Later this month, acclaimed sitar player Anoushka Shankar will take the stage with British rockers Jethro Tull. Shankar, long used to cutting across musical genres, has carved a niche in fusing Hindustani classical music with electro-funk beats; it has garnered her a Grammy nomination and a string of weighty collaborators such as Sting, George Harrison and, of course, her father, sitar maestro Ravi Shankar. Ahead of her tour with Tull, Shankar spoke to Loungeabout the thrill of performing live, and why “world music” falls short of describing her sound. Edited excerpts:
How did the collaboration with Jethro Tull come about?
Jethro Tull had toured India a couple of times in the past. I remember Ian Anderson had asked about collaborating with me as long back as three or four years ago. I was extremely surprised and excited but because of the dates it never quite worked out. I’m lucky enough he kept on asking. This time I was very much free and I jumped at the chance.
What were rehearsals like?
It’s definitely an interesting process. It’s one of those meetings where we haven’t been around each other at all. We had one breakfast together and that’s it. So in one sense it’s going to be very impromptu. But we’ve done the legwork and groundwork for what we’re going to do through communicating and emailing.
Collaborator: After Tull, Shankar will next perform with her father.
What will you be performing?
It’ll be a mix of things—some old and new music. We’ll both play together and individually. When we come together we’ll play each other’s music, and improvise some of the time. But they will be playing a lot of the Tull songs people know and love.
You’ve performed with a range of people from Sting to mohan veena player Vishwa Mohan Bhatt. What draws you to each of your collaborators?
I definitely enjoy challenges, getting to play with people above my level, so to speak, who are incredible musicians and who have something to offer. It will obviously stretch me as an artist and let me grow. I usually come away with new ideas of music.
You’ve often said you like to push yourself. What’s been the most challenging experience?
Things last year were very interesting because, within a couple of months, I was doing a record for Karsh Kale, for which we had to put together a concert for 14,000 people (in San Francisco). That was challenging, logistically and musically. A week later, I went to Switzerland to play with Joshua Bell; and then two weeks later, with Nitin Sawhney; and then a month later, it was with Philip Glass. Those particular months were so insane, you couldn’t rest on anything you had done.
You compose, produce and perform. Any preference?
I definitely enjoy all of it, but there is an immediacy in the pleasure you get from performing live that is pretty incredible. There is a process of recording that is a lot of fun but at the same time it can make you want to kill yourself. But it’s electric to be on stage—it’s a combination of what music is about because on stage it’s all happening simultaneously.
Your music is often labelled “world music”. Is there a better way to describe it?
I’m still trying to come up with one. World music—it’s sad that’s kind of the bucket I’m put in. I’d say my music is still very rooted in Indian classical music. I think the music I create is more representative of myself—it’s Indian in essence but not necessarily in the context that one might expect.
The tour has been sponsored by Seagrams 100 Pipers and promoted by E18. It will reach Mumbai on 29 November, Delhi on 30 November and Bangalore on 2 December. Tickets are available at www.bookmyshow.com