The Carolina Theatre, Durham
Since the release of her eponymous debut in 1998, Anoushka Shankar has been internationally renowned as an alchemist of Indian music. Blending classical sitar with modern flourishes, the multiple Grammy nominee possesses a keen sense of pop and a fearless approach to collaboration, working with artists such as Sting, M.I.A., Herbie Hancock, and her half-sister, Norah Jones.
Shankar’s wide stance in the past and the future is evident on her new career-spanning compilation, Reflections, a push and pull of what was and what could be. The album culls some of her most beloved compositions, songs that search for peace amid chaos, while paying homage to her father and guru, the late sitar master Ravi Shankar. In advance of her Duke Performances concert at The Carolina Theatre on March 21, we spoke with Shankar about technology and tradition, her recent British Film Commission score for Shiraz, and her anticipation of taking advantage of the Triangle’s rural proximity on her long urban tour.
INDY: How do you relate to traditional music in a world that seems to be moving further and further away from these styles?
ANOUSHKA SHANKAR: Indian classical is a constantly evolving style that’s based in an oral tradition which has been passed down from generation to generation. With every generation, people put themselves into the music. People involve themselves with the music in their own way. That stops it from being a traditional style in my brain. It’s always open-ended. That’s the nature of the traditional music I play.
How do you think the modernity of the world today, our universal hyper-connectivity, has changed your approach to music?
The world has less and less space, and I feel like that makes traditional music more valuable. That makes me more connected to the traditional style. And the technology we have makes it so much easier to make this kind of music. I can sit with things and let them breathe. It’s so much easier to have someone come over one day and work, and then sit with what we did for a while, to immerse myself in a different mind frame.
Still, I don’t think anything replaces the chemistry of people playing music together. I compose in that multilayered way, but when I record, I bring people together for a final live session. I try to get people who play on my records in a room, to have them react off of one another. Nothing can replace that.
Are the people you’re touring with the people on your records?
Five guys I’m with have never been on stage together, but these are all people I’ve been playing with for years. We had our first show last night, and there was this sense of being new and exciting, but at the same time, there was a strong sense of one another, because we have all kind of played together in some way or another for years.
You’ve played in the area a few times before. Tell me about your experience with the Triangle.
I’ve been to Raleigh three times, I think. And each time has been for a relatively quick trip. This is the first time I’ll have a full day [in the Triangle]. My dad had an old family friend who lives in the area, so I’m going to spend some downtime on her farm and see her horses. I’m really looking forward to having a nice oasis in an urban tour.
What can people expect with this show?
We’re evolving, as always. We’re playing a few of my old, favorite pieces but in new arrangements. We’re also playing a lot of new music from my recent film soundtrack [for the 1928 British film Shiraz] that the British Film Commission commissioned me to play. I’ve rearranged it into a thirty-five-minute suite. [Shiraz] is a classic love story, so the music is kind of epic. The music moves from gentle crossover forward, through the course of the evening, into a relatively more modern concept.