Anoushka Shankar Lives Up to Her Reputation

The Dewan Filharmonik Petronas reverberated with the exotic sounds of the sitar recently when Anoushka Shankar, daughter and student of legendary sitar virtuoso and composer Ravi Shankar, made her solo Malaysian debut on January 21 and 22 as a part of the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas (DFP)’s World Music Series. Accompanied by the talented tabla-playing duo of Bikram Ghosh and Tanmoy Bose, she held the audience spellbound with her hypnotic performance.

Born into a musically inclined family – her mother was a child prodigy who began performing on the sitar at the tender age of five – Anoushka was trained completely by her father. Introduced to the sitar when she was eight years old, Anoushka made her performing debut in New Dehli, India at age 13. She recorded her first solo, self-titled album in 1998 and released a second album, Anourag, just two years later. She also has the honour of being the youngest and only female recipient of the British Parliament’s House of Commons Shield.

This gifted 20-year-old has been touring solo for about two years now and has just released her third album entitled Live at Carnegie Hall. She has even gone beyond the realm of Indian classical music and recently wrote a biography on her father as part of a series of biographies on different Indian personalities written by a relative or close friend. It is due for publication in India sometime in April this year.

With all this under her belt, it is without a doubt that her talent and potential have not gone unnoticed. To this end, she has frequently been named as the successor to her father’s “throne” as guardian of Indian classical music. A formidable title indeed for one who has so much to live up to. And exactly how does this young musician feel about the so-called inheritance that has been thrust upon her?

“It’s daunting sometimes,” she replies. “I tend not to think about it too much because I think I’ve just understood pretty earlier on why this pressure is there. Everybody loves him so much and they want to look for someone to continue that legacy. I understand it in many ways. So I don’t feel a huge pressure. But sometimes I do.”

Anoushka has performed with some of the greatest musicians of our time including the London Philharmonic Orchestra, under the baton of maestro Zubin Mehta, when she performed her father’s Concerto No.1 for Sitar and Orchestra. She also had the opportunity to work with late Beatles member George Harrison, conducting several pieces on the 1997 release, Chants of India.

She speaks earnestly about her progress as a solo performer saying, “I think I’m a lot better since I started [playing solo, without her father]. With each show that I do I’m getting more and more comfortable and that leaves me more free to do a good job on the music that I play.”

When asked about the inevitable comparisons drawn between her father and herself, she says, “He has been playing for decades. I’ve been learning for a few years, so there isn’t really room for comparison because it’s not two people on the same level. It’s not two very well established musicians. It’s not two students. But at the same time, I understand the comparison. Because I am his student, so the style that I play is very much his even though it’s on a different level. I’m not nearly as amazing as he is. But anything that I do play is stuff that he’s taught me, so it’s in his style.”

Anoushka lived up to her reputation during her two-hour long performance at the DFP. Playing a selection of five old and new compositions from all three of her albums, she took the audience on a musical exploration of the raga or melody. Framed by the constant hum of the tambouras, each piece brought with it a different mood, highlighting the many talents of this quietly confident young lady. Making the transition from melancholy to celebratory, contemplative to frantic, Anoushka proved herself, both as a musician who plays by the book as well as one who manages to improvise almost effortlessly.

Special mention should be given to the tabla virtuosos who took centrestage in a breathtaking display of rapid-fire percussion during the Tabla Duet. Anoushka’s sitar work formed the perfect foil for the electrifying exchange between Ghosh and Bose. An immensely talented musician from Calcutta, Ghosh who was trained by his father, the legendary Shankar Ghosh as well as tabla guru, Jnan Prakash Ghosh, has been playing with Ravi Shankar since 1994. Bose, on the other hand, joined the sitar master’s ensemble 4 years ago, bringing with him an amalgamation of the riveting techniques of the late Kanai Dutta and Pandit Shankar Ghosh.

Judging from the admirable performance and appreciative applause she received, it seems like this rising star is on the right track towards carrying on her father’s legacy and spreading the magic of Indian classical music.


First Published: 19.02.2002 on Kakiseni

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