Music Interviews


When Anoushka Shankar was just seven years old, her father had a small sitar made for her. And then her father, Ravi Shankar, began teaching her how to play that instrument. Now she's 24 years old, and Anoushka has been performing classical Indian music with her famous dad for a decade. She's part of a musical family that also includes her half-sister Norah Jones, the Grammy-winning pop jazz singer. NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg says Anoushka has a new CD called "Rise."

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Anoushka Shankar wrote all the music on this album, arranged it, performs it on sitar and keyboards, and she produced and edited the CD. "Rise" respects Indian classical traditions, music her father said could sound like cats meowing to Western ears, but Anoushka Shankar's goal is to make the classical more contemporary.

Ms. ANOUSHKA SHANKAR (Musician): Definitely to create an album that's hopefully a little more accessible, but still retains the actual heart of the music.

STAMBERG: So she mixes up styles and instruments, throws in a flamenco piano, a Middle Eastern duduk, an Indian slide guitar. There are electronic sounds and, of course, Anoushka Shankar adds her own sitar with its six rough and recalcitrant steel top strings that she has to press and pluck and bend, and those strings underneath that just sit there resonating.

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STAMBERG: What do the tips of your--of the fingers on your left hand look like?

Ms. SHANKAR: They usually have two thick black lines going across. They're calloused for the sake of the bending that we do. They're not very pretty.


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STAMBERG: Which is duduk now? Guide us to it. What are we listening for? Is it a wind instrument?

Ms. SHANKAR: It'll come after this. It's a wind instrument.


Ms. SHANKAR: It's deeper than the flute.


Ms. SHANKAR: It'll come up now, along with the flute.

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STAMBERG: Oh, the two go so well, the sitar, and you were all, of course, in the same room when this was recorded or not?

Ms. SHANKAR: Actually, no, this was part of the technological side that I grew in, working digitally for the first time. The slide guitar was recorded in Delhi. The sitar was recorded in Calcutta. The duduk was done in Los Angeles, and the electronics were all done at a separate studio in Delhi.

STAMBERG: Good heavens. Is this the miracle or the curse of technology?

Ms. SHANKAR: I think it could go one way or the other. In my case, it really opened up the possibilities, but if that becomes something that you rely on, then that's definitely a pity.

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STAMBERG: Anoushka spent almost a year creating this album. She had taken a break from touring with Ravi Shankar and his classical musicians, and ended up popping in and out of recording studios, sampling sounds, deciding how to put them together.

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STAMBERG: The vocals are by Bikram Ghosh and Tanmoy Bose. Are they saying anything or are they simply doing that `dik-a-bah, dik-a-bah'?

Ms. SHANKAR: They're actually reciting the sound syllables that correspond with the Indian percussion.

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Ms. SHANKAR: And so these are actually not singers. They're tabla players. They're doing what they would do with their instruments vocally.

STAMBERG: But it's pure sound they're making.

Ms. SHANKAR: It's pure sound.

STAMBERG: It's not words.

Ms. SHANKAR: But it is almost what you could call a language because each sound does correspond to a hit of the tabla.

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STAMBERG: Listening to Anoushka Shankar and friends while driving, the car turns into a magic carpet. You're floating forward on sounds, mindful, of course, of the occasional red light. There is tension here, too. For a piece she calls "Sinister Grains," Shankar and audio engineer Gaurav Raina created a slightly menacing electronic pulse.

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Ms. SHANKAR: The donk-donk-donk beat that's happening again and again, so we sort of laid all those out first, and then it was a question of me deciding what instruments I wanted.

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STAMBERG: Sometimes, I hear sounds that sound to me as if it's water spilling...

Ms. SHANKAR: Yeah.

STAMBERG: ...and sometimes I hear sounds that sound to me like dry seeds shaking.

Ms. SHANKAR: Yes. We used rain sticks. Those would be the shells inside the long wooden poles. Those are the shaking sounds. Literally sat there with a bucket of water and made droplet sounds. The Indian shehnai seemed to be perfect. It's got a very primal big sound to it.

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Ms. SHANKAR: Didjeridoo came into my head, again, very primal, very deep.

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STAMBERG: You've taken this range of instruments, literally from all over the world. Did you play--sort of bring them together, eliminate some? How did they get to know each other?

Ms. SHANKAR: I suppose the first level was experimental where I was just trying everything. Then I really am a fan of combining worlds in my own life, you know. I live in the modern world, and I appreciate the most cutting-edge parts of it, but I also like to check out as much as I can, and I'll go disappear for a few days and go to a trance festival and just be surrounded by people and a lake and music and dancing and nothing, you know, nothing else. And I think with this album and getting time off, it really was just a question of finally making time for my music to reflect a little more of me.

STAMBERG: Well, The Beatle George Harrison once called your father `the godfather of world music.' That's something that Ravi Shankar never liked hearing. But it sounds to me as if you're, in a way, carrying out that tradition as well. You're taking world music to its next step.

Ms. SHANKAR: I think it's time. I mean, I've played this beautiful classical instrument and this ancient musical style that is a huge part of who I am, but there was so much more. And it just makes sense that they should come together.

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STAMBERG: It's been said that Anoushka Shankar is her father's purest disciple. The sensual, ethereal sound of her new CD "Rise" feels to the ear sometimes as if the very air is rearranging itself. I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.

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INSKEEP: You can find more music from "Rise" and photos of Anoushka Shankar at

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

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