My music mirrors my life: Anoushka Shankar
Sitar player and composer, Anoushka Shankar talks about her upcoming performance in the city on December 9 at Siri Fort Auditorium and her passion for music.
How excited are you for your performance in India?
India is one of the three cultures that I consider my own, and so it feels important to me to touch base and connect with my people. We’ll be touring six Indian cities in December and I’m genuinely excited about them all for various reasons. Some, like Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai, are places where the audience will be filled with friends and family, which is always special. In Pune and Bangalore I remember having a great audience last time. And Hyderabad, I haven’t toured in for a few years so I’m excited to return.
Once you had said, ‘Land of Gold’ is the culmination of my journey to the interior...’ Kindly elaborate on the album.
As a musician, it’s only natural that my music mirrors my life. Sometimes that happens in very personal ways, where obviously the passing of my father became a central theme on ‘Traces of You’. And my kind of multicultural life has hugely influenced the way I look at cultures through music, like on ‘Traveller’. And you’re exactly right, ‘Home’ was for me a homecoming, going back to the classical roots. And doing so enabled me to use that as a launching pad to jump further again on this record. My experience was that of a human being viewing the world, and perhaps stepping further away from my own experiences then I had before on a record— but very much through an eye of empathy and parenthood. You know, I think becoming a parent has really changed the way that I feel, impacted by what’s going on in the world around me. It makes one so much more vulnerable to things— having children. And so it just feels like I can’t hide from what I imagine other parents must be going through. That was kind of the central impetus making this album.
How different is it from your previous albums?
It is similar to past albums and different too. While it’s cross-over like most of my previous albums, it’s again very electronic, which I have avoided on the last few of my records. I really focused on taking the sitar out of its comfort zone. The album isn’t exotic in a way that’s often associated with the sitar. My instrument gets to be wild and angry along with being loving and tender. I worked with amazing co-producers; my husband Joe Wright produced along with me and brought a really cinematic scope to the music. Bjork’s producer Matt Robertson did the amazing electronics. And my co-writer Manu Delago–well, he just has to be heard to be believed. He’s part of the band I’ll be touring India with and he’s an absolutely unique and incredible musician.
Is there a special accord between the sitars and hang timbres?
Hang timbres is very similar to the Caribbean steel drum. It’s a relatively new instrument — I think it was developed as late as the 1990s. And Manu Delago is very unique in the way he plays it. He has really elevated it to another level because of his own skills as a percussionist and also as a composer. I’ve been working with him for a few years now. We first recorded together for ‘Traces of You’, and then he toured with my band and that’s kind of grown into this collaboration where he’s my co-writer on most of the songs in the album. And I think our two instruments really speak beautifully together. They’re both very resonant, very haunting instruments, and seem to really bring each other to a new space.
The lyrics in ‘Land of Gold’ and ‘Remain the Sea’ are especially powerful. Tell us about the journey of writing these.
Alev Lenz wrote the lyrics over our melody, after we discussed the themes. We sat together and talked about the story I wanted to convey. But the verse form is hers, and it’s beautiful, really amazing work. The poet who wrote ‘Remain the Sea’ is someone I found, believe it or not, on Instagram. [Pavana Reddy, aka Maza-Dhota] is a California native Indian-American woman whose work I had found, and it just really spoke to me. I was really looking to include wonderful female artists. And so I asked if she would write for the album.
Is ‘Land of Gold’ the idealised goal of safety and security?
Every now and then we have moments of clarity in our lives. And I felt like there was a profound sense of sadness and outrage for what people are going through in this world, but also a profound sense of gratitude for the blessings in my life. And there was something about perspective that really came clear with the phrase like ‘land of gold.’ We can conjure up any number of images just with that phrase. It might be as extreme as golden palaces and riches, or some kind of fantasy dream-level perfection. But what’s actually come clear for me with ‘Land of Gold’ is that I have healthy children, and I can feed them, and we have a roof over our heads, and there is nothing beyond that could be more of a land of gold than those basics. How universal that is. That is something we all need, that we all strive for.