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Anoushka Shankar Blends Traditions on New CD
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Anoushka Shankar Blends Traditions on New CD



Back now with DAY TO DAY.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: Norah Jones fans, you can see her perform next week but it will be a trek; she'll be in Iceland.

It's going to be much easier to hear the other daughter of Ravi Shankar, Anoushka Shankar, also a musician. She's been collaborating with producer and songwriter Karsh Kale on an album called "Breathing Under Water."

DAY TO DAY contributor Derek Rath has more.

(Soundbite of music)

DEREK RATH: Qualifications - that's what you need to pull off a complex project like "Breathing Under Water," combining, as it does, pop classical music, electronica, and Indian (unintelligible). This duo definitely has the credentials to do it. Anoushka Shankar is a sitarist and classically-trained daughter of Ravi Shankar.

On the other hand, Karsh Kale is a composer, multi-instrumentalist and mainstay of the New York club scene. Such a project wouldn't be born out of miraculous happenstance or one of those brilliant ideas in the wee hours.

Here's Anoushka Shankar.

Ms. ANOUSHKA SHANKAR (Musician): It was actually both. It probably started at 3:00 o'clock in the morning when we first recorded a piece of music together. And the act of making a piece of music together is sort of what made us discover how easy it was to work together and that we had this really great musical chemistry.

(Soundbite of song, "Easy")

Ms. NORAH JONES (Singer): (Singing) It's only love, you know how it feels. Feeling is easy, I know.

RATH: They wanted their music to reflect how their Indian heritage has crossed paths with a multiplicity of genres, and they soon realized they had plenty of collaborators close by. Norah Jones is Anoushka's sister. Still, Anoushka was a little shy to ask her to participate.

Ms. SHANKAR: "Easy" is a song that was just literally something that I've hummed to my self for years, just without even knowing it, something I've written. You know when that happens? You just sing in the shower or sing it wherever. And I was kind of shy to bring it up to her, really. And she had to coax it out of me a little bit. But you know, I sang the first line feeling really silly and then she sang it and it sounded amazing, so we went with it.

(Soundbite of song, "Easy")

Ms. JONES: (Singing) Now that you're (unintelligible)...

RATH: The song, "Sea Dreamer," featuring Sting, is one of the album's many references to water.

(Soundbite of song, "Sea Dreamer")

STING (Singer): (Singing) I was on a dark side. I was sailing towards the light. I made my way through a sea of silence (unintelligible)

RATH: The title track, "Breathing Under Water," illustrates the significance in more ways than one.

(Soundbite of song, "Breathing Under Water")

Ms. SHANKAR: There seemed to be a water theme coming back again and again just when it come to feelings of wistfulness or mystery or longing that had to do with our lifestyles, having to do with distance, people we're close to and all those longing wistfulness. And on the second side it sort of hints at, you know, challenges and doing what seems impossible, which a lot of the time this record did feel like.

RATH: That challenge lay in a no-holds-barred credo Anoushka and Karsh began with.

(Soundbite of song, "Little Glass Folk")

RATH: While "Little Glass Folk" was Anoushka's idea, she needed some convincing to include it on the album.

Ms. ANOUSHKA: This is where also our arranger came in, Salim Merchant, who's another good friend, who is one of the top Bollywood composers today. And that was, I mean the whole outline of that track was my idea. But I was the one who would have abandoned it, you know, sort of being nervous about trying to put it on a record that's also electronic and all these other things.

RATH: The most poignant melding classical east/west motifs and electronica comes on "Oceanic," a duet between Anoushka and her mentor and father, Ravi Shankar.

(Soundbite of song, "Oceanic")

Ms. ANOUSHKA: It's the two of us playing together where it's improvised and he's sort of leading the show and throwing ideas out at me, and I'm supposed to catch and respond in a very Indian classical manner.

(Soundbite of song, "Oceanic")

Ms. ANOUSHKA: For the most part, he's stepped away from being a governing figure when I'm being creative. And that's something I had to do as well, was kind of step away from his influences or shapes influencing me too much.

RATH: Nowhere is this more apparent than on "Slither," where producer and electronica guru Gaurav Raina slices and dices her sitar line in a way that would make a purist cringe.

(Soundbite of song, "Slither")

Ms. ANOUSHKA: Sitar purists, I don't know what they'd think of a record like this. But being a classical artist is one thing and it's an amazing thing. But on this I was working with friends and there was something very casual and very fun about it. It really brought back an element of, you know, is anything really wrong if it sounds good or if it feels good?

(Soundbite of song, "Slither")

Ms. ANOUSHKA: It wasn't contrived, you know? It's not like we tried to make a genre-hopping CD or tried to make a statement with it or anything.

RATH: How can you have gone too far when your journey's just begun?

For NPR News, this is Derek Rath.

(Soundbite of song, "Slither")

CHADWICK: Anoushka Shankar and Karsh Kale release their album today. It's called "Breathing Under Water."

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