cites as her biggest influence, Shankar often
collaborates with Western musicians. But, she warns, people shouldn’t
confuse the two of them.
“I’m very different from my father,” she admits. “He’s the kind of
musician where he just can’t go a day without playing his instrument.
And I’m not like that at all. I’m happy to take a break, and I come
back more fresh and with more to say.”
In the future, Shankar will continue to work with her crossover band,
named The Anoushka Shankar Project, and collaborate with musicians from
both Eastern and Western backgrounds. But she is also keen to continue
to expand her musical horizon.
“I’m ready to move forward,” she says. “Playing with Orpheus was a
beautiful experience. I got back in touch with my Western classical
side. But now I want to focus on the East again. I definitely have
something new to say.”

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