Anoushka Shankar: Embracing the commonality of the human spirit through “socially conscious music,” an inspiration to women



Anoushka Shankar 
Photo by Laura Lewis

ANOUSHKA Shankar, a sitar virtuoso and composer who is one of the leading figures in world music in contemporary society and is deeply rooted in Indian classical music, hit the stage last weekend at The Chan Centre for Performing Arts in Vancouver where she celebrated 20 years of her career in the musical field. The event theme revolved around “socially conscious music” where amongst the chaos in the world, hope, peace and solace could be found in music. She performed songs from her new album Reflections (2019) which is a compilation of previous works from Land of Gold, Traveller, Traces of You, Breathing Under Water, and Rise “drawing on classical ragas” and illuminating “the versatility of the sitar across musical genres.”

Anoushka Shankar with performers during a standing ovation at the end of the concert.

The concert was filled with positive energy and was spiritual for the audience. The instrumentalists who accompanied her were culturally diverse: Ojas Adhiya (tabla), Pirashanna Thevarajah (mridangam), Ravichandra Kulur (Bansuri flute), Danny Keane (cello and piano), and Kenji Ota (tanpura) and our own from Vancouver, Sharanjeet Singh Mand (Tanpura). Anouska kicked off the first half of the concert with “Voice of the Moon.” Shankar thanked the audience and said, “I am thrilled to be here. I have beautiful memories of such a beautiful city.” A piece titled “The Sun Won’t Set” followed. With a touch of humour, Anoushka told the audience that her sound person was stuck in Calgary with her performance clothes and make-up as both his flights were cancelled because of the snow. The Chan Centre crew and others came to her aid for which she was grateful. Despite this hurdle, Anoushka and the instrumentalists played with such passion and synergy and for those who understood the difficulty and complexity of such music, really appreciated this musical perfection which was expressed with numerous applauses. Every instrument emitted a strong energy and sound which was beautifully played and performed with such harmony.

Shankar’s music continues to echo that of her late father, legendary virtuoso sitarist, Ravi Shankar. I have followed the trajectory of her music and must say, that the spirit and teachings of Ravi Shankar continue to imbue her work. At a past concert with late Ravi Shankar and Anoushka in Vancouver, he said to the audience, ”Anoushaka is the best student I’ve ever had. When I play with her, it feels like an extension of me.” This proved to be true at last week’s concert when Shankar performed  a piece that she wrote in 2007 with her late father in two hours when they were “bored in a hotel” and “a piece that never found a home (it is only performed live), but one day it may find a home (in an album),” she said.

The second half of the performance kicked off with more current work, from music she wrote for a film titled ‘Shiraz’ based on the construction of the Taj Mahal in India. The event was a treat and soothing especially in current geopolitical times.  Indeed, putting our differences aside and embracing the commonality of the human spirit was possible last weekend through the diverse musical genres Shankar wove into her music. The event ended with a standing ovation demonstrating how much Shankar touched the hearts of the audience. Shankar returned to the stage performing “Dancing Shadows” to a roaring crowd.

In closing, the audience was truly mesmerized with the energy emitted from her music to influence social change, and simultaneously keep the legacy of Classical Indian music alive. Above all, she has been a key inspiration for women. Nina Buddhdev, a heritage arts advocate who gave the pre-show talk about Shankar’s musical devotion, described her as “a change maker who empowers young people to trust themselves.” During the intermission Buddhdev told me that Shankar “is so real” and represents the “core of what we as women have in common…she has been a real inspiration to women and in energizing artists.”