Anoushka Shankar’s concert at St.Andrew’s Auditorium in Bandra on Saturday night seemed like an exercise in sophistication, as she sat down under the streaming yellow strobe lights and plucked out sounds from her sitar we aren’t used to hearing out in the real world.
The gig, organized by VH1 Handpicked, was part of her supporting tour for her latest album, ‘Traveller’, which was released in 2011 after a period of writing, composing and producing in Madrid – no coincidence, since the album itself was concieved to highlight and dissolve the contrasts between Spanish Flamenco and Hindustani classical music.
The gig here seemed to have its share of patrons, who were still filing in about half an hour after the designated time of start of the concert. That the concert itself was delayed seemed like a lucky break for the Johnny-come-lately’s, and people took advantage of that little leeway by crowding outside the auditorium and stuffing themselves with overpriced canteen knick knacks. Till the bell rang and we were coaxed into our seats by the usher; hands now dirty, but free of food.
The primmings on stage gave it an ethereal air, with the huge set up for Anoushka dominating the scene. That was flanked by closer-to-the-floor arrangements for the accompanying instrumentalists in a solemn concave arc on stage.
The Star And Her Sitar
The slow classical loop that was playing on the audio system was pierced by applause for the sudden appearance of a resplendent Anoushka Shankar, who walked on stage in an elaborate lehenga and greeted the audience with a servile namaste. She was then joined successively by a tabla maestro to her right and a shehnai punter to her left. Those were her jam room companions for the first couple of numbers that she played, showcasing her nativity with beautifully plucked ragas on her sitar. It ended up being a mini-concerto of Hindustani classical, before the Flamenco evangelists walked out.
Dressed in the lucidity of black and white, the Flamenco narrators set off fetchingly against the very Indian riot of colours on stage. There was one gentleman on the toque (Flamenco guitar), A cante (the vocalist) and another bushy-haired gentleman playing the cajon – which is a unique percussive cabinet of sorts, which can be (was) thumped to produce rapid-fire rhythm.
Anoushka’s Spanish Soul
Over the next few songs, the combination of musicians following Anoushka’s sensational sitar leads kept changing – the ones who weren’t part of certain songs even retiring backstage in the interim. The degree of confluence between the Flamenco artists and the Indian musical entourage on stage was breathtaking, clearly demonstrating that they were fully aware of each other’s musical styles. So we had some tasty toque and shehnai jams on the sidelines, while Anoushka breathed fire and soul.
A word about Anoushka Shankar’s dexterity on the sitar; she has left her father’s shadow far behind. And this is no neo-classical subversion, because beneath Anoushka’s rapid finger-picking, there was no palpable loss of soul. While she worked through a virtuous number of notes through a given time period, it was like adding more details to a dream.
As the show drew to a close, there were even instances of Anoushka standing aside and letting her sessionists take ascendancy. So we had a rousing jam between the Spanish cajon exponent and the dholak master, both trading beat for beat till the audience was all of a-twitter. Which means, they clapped in united joy.
And the crowd, which had paid a fair premium for the tickets (though still less than what you’d expect for a Grammy winner), did get its worth for the while. There were enough to fill the entire auditorium and had their cameras whipped out the entire time in a strictly no-photography zone, only to be able to take some of this magic home. Of course, *wink*, we managed otherwise.
The easier commerce would be buying Traveller, the album. The abridged love and longing we heard on stage takes a fuller form on the CD, which would be more enjoyable. And in either case, Anoushka Shankar’s India tour is far from over, as she now moves on to performances in Chennai on the 19th of January at Kamaraj Memorial Hall, followed by a UB City gig in Bangalore on the 22nd. She’ll wind up her tour with showings at IIT Guwahati on 2nd of Feb and in Kolkatta at the Science City Auditorium a couple of days later.
So it’s definitely not too late to find a new musical diet. After years of extra-fat, carcinogenic fried cutlets, here is something different; some gourmet prepared pea soup, if you please.
Special Thanks: Ankita Rane @ Avian Media
Also, many thanks to VH1 for ‘Handpicking‘ Anoushka Shankar.