Anoushka Shankar Live

After a day of wrestling with code or process or whatever, I’m not usually fond of being a social butterfly. Last weekend I made a bit of an effort, with some friends, and the weekend went surprisingly quickly.

Friday night we dragged ourselves up to the city to listen to Anoushka Shankar. I’ve always liked her music, but I’ve listened to it in the context of Karsh Kale and fusion music; I don’t think I’ve ever had a chance to listen to her virtuosity, certainly not live.

She was playing with some excellent musicians: a shehnai player, a double bassist and keyboardist, and a drummer (which is really putting it mildly). By the way, I have to say a word about Tom Farmer, the double bassist. It was pretty fantastic to see Farmer, who’s almost as tall as the instrument he plays, having the time of his life on stage. The double bass doesn’t really make itself known, but I realized hearing it being played that it added something tangible to the music that I’d miss.

Shankar started out with several pieces in minor-key ragas, progressing to the first break in the concert by way of an intensely fast sitar piece. You wouldn’t have thought a shehnai, a sitar, and a double bass would’ve contributed to a rock-and-roll song, but that’s what it felt like.

Here’s a taste of the kind of speed she brought to the performance.

The audience exploded into applause and cheering when they finished this set. Shankar said a few words about her tour and the inspiration for the album (noting ruefully that she was better at playing the sitar on stage than speaking) and then they leaped right back into it.

The concert was arranged in some kind of order from “sad” to “hopeful”, so the pieces shed their melancholy aspect throughout the remainder of the evening. The most interesting thing about this entire experience was seeing the texture of the music being created on-stage: the virtuosity of the sitar and shehnai, combined with the rhythm of the double bass and the tone of the drums.  I saw Shankar use some kind of instrumentation to record loops of her playing, real-time (ref: Zoe Keating, whom I’d seen with the same friend a few years ago in San Jose) and then layering those loops back into the foreground music.

“World music” is one of those vague labels that invokes images of fragrant hippies in semi-Indian garb dancing in the Golden Gate Park, but what I’ve heard of Anoushka Shankar’s music shows commitment to all the different aspects of the global music she draws from. If she’s playing the sitar in a way that’s reminiscent of the Spanish guitar, then she has a reason for it.

I went back from this concert hoping to find and save the album from Spotify. I found it, but it didn’t come close to the explosive experience of listening to so many excellent artists live. If there’s a recording of the concert itself, I’d gladly get that.

Another example of the kind of fusion I love listening to. Drums, the sitar of course, a Spanish feel, and a duelling duet with a mridangam: 


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