Anoushka Shankar: Music has the power to speak to the soul


Pic Credit: Laura Lewis Photography, UK.

By Neeru Saluja

Sitar queen Anoushka Shankar is all set to perform in Australia live on stage at WOMADelaide. Last in Australia in 2010 with her father, the six time Grammy nominee is set to perform her spellbinding album ”˜Land of Gold’ on 11 March at the Sydney Opera House.

Following the footsteps of her father the late sitar maestro Ravi Shankar since the age of nine, Anoushka has taken the ancient Indian instrument to a musical territory where no one has ventured. Known as one of the most gifted artists of her generation, Anoushka Shankar has taken the sitar into the contemporary world ”“ into electronica, classical music and flamenco, collaborating alongside international artists.

In an exclusive interview, we talked about her incredible musical journey and her album ”˜Land of Gold’, which is a response to the humanitarian plight of refugees and a cry against injustice.

Anoushka, we are looking forward for your performance at Womadelaide as the last time you were here in 2010. How do you feel about coming back after seven years?

Pic. Jimmy James Medina

I’m terribly excited, because my memories of being there are so wonderful.  It was one of the loveliest festivals I have played at, and I can’t wait to be back.

Tell us more about Land of Gold and what will the audience be entertained to? How do you express yourself through music?

Land of Gold is the culmination of my journey to the interior, channelling my distress at the situation of refugee crisis and human displacement in a constructive way, exploring the stories of the voiceless and dispossessed. I believe that art can make a difference ”“ it connects us to our hearts, bringing us back to what really matters. Music has the power to speak to the soul.

I started writing the music for  Land of Gold  in the summer of 2015, when I had just given birth to my second son. Of course in the world this was the time when the refugee crisis was dominating the news, especially here in Europe. And the contrast between my life situation and the good fortune I had to raise my kids in safety felt so starkly contrasted with what I was seeing on the news for so many millions of people, and that just felt extremely horrific and started feeding into the music I was making.

Your dad played the role of your guru and father. You have also written a book on his life. Was he a strict dad when it came to teaching you music?

From the beginning it was important to him that being my guru didn’t get in the way of being my dad.   So it was important for us both to establish different dynamics between the way we were in the music room and the way we were in the living room. So yes when it came to music he had higher standards and was quite strict. But he was also a very loving father.

Was it difficult breaking the norm of a male dominated society in sitar playing?

I think structurally and in society other things need to change and we must help make that easier. For example it’s not easy for a woman in more traditional societal set ups to be able to have a career that involves constant travel, especially when they get to the point of marriage and parenting.

The sitar as an instrument has really been at the forefront of a lot of cross cultural musical fusion, from the 60s to your own experimentation with jazz. For an instrument with such a distinctive and evocative sound, why do you think it’s captured so many people’s imaginations around the world?

At base level I think it is a beautiful instrument and I think it has got an extremely emotional and evocative sound. It also has references in people’s psyche of that time in popular culture when it really first hit global recognition through my father’s work. So because of that it seems to have an indelible association with elements of spirituality that seem to affect people very deeply.

What new musical territory do you hope to bring the sitar to in the future?
I still hope there are new languages that can evolve on my instrument and I hope I can be successful in bringing that about. At the moment I am very curious about seeing the sitar step out of its cultural identity and see where that can go.

You have a fantastic relationship with your half-sister Norah Jones. Besides creating music together, what do the sisters get up to?

All the normal things that sisters get up to!

Would you like to say anything else to your fans?

I am very excited to be back in Australia and this time playing from my own album. I’ve always have a great response from the audiences there. So I sincerely hope they enjoy this music and responded to the multicultural sound I’ve worked to create.


Anoushka Shankar Land of Gold  

WOMADelaide – (March 9 to 12 Botanic Park, Adelaide)  

Friday March 9  is when Anoushka Shankar will perform Land of Gold at WOMADelaide

Sydney Concert:

Concert Hall Sydney Opera House –   Sunday March 11

Melbourne concert:

Hamer Hall, Arts Centre   – Tuesday March 13

Short URL: