Anoushka Shankar is one of the rare artists whose attitude and creativity reflects her love, respect and appreciation for all people and cultures in the world today. This is contrary to traditional teachings and beliefs, which have historically taught patriotism for one's country and culture specifically. But Anoushka Shankar is not your typical contemporary artist. Certainly growing up in the presence of Yehudi Menuhin
three of our greatest humanitarian artistsdidn't hurt. But Shankar is a study in action, whose search for knowledge and understanding of all people and cultures never ceases and whose music reflects this very transcendent character.
As a result, Shankar recently published a multi-cultural masterpiece. It isn't art that spends time on cultural differences, which is a tendency by society today; art focuses on the common themes, emotions and feelings that reside in each one of us, regardless of culture or ethnicity.
If there is one underlying foundation that holds Traveller (Deutsche Grammophon, 2011) all together, it is the "spiritual intensity" of this very unique and brilliant artist. The spirituality of Shankar breathes life through the music at every turn, pulling us closer until we are inside the multicultural layered spectrum of sensuous colors and emotions. If there was ever a question of whether such a place exists, it has been put to rest with this recording.
Shankar has a vast sincere interest in providing respect and educating others with regard to the history of Indian classical music but also has immense interest in the people and culture of other global societies. But this isn't just your typical interest, which is important here. She delves in with her entire being, and incorporates this into who she is within the realms of the macrocosms of the world today.
And through the synthesis of this very unique artistic imagination, she is able to create music so spiritually personal, yet one also reflective of a global essence and character while providing the utmost respect to those various cultures being celebrated. And that is the paramount difference from most attempts at this approach and it is one that is rare.
All About Jazz: It is difficult enough to represent one culture artistically but representing two is almost unheard of and to also pull it off in a respectful way to both cultures and traditions. Were you worried about this and what do you think were the key elements in making it work?
Anoushka Shankar: As you say, it is a difficult thing to do and there is no way I could have done this without my amazing producer, Javier Limon. Exactly as you asked, I was afraid of trying to represent two cultures on a record, especially as one of those cultures was not one that I am from. What I did was find someone who was able to represent the Spanish culture. In a way, though it is my album, it was very much collaboration. I brought the Indian forms, the ragas, the talas and the Indian guest artists to the table and he brought in the Spanish rhythms, forms and guest artists. We initially spent a lot of time educating one another on the musical styles in order to work together in a way that was respectful of both musical traditions.
AAJ: Have you found that your lifelong study of Indian Classical music has helped you understand Flamenco music along with its history and culture? Most people are not familiar. What are the important points of that history and culture that should be understood to better appreciate this rich form of music? For those that want to learn and understand and have a better appreciation of this art form, what should we know?
AS: There is no question that my understanding and experience as an Indian classical musician is what allowed me to get a feel for and a grasp of flamenco music, at least as much as I was able to. All of these traditional forms are, by rights, things that require a lifetime of immersion and dedication in order to be fully versed. However, at least to be able to get a general grasp of flamenco, its commonalities with Indian classical were such that I was able to apply myself in a different way than I was used to but still be able to play within the flamenco forms and rhythms. For example our rhythmic cycles are very different but the fact that both forms have cyclical rhythms meant that if I studied a particular rhythm form like a buleria or seguria, I could use my own experience with improvisation within a 12 beat Indian cycles and move the emphasis from the 1st beat to the 12th.