From reinventing the sound of the sitar, to creating a name for herself that is independent of her legendary father, late Pt Ravi Shankar — in a career spanning 20 years, and counting, Anoushka Shankar has achieved several feats. As she returns to her classical roots after several years with her new album, the 34-year-old musician talks about the "challenge" of being an iconic father’s daughter, how her personality has changed over the years, how motherhood transformed her music, and more.
After experimental albums, like Rise (2005) and Traces Of You (2013), what made you turn to Indian classical music with your new album, Home?
It has been many years since I recorded a classical album, and I felt like there was something missing. Also, in the past couple of months, I did quite a few classical concerts, and I remembered how much I loved playing that kind of music, and how much it means to me.
When you were promoting Traces Of You two years ago, you went on record to say that it was a traumatic process for you because you had to speak a lot about your father, who had passed away in 2012. Since this album is also dedicated to him, was it difficult to work on it?
This album was very different. When I was in the process of making Traces Of You, my father passed away. Everyone kept asking me about it (her father’s demise) all the time, while I was still grieving. So that was a very painful process. But Home is like an offering to my father, because I’m playing classical ragas in an album after a long time.
While you are trained in Hindustani classical music, you have also experimented a lot with other genres. What comes naturally to you?
It’s music itself. When I play at a concert, and I get to connect with other musicians or the audience, I get a very deep sense of fulfilment and joy. At that time, what genre I play doesn’t really matter. I have always been myself.
You are a celebrated artiste today. But initially, was it difficult to move away from your legendary father’s image, and create an identity of your own?
It was very challenging. I was very young when I started, and at that time, there was a lot for me, as a teenager, to figure out. During my teenage years, and through my 20s, I kept trying to find myself, as a person, and as an artiste. The one thing that I always did was to be honest as an artiste, and to be myself. That helped me through the whole process, because I never tried to escape my father’s legacy. He is my father and my guru, so there’s no point trying to escape that. That would be denying who I am. But, at the same time, that wasn’t all that I was. When you are someone’s disciple, you are not just that, you are also an individual artiste. I have always felt very comfortable with that identity. I think that helped me to not have to prove myself so much.
From the time you started, to now, what has been the most distinctive change in you?
I feel free now, which I didn’t feel when I was younger. The system of starting very young is tricky. For a young person, to be in the public eye, and to be answerable to so many expectations, is really difficult. So, even though I was performing, and had a public career, on the inside, I was very shy about it, and felt scared. That time, I was a lot more focused about only getting my music right, whereas now that I have been performing for so long, I feel a lot more confident. When I play my music now, I feel that I know my voice a lot better. Hence, the music I make now is also stronger.
Did motherhood alter your music in any way?
Absolutely, your life becomes bigger and richer after becoming a mother, and there are more experiences that you can draw from, as an artiste. I think I have become a lot more sensitive, as an artiste, now. That means there are a lot more feelings, and much more to express through my music.
You have played in India and abroad. Have you felt any difference?
Yes, but it’s hard to generalise because it depends upon city to city. At times, you can end up with an incredibly knowledgeable audience, but not always. And that’s true everywhere. The positive of performing in India is that you can be part of several music festivals that take place here, where you know that people who understand music will come. But the negative is that, people just don’t clap very much. That can be a bit upsetting for an artiste, at times. You don’t even know whether people liked the performance or not.