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Anoushka Shankar is finding her own niche. Some years ago, she was known solely as the daughter of Ravi Shankar—and later, as half-sister of pop-jazz star Norah Jones. However, Anoushka Shankar has increasingly made her own stamp on music, starting as a classical sitar player and developing into a world music star with two Grammy nominations. She has also demonstrated her talents in other arts taking a supporting acting role in the film Dance Like a Man (for which she received a nomination by India’s National Film Awards), and writing two regular columns published in India, one for First City and the other for the Hindustan Times. And her ambitions don’t end with the arts—her humanitarian work led her to becoming an ambassador for the United Nations World Food Programme.
Beginning her training under her father at the age of 9, Anoushka Shankar recorded her first solo album at 16; and at 20, she earned a Grammy nomination forLive at Carnegie Hall in 2001. Her next studio album, Rise, was a much more personal statement—she wrote and produced all the music, combining Western pop, jazz, and world music into her classical training, and won a second Grammy nomination. Her latest album, Breathing Under Water, is a collaboration with producer Karsh Kale. Ravi Shankar, Norah Jones, Sting, and other artists have guest spots on the album, and the collaboration has produced more acclaim for Anoushka Shankar and her growth as a composer and musician.
Through all her recordings and various projects, Anoushka Shankar says one of the things she reveres the most is getting to play live with her father on stage. The father-daughter duo is currently on a U.S. tour, delighting audiences with their unique talents and special familial dynamic.
On your latest recording, Breathing Under Water, you worked a little bit with your sister, Norah Jones—how did that collaboration go?
Well, it was very quick because it was just the one song, but it was fun and felt very natural. It was one of those things where we got into the room together and it could have gone many ways. Even though we are sisters, we’ve never done that together before. But it was very interesting and natural. The second she sang the piece, it just sounded great.
Did you two have much contact growing up?
Well, we met as teenagers, but since then we’ve been very, very close.
Do the three of you—your sister, father, and you—ever talk about doing a musical project together?
Um, no, not really. That doesn’t mean it would never happen, but it’s not something that is at the forefront of our minds. People ask us about that more than we discuss it.
Yeah, it’s kind of the obvious question!
(laughs) Yeah, right?
So, a friend of mine got really excited that I was interviewing you and insisted that I ask what your favorite raga is and why.
Oh, that’s sweet! It’s hard to pick just one, but if I had to, I’d go with “Manj Khamaj.” There’s a word in Portugese, saudades. I don’t think there’s a word for it in English, but it’s that sadness you feel when you are so happy—a melancholic happiness. In music, for example, something can be so aching but in a beautiful way. It’s not that it’s dark or sad, but that you feel an ache in your heart from something being so sweet. And for me, that raga makes me feel like that all the time; I want to weep from it.
Tell me about this tour you are doing with your father and how the program is set up.
We’re touring together after a few months, so I am definitely looking forward to it. Performing anywhere in the Bay Area as an Indian musician is always quite lovely because it’s one of the areas in this country that has the strongest understandings of Indian music. So I love every time I get to come back and play there.
The music in the show is all classical and we do two parts. I open for my father, so I’ll play the first half with Tanmoy Bose on tabla, and a wonderful flutist from South India, Ravichandra Kulur. So we bring in some Karnatik elements into the show.
My father comes out for the second half and I take on the supporting role. That’s something I always find really rewarding and exciting, because it’s not something that happens much in Indian classical music—having an assisting musician. It brings out a whole new dimension to the music and, for me as a performer, it brings out a whole different side to me to be up on stage and think how to complement music rather than how to lead a show. I find it to be a huge education every time I get on stage with my father. I love it very much, and I hope people do, too.
Thursday, Oct. 29, 7:30 p.m. SF Jazz Festival: Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco. (866) 920-5299.
Sunday, Nov. 1, 7 p.m. Arlington Theatre, UC Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara. (805) 893-3535.