Traces of You
Sitar player explores how 'we're products of our experiences'
With her seventh album, “Traces of You,” sitar player Anoushka Shankar set out to explore a journey through life experiences.
She started working on the album in summer 2012, and completed it about a year later in spring 2013. In that time, she endured the death of her father, well-known Indian composer Ravi Shankar, who died Dec. 11, 2012.
While her loss is evident on a few of the album’s 13 tracks, the overall message is one of hope rather than sorrow.
“I was very curious of the idea that we all are kind of a product of our life experiences and of each other through relationships that we have and people that influence us,” she said. “The ‘You’ in ‘Traces of You’ is somewhat universal. It can refer to a person or a thing, but also the kind that we carry each other as we go through life.”
Local fans will get the chance to see her perform with five other talented musicians at the Park Theatre Friday, Nov. 22. She’ll play songs from previous albums, as well as “Traces of You,” which was released last month on Deutsche Grammophon, a German classical record label founded in 1898.
So far, she said, fans are enjoying it.
“As far as direct feedback from people who write on my Facebook page or write me directly, it seems to be pretty positive,” Shankar said. “People seem to like the record, which I’m very grateful for.”
Like many of her albums, Shankar wrote and recorded “Traces of You” while touring around the world. Along the way, she teamed up with her half-sister and singer-songwriter Norah Jones.
Jones is featured on the album’s opening number, “The Sun Won’t Set,” as well as “Unsaid,” and the title track. They’ve worked together in the past on a song for Shankar’s 2007 release, “Breathing Under Water,” but this experience, said Shankar, was special.
“This one felt like much more elaborate because it was three songs, and we’re more mature as artists now as we were then,” Shankar said. “And the content of the songs was quite personal, as well.”
Also featured on the album is multi-award-winning musician Nitin Sawhney. Not only did Sawhney produce, program and arrange the album, he co-wrote it with Shankar.
“He was really a part of shaping the album with me,” she said. “He was probably the biggest influence on the album, other than myself, [and] is a very wonderful musician and composer.”
Manu Delago lends his percussion skills to the mix. This was her first time working with him, and she was thrilled of the results.
“He’s an amazing percussionist and musician,” Shankar said. “His instrument helped shape the direction of the record quite early on.”
Many of the songs are instrumental, yet they still have their own “voice” and “speak” to the listener. In a more abstract sense, as an instrumentalist rather than as a composer, Shankar said she often relies on melody and connects with an emotion to convey messages.
“You don’t have words to rely on, so the instrument has to be played with a kind of conviction for people to pick up on,” said Shankar. “You get a sense of pathos or joy or playfulness or pain through structures of rhythm just through a combination of notes. That combination of the performance and composition can create strong emotional content.”
She went on to say that one of the beautiful things about instrumental music, “which isn’t necessarily better or worse than music without lyrics,” is that emotion then becomes open to interpretation by the listener.
“I might have a very specific story when I’m writing, but other people don’t need to know that story,” she said. “They can just relate it to their own story and make it personal to them.”
Shankar started playing sitar, a string instrument used mainly in Hindustani music and Indian classical music, when she was 7, taking it more seriously at age 9. Her father was her only teacher.
“He was a very direct, shaping influence on my musical style, playing and knowledge,” she said, noting that he was also a huge influence on George Harrison, who played guitar for The Beatles. “He was very close to my dad and I was very close to him, as well. There was a huge awareness of that interaction. He taught George Indian music and things went from there.”
Harrison played sitar on a few Beatles songs, including “Love to You” and “Within You and Without You.” Having Shankar as a teacher helped him become a more innovative artist.
Shankar, a three-time Grammy Award nominee, said a good teacher is key to learning how to play the sitar.
“Unlike Western culture music, Indian music isn’t a written down music form,” she said. “It’s an oral tradition that has to be passed down person to person because so many of the nuances can’t be translated any other way.”
Though she is still grieving the loss of her father, Shankar has plenty to keep her moving forward, including a 2-year-old son, Zubin. Shankar and her husband, English film director Joe Wright, who is most known for “Atonement,” “Hannah,” and adaptations of “Pride & Prejudice” and “Anna Karenina,” let their son know that while their jobs may cause them to be apart at times, work isn’t this awful idea of people doing things they don’t want to do.
“I love what I do,” she said, pointing out that Wright directed the “Traces of You” music video, which she described as a “low-key experience,” as it was filmed in a friend’s garden in one day.
“[Zubin] knows that mommy plays music and he comes to my shows sometimes. He’s changed my life, and that has influenced everything I’ve done since,” she said.
Of course, the musicians she writes, records and performs with are also big influences. Shankar enjoys surrounding herself with “very brilliant, diverse, electric” artists.
The performance at Park Theatre will showcase a touring band, including Shankar, a vocalist, two percussionists, a cellist, piano player, and a shehnai player. A shehnai is an Indian wind instrument.
“I’m very lucky to work with a great group of musicians who help me represent this music really well,” Shankar said. “The show is very exciting and dynamic. It’s very much based on ‘Traces of You,’ but I generally don’t like perfectly reproducing music live, so I don’t play it exactly like it’s on the record. If people have already listened to the record, I think they will enjoy the interpretation of some of the stuff. I’m really proud of the show, and I’m looking forward to being there.”
To purchase tickets, which range in price from $35 to $45, stop by the Box Office, order via phone at 467-7275 or visit ParkTheatreRI.com. The show begins at 8 p.m. The Park Theatre is located at 848 Park Avenue in Cranston.