A student of the sitar since she was a child, Anoushka Shankar didn't have to go far to find her teacher. As the daughter of Ravi Shankar, the world-renowned classical Indian sitar player, Shankar was guided by her father from the very beginning. She started touring at age 13 and signed her first record deal at 16. Being Ravi Shankar's daughter helped her get a start, but her dedication, talent, and respect for the craft of sitar playing have shown that she's doing more than riding on her father's coattails. Three albums released between 1998 and 2001 showcased her abilities and received critical acclaim.
Shankar was born on June 9, 1981, in London, England. Her mother, Sunkanya Rajan, was a onetime bank employee with an interest in Indian music and dance when she met Ravi Shankar. The two did not marry until Anoushka was eight years old. After the marriage, the family began splitting their time between London and New Delhi, India. Shankar's daily life was filled with music. She witnessed her father as he taught his students, while her mother taught her folk dances and the traditional Carnatic vocal style of southeastern India.
Shankar's first instrument was the tampura, a four-stringed drone instrument. Soon after she learned how to play the tampura, Shankar's father presented her with a specially made sitar small enough for her to play. Her first lessons from her father were on that sitar. She also took up classical piano, but abandoned it later when the strain of playing both the sitar and piano gave her tendinitis.
Shankar's ability to focus on playing has been her greatest asset. As her mother told People, "From day one he [Ravi] found her concentration amazing." For Anoushka, despite her ability to focus, taking lessons from her father was not always so easy. In an interview in People she described the lessons as tedious, adding that "I didn't hate it. But I didn't like it." Even though she was introduced to the sitar at a young age, she was never forced to continue playing. Shankar told Aisha Labi of Time International that "[t]hey would sit me down … and say 'You don't have to do this. But if you do it, you need to be serious about it.'"
Shankar chose to be serious, and in 1995, at the age of 13, she made her debut performance on the sitar at her father's 75th birthday celebration. The event took place in New Delhi, India, and was the beginning of Shankar's touring and recording career. After her performance she began touring extensively with her father. She would open for him at his concerts around the world, including those at such places as Carnegie Hall in New York City. The same year as her debut, she recorded with her father on a piece called "In Celebration."
By this time, Shankar's family had relocated to Encinitas, California. As she studied and performed on her traditional instrument, she also took part in the life of a typical American teenager. She wrote poetry, listened to popular music, and participated in extracurricular activities. Shankar attended the experimental San Dieguito High School Academy, which allowed her to tour for half the school year while completing her assignments via e-mail. In 1999, she graduated with honors. Content with her life of touring and recording, she decided to postpone college.
In 1998, Shankar's debut album Anoushka was released. The album was nominated for Best Traditional World Album by the magazine New Age Voice. Not long afterward she was presented with the British House of Commons Shield. At the age of 17, she was the youngest recipient and the only woman ever to have received the award, which recognized her artistry and musicianship.
In 2000, she released her second album, Anourag. That year she also broke another barrier, becoming the first woman to perform at the Ramakrishna Center in Calcutta, India. Shankar made plans to continue along these lines. In traditional Indian culture sitar players are primarily men, while the women sing or dance. Shankar was aware that being the daughter of one of the greatest sitar players gave her an advantage. She also realized that she had much work to do to prove herself as a musician. As she stated in a press release, "People wonder if I'm only famous because I'm his daughter…. There's always going to be that pressure of being his daughter…. I want to earn respect in the classical world."
In 2001, Shankar released the live album Anoushka Shankar Live at Carnegie Hall. The album received critical acclaim and was nominated for a Grammy award in the World Music category in 2003. In a strange twist of fate, her half-sister Norah Jones was nominated for eight Grammys that same year (she won five). Shankar and Jones did not grow up together and first met each other when Shankar was 16. Shankar has gained an appreciation for jazz from Jones, who plays piano and performs pop and jazz standards as well as original music. So far their attempts at collaboration have resulted in only in giggles. "We've tried to mess around a little," Shankar told Labi. "We just started laughing and gave up."
Shankar has performed in Europe, Asia, and India as well as the United States. In 2002, she performed at the World Economic Forum and the Rainforest Foundation Benefit Concert, both held in New York City. In England, that same year, she became the first artist to perform in London's new city hall building. On November 29, 2002, she conducted and performed the debut of her father's composition "Arpan" at the Concert for George, a tribute to the late former Beatle George Harrison held at London's Royal Albert Hall.
In addition to touring, Shankar also began an acting career. Her first film, Dance Like a Man, premiered in 2003. The film focuses on two generations of traditional Indian dancers and the conflicts they face. Shankar had expressed an interest in entering the world of cinema but was waiting for the right movie to come along. In the process she turned down roles in productions of India's mainstream film industry, known as Bollywood.
For the Record . . .
Born on June 9, 1981, in London, England; daughter of Ravi Shankar (a musician) and Sunkanya Rajan.
Debuted at Ravi Shankar's 75th birthday celebration, 1995; released first album, Anoushka, conducted music on Ravi Shankar and George Harrison's Chants of India, 1998; released Anourag, opened for Ravi Shankar's performance at Carnegie Hall, 2000; released Anoushka Shankar Live at Carnegie Hall, 2001; performed at World Economic Forum, Rainforest Foundation Benefit Concert at Carnegie Hall, and at The Concert for George, appeared in BBC documentary Anoushka Shankar: Sitar Trek, published Bapi: Love of My Life, biography of Ravi Shankar, 2002; made film debut in Dance Like a Man, performed at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall as part of Healing the Divide: A Concert for Peace and Reconciliation, 2003.
Awards: British House of Commons Shield, 1998; Woman of the Year (shared with Kareena Kapoor, Ritu Beri, and Rhea Pillai), International Women's Day, 2003.
Addresses: Record company— Angel Records, 150 Fifth Ave., 6th Fl., New York, NY 10011. Management— Neil Benson, ICM Artists, 40 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019; Angela Sulivan, Sulivan Sweetland, 28 Albion St., London W2 2AX, England. Website— Anoushka Shankar Official Website: http://www.anoushkashankar.com.
In 2002, Shankar authored a pictorial biography of her father, titled Bapi: Love of My Life. There could have been no better choice of author. Shankar's reverence, love, and respect for her father were always evident. The years spent training and touring with him created a special bond that Shankar often celebrated. "Being his daughter has made me closer to him as a student," she told Bradley Bambarger of Billboard. "And being his student has brought me closer to him as his daughter."
Despite her early start on the instrument, she has always kept in mind the long road one must travel before becoming a true master of this complicated art form. Shankar is gifted not only with talent but also with humility and respect for the ancient craft to which she has devoted herself. As she explained to People, "I think it's important for me to establish myself first as a classical musician." Shankar has steered away from doing any work that fuses the sitar with popular music. She has the discipline and the skill to make as big an impact as her father and perhaps go even further. "She not only knows what I knew, what I taught her, but she's more acquianted with today, so she's richer," Ravi Shankar told Labi. "That's what happens."
Anoushka, Angel, 1998.
Anourag, Angel, 2000.
Live at Carnegie Hall, Angel, 2001.
Billboard, September 19, 1998, p. 1.
People, November 9, 1998, p. 88.
Record (Bergen County, NJ), November 8, 2002, p. 16.
Time International, August 12, 2002, p. 59.
"Anoushka Shankar," http://www.csuchico.edu/upe/anoushkashankarPR.htm (November 2, 2003).
—Eve M. B. Hermann
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