Anoushka Shankar – Reviewed

Vanessa Chellembron heads to The Phil and finds an artist much more than her father’s daughter…

Traveller, Anoushka Shankar’s new album is a sublime blend of classical Indian and Flamenco music, combining both Indian and Spanish musicians; Shankar herself on sitar, with countrymen Pirashanna Thevarajah on percussion, Sanjeev Shankar on the oboe-like shehnai (best known as the snake charmer’s flute) and drone from the tanpura which looks like a tiny sitar, Melon Jiménez on flamenco guitar, Sandra Carrasco, singer and the wonderfully named El Pirañha on cajón, an intriguing box-like instrument/drum, doubling, necessarily, as a seat.

The night opened with a shortened, soothing evening raga by Shankar (sat centre stage, underneath a simple backdrop of a huge white lotus projected on black cloth) and her two Indian accompanists.

Ensuing tracks were a combination of Raga and Flamenco, linked by Roma gypsies settling in Spain from their original homeland of Rajasthan. The two styles are well matched, each passionate and uninhibited, with fast, rhythmical beats.

The Indian drum was matched by the Spanish cajón, the sitar by the guitar, and the shehnai complimented by the spine-tingling voice of Carrasco – quite different instruments, one a reed instrument, one a human voice – powerful and passionate, both. The musicians didn’t just accompany each other though, they became the music, sometimes it was hard to see who was playing what, you had to watch them closely to try and work it out, but that is the beauty of this combination of styles.

“Anoushka Shankar is more than just her father Ravi’s daughter”

The songs, a dialogue between the two musical traditions, resulted in a performance much more than the sum of its (not inconsiderable) parts. The world-class musicians had a joyous interplay and rapport between them, throwing beats and rhythms back and forth at exhilarating pace. This exuberance kept the audience captivated, we were privileged to share in their energy, to be intoxicated and swept away by the raw passion of their music. Each ‘throw’ of the music further delighted the audience.

The passion and emotion of Sandra Carrasco was palpable; her voice mellifluous and raw all at once. She looked like a normal person before she sang, then when she did, one imagined a universal feeling of hairs standing up on the back of the collective audience’s necks – moving barely covers it. A further depth of feeling still was added by intricate Flamenco clapping.

El Pirañha took a particular interest in the audience. With a mop of curly black hair, sat astride his box, he stared intently at us throughout the performance. Sometimes, he appeared bemused, others he seemed to be looking for a specific reaction. Maybe he was just keen to know that the audience were enraptured; he needn’t have wondered.

The final song was the quickest of all, in tintall of 16 beats, in double time, fast, frenetic, hypnotic. Each musician performed a solo during it, while the others kept time by finger counting the beats using all fingers and palms. Occasionally, El Pirañha seemed to tire of the clapping, mopping his brow repeatedly with a large towel, much to Shankar’s amusement.

The increasingly fast pace of the concert matched the heightened heartbeat of the audience. As the final beat fell on the final track, the audience went wild, all rising to their feet in a universal ovation, refusing to sit until the musicians returned. Shankar, eager not to disappoint, seemed delighted at the response, saying ‘I like Liverpool’ with a coy smile, one audience member shouted back ‘We like you too!’ to bring another smile to her face, before introducing the final track, one soothing final raga.

Anoushka Shankar is more than just her father Ravi’s daughter; she is an innovative and creative musician in her own right, who has brought together an extraordinary selection of musicians in Traveller. She rightly sits centre stage, passionate, following her own heart and own influences, and delighting new and old audiences alike.

Vanessa Chellembron

Posted on 09/12/2011 by thedoublenegative