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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Anoushka Shankar bridges genres

You may not know the name Anoushka Shankar, but you should. Her father, Ravi Shankar, introduced the sitar—a plucked string instrument common in Indian classical music—to the Beatles’ George Harrison and eventually the world. When Anoushka was only nine, Ravi guided her through the ins and outs of classical Indian music. Shankar, whose half-sister is Norah Jones, continued her father’s legacy with performances in prestigious concert halls around the world, playing for famous faces in famous places, her compositions earning her three Grammy award nominations, among other accolades.

Shankar will be performing various pieces in Herrick Chapel on Monday, Nov. 11, at 7:30 p.m. She credits her musical and compositional successes to the classical training she received from her father.

“Classical grounding can give you a really rich language, and it’s the same as learning English, really,” Shankar said in a phone interview with the S&B. “Giving you a really strong grasp of the language helps you whether you write high-brow language or hip-hop—it will help you regardless.”

From her classical background, Shankar crossed over into different instruments and musical forms. Her newest album, “Traces of You,” prominently features a blend of sitar and guitar with a novel bassline courtesy of the hang drum. In this mix of East and West, Shankar bridges cultural gaps and captures the internationalism of modern music.

“Even though [the album] draws heavily on Indian classical à la other albums, it does follow a much more conventionally Western song structure,” Shankar said.

When she’s not changing the world of music, Shankar is often working on social justice issues, dedicating her music and extending whatever other help she can offer to those in need. Recently, Shankar has become involved in making her voice heard with regard to the spate of gang rapes that have occurred in India.

“I believe in doing what I can when I can,” Shankar said. “It made me feel very strongly, this deep sense of outrage, a deep sense of outrage in general.”

Shankar believes that Grinnell is doing right by encouraging students to pursue these issues and change the world around them. She notes that college students are in the stage of their lives when they really have the possibilities to do so.

“The beautiful thing about university life is it’s such an opportunity to get involved, because there are things all over the world to get done,” she said.

With all that she does, Shankar attributes her ambition and ability to adapt to changing circumstances as critical factors of her success.

“I’m touring less, and I’m spending more time at home because I have a two-year-old, and that’s changed the way I work,” Shankar said. “However, I’m still a very ambitious person. I’m a musician and that’s never going to change. It’s just finding ways to grow my career outside of touring.”

Although experimenting with new sounds and adjusting to challenging circumstances is incredibly taxing, Shankar maintains that true passion always pays off. She thinks of music as a give-and-take relationship between composer and listener.

“Wherever possible, make sure whatever you’re doing is coming from your heart. I know that sounds cheesy,” she said, “but this is art—it has to make people respond beyond their mental faculties, it has to make people feel something. It has to resonate deeply.”

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