Page 35 - Simply Abu Dhabi Magazine VI

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Anoushka Shankar:
intercontinental virtuoso.
The compellingmusic of Anoushka Shankar shines a light on the links betweenmusical
traditions, making her a deserved heir to the tradition of her legendary father
here can’t be many people who haven’t heard of Ravi Shankar, the sitar
player for whom the word ‘legendary’ barely does justice. Born in
1920, he was the first musician to bring Indian classical music to the
West. He’s worked with everyone from the Beatles to Andre Prévin, and he’s
still playing today.
It’s not an enviable position having to follow such an act: but that’s the challenge
that faces his daughter Anoushka. Many people would find this impossibly
daunting, but Anoushka Shankar is the only musician to be taught exclusively
by her renowned father, and she seems to have inherited his incredible musical
ability. She also seems to have performance in her blood: at her first live show
in New Delhi, she was aged just thirteen. Since then Anoushka has toured the
world to ever-increasing critical acclaim. She has been nominated for a Grammy
on two occasions and was the first Indian musician to perform at the ceremony
in 2006. She was the youngest and the first woman to be nominated in the World
Music category for her 2002 album, Live at Carnegie Hall.
The British newspaper the Guardian has praised the excitement of Anoushka
Shankar’s ‘cascading sitar’, and the Chicago Tribune her ‘commanding
You can imagine our delight, then, when we found out that Anoushka would
be coming to Abu Dhabi for the opening night of the Abu Dhabi Festival 2012
at our old favourite the Emirates Palace, performing material fromher incredible
new albumTraveller. Released inOctober 2011, Traveller is Anoushka Shankar’s
sixth full-length album – and it has been incredibly well received by critics for
bringing together the passionate and diverse music of Spain and the ancient
forms of the Indian classical tradition – while exploring the links between the
two. The music was inspired by the historical journey of the gypsies, who
travelled from their homeland in Rajasthan through Iran, Iraq and Armenia and
finally settled in Spain.
Reconnecting cultures, exploring traditions
Throughout history, the best musicians have never been limited by the often
arbitrary distinctions between different cultures and traditions. Like her father,
throughout her career Anoushka Shankar has demonstrated a hunger to
experiment and to create new sounds. Anoushka’s visionary aimwith this album
reflects her interest in seeing links and opportunities rather than differences and
barriers. Anoushka’s main instrument is the sitar, and she has consistently
demonstrated a rich awareness of her heritage from the Indian classical tradition.
But alongside this she has also played the duduk, cello, electronic keyboards,
drums and bass, and a host of other instruments: like Abu Dhabi, her music
combines the best of the ancient and the modern.
For this concert, Anoushka was accompanied by a combination of Indian and
Flamenco musicians, and displayed the astonishing variety we have come to
expect from her. Anoushka began with the instrumental song Bhaita, one of her
own compositions (most of the music Anoushka performs is her own material,
though she sometimes collaborates with other songwriters). She then moved
on to three songs where the soulful accompanying singer excelled on vocals. I
particularly enjoyed ‘Si no puedo verla’: Anoushka’s winding sitar accompanied
words that were originally composed in Farsi as far back as the thirteenth century,
but which had been translated into Spanish for this project. Like the words, the
music was also a brilliant combination of Indian and Spanish traditions: it made
us see both in a new way.
The second half of the show continued where the first half left off: an
exhilarating blend of instrumental and vocal music, and of European and Asian
traditions. A highlight was the mesmeric ‘Casi uno’, while the final song ‘Jog’
was a phenomenal display of musical ability. Like the rest of the crowd, we were
clamouring for more at the end: we could not believe that such an incredible
show of talent was over.
In terms of sheer virtuosity, Anoushka’s performance was an undisputed tour
de force. One of the most amazing aspects was how she incorporated a whole
host of Spanish forms like flamenco, fandango, buleria and tango: it showcased
both her skill and the incredible diversity of this country’s music. But mere
virtuosity by itself does not make great music. Most importantly of all,
Anoushka infused her playing with a deep emotional energy, completely taking
our breath away.
Worthy successor
The performance underlined how Anoushka Shankar, now aged 30, has
flourished as a performer and composer, giving up to 80 concerts per year. She
has toured Europe, India and the USA, sharing the stage with many of the
world’s top musicians including Sting, Madonna, Elton John, Peter Gabriel and
James Taylor. And her career shows no signs of slowing down: she seems set to
follow in her father’s footsteps and become one of the most influential global
musical figures.
Afterwards, Anoushka made clear that it had been an honour to perform in Abu
Dhabi, saying: ‘My album Traveller represents a cross-cultural journey so it is
only fitting that I performed it in such a diverse city and to an international
Following the show, Her ExcellencyMrs Hoda Al Khamis Kanoo, Founder and
Artistic Director of the Abu Dhabi Festival, said:
“Deeply rooted in Indian classical music, Anoushka Shankar is a unique artist
with sensational talent and understanding of the great musical tradition of, not
only India, but the world.”
Anoushka took us on a journey downmusical paths we had never even imagined
before, demonstrating that music is a gift to everyone, and opening our eyes to
exciting and unfamiliar styles. It’s little wonder that she has received rave reviews
across the world, and is seen as a worthy successor to her father. In 2005 the
New York newspaper the Times Union said:
“It would seem that Ravi Shankar’s legacy, and his sense of adventure, are secure
in his daughter’s hands.”
After Anoushka’s immensely moving and thought-provoking performance in
Abu Dhabi, we were in total agreement. To be compared to her father must be
flattering. But perhaps the best praise of all is that we don’t need to do that:
Anoushka Shankar is a phenomenal musician in her own right.
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