The trajectory of sitar player Anoushka Shankars career replete with live performances,albums fringing on the experimental and pop music and Grammy-nominations have earned her accolades abroad from musicians and audiences alike. But back home,purists and critics have not warmed up to her style. The criticism,though a little unfair,that has been floating around classical music circles is that her classical concerts have not justified her illustrious lineage. Her notes,on most days,were not as resplendent and bhare huye as compared to sitar players her age,the enunciation of the swaras needed finesse,and the meends (a glide between two notes) would not work. So with such drastic differences between opinions abroad and home,every concert of hers is a little unpredictable.
But then things change. This is her first concert after a long time that made one feel the tantrakaari ang (instrumental style). When the 32-year-old,dressed in a black and silver brocade kurta teemed with black salwar,took the stage at the lawns of the Taj Mahal hotel,one felt a different intensity this time. As she picked up her sitar,which has been specially designed with the internal miking system,and played The sun will never set,a track from her latest album Traces of You,one knew this would be a different gig. The track was composed in the months before Pandit Ravi Shankars passing and was a way for Anoushka to express her unwillingness to let go (she was holed up in a studio making music for days). The track punctuated by vocals from Ayanna Richardson was one of the more intimate pieces of the evening. The album originally features Norah Jones on the vocals. This was followed by Indian summer in raag Kirwani,a seven note phenomenon from the Carnatic system,invoked mostly at midnight. Paired with drums,Anoushka rotated between taking leading and supporting roles. One of the better pieces of the day,it was wonderfully executed with the piano adding colour to Anoushkas ornamented string play. Then came Traces of you,where Anoushka enunciated the swaras,and Johnson layered it all with her lush jazz voice with Traces of you,linger like a teardrop. She also played In Jyotis Name,a dark melody based on raag Shree,which expressed her anger at last years December 16 gangrape.
The more percussive the music got,the more plausible and convincing it became. The credit goes to mirdangam player,Pirashanna Thevarajah and drummer Manu Delago. Intelligent musical promiscuity is what Anoushka indulged in with the finale piece in raag Jog,from her Grammy-nominated album Traveller. Her partnership in resonance ended with a jhaala and a gorgeous tihaai. We did wait for some uninhibited improvisations and spontaneity though. As the performance reached a crescendo,the one with flashes of virtuosity and a nervous rush,one knew that Anoushka was now on her