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International Fame “Sitarist” Anoushka Shankar performs at Rialto Center for the Arts, Atlanta


It was a classical evening full of grandeur as the Rialto Center for Arts at downtown Atlanta reverberated with the melodious echoes of “todas” of famed composer and sitarist, Anoushka Shankar, on March 24. One of the world’s most accomplished sitar players, Anoushka is on a month long US sojourn. Her breathtaking performance showcased “Traveller”, her latest album, which is an exploration of two musical traditions, Spanish and Indian classical.

Attired in black and white Indian dres (with a sleeveless black sequined bodice), Anoushka on stage brought to the mind’s eye the very image of goddess Saraswati – sans the veena, which had been replaced by sitar. Anoushka, her fingers moving rapidly on the strings, her smile dazzling the watcher, created music that seemed to put the audience under a spell during the over two and half hour concert. A round of applause greeted Anoushka as she entered the stage and expressed her happiness at performing with an “amazing’ team of musicians. She was accompanied on the guitar by Melon Jimenez, Pirashanna Thevarajah (classical Indian percussionist) on Mridangam, Ghatam, Kanjira and Moorsing, Sanjeev Shankar on Shehnai and Bernhard Schimpelsberger on Cajon & other Spanish Percussion. They all gave an excellent account of their handwork by cutting out gem-like syllables of rhythm. Accompanying Anoushka on the vocals was the young and melodious Sandra Carrasco, who too was an instant hit with the audience with her Spanish numbers “Beuleria Con Ricardo” and Casiuno “I was one”. Pirashanna Thevarajah is also proficient in the art of Konnakol (performing percussion syllables vocally) and has performed with many classical and contemporary mucisians and dancers like Pt. Ravi Shankar, Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna, Mandolin U. Shrinivas, Anoushka Shanakr and Talvin Singh, to name a few.

Daughter of maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar, who was Indian music’s first international star, and half-sister to Grammy winner Norah Jones, Anoushka commenced the concert with “Rag Bhairvi”. She gave an excellent account of her versatility by displaying “todas” in the end. Pirashanna Thevarajah on Mridangam, Ghatam, Kanjira and Moorsing mesmerised the audience with his drumming techniques and won a thunderous applause. The audience could not help breaking into raptures of delight to the drumming beats of “Tak Dhin Tak, Dhum Kit Tak Dhum, Takat Dhikit, Tak Tak Dhum”. Anoushka performed the next number with young Andalusian flamenco singer Sandra Carrasco, who performed a Spanish love song about a lover who’s no more with the character. 

The stage got alive with Anoushka’s next rendering, which was “Rag Kirwani”, with the master sitarist synchronised with the other musicians and threw “todas” with improvisations. It slowly began in a six-beat cycle followed by the “teen taal”. “Shehnai” was very prominent in this composition and beautifully played by Sanjeev Shankar, grandson of legendary Shehnai player Pt. Anant Lal. This was followed by “Rag Raag Manj Khamaj” in which flamenco Guitarist Melon Jimenez displayed his techniques of plucking the guitar, with Bernhard Schimpelsberger on Cajon and Spanish percussion. The entire orchestra played it as fusion in the beginning in Classical Hindustani style and later played the same piece in Flamenco style. The finale had the serene Anoushka playing with her “misrav’ on the strings of the sitar, an un-named Rag which she had composed herself. . She performed another rendering after a request of enchor from the audience. The audience, quite appropriately, gave Anoushka a roaring applause as she wound up the concert. 

Sanjeev Kumar on “Shehnai” has toured the US with Pt Ravi Shankar and has performed at music festivals in India, Japan and Europe. He is currently pursuing doctoral degree under the guidance of sitar maestro Pt. Ravi Shankar. Pirashanna Thevarajah (classical Indian percussioniston Mridangam, Ghatam, Kanjira and Moorsing) had his arangetram (first full concert) at age 13 in 1999 in Chennai, India, which was witnessed by renowned musicians like Dr. Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna and many others alike. Melon Jimenez on the guitar is the son of German mother who is a classic pianist and a Spanish father, a flamenco guitarist. He has played on stage with famous artistes like Ketama, Pitingo and Marcos Vidal and is currently the guitarist for Sandra Carrasco and Nina Pastori, combining both their current tours. Bernhard Schimpelsberger (an Austrian) on Cajon & other Spanish Percussion, has toured with artistes Nitin Sawhney, Talvin Singh, Susheela Rahman and Akram Khan. With a Masters Degree in Western Music, Bernhard Schimpelsberger has also studied Indian rhythm with his guru, Tabla player Pt. Suresh Talwalkar and Percussion legend Tirlok Guru in India.
The audience was delighted with the live performance. Corina Brito, a violinist from Atlanta, said: “I enjoyed watching my favorite “Buleria Con Ricardo” which I had earlier watched on youtube when Anoushka Shankar had performed her “Traveller” number in Spain last year.” 
These feelings were echoed by Vempi and Kavita, who work in the IT sector. “We felt great watching this live, breathtaking performance by Anoushka and her band,” they told this writer.

Earlier, Leslie Gordon, Director of Rialto Arts Center, welcomed the patrons and expressed her gratitude to the sponsors. Indian Consulate General Ajit Kumar made the welcome address. 

Daughter of Pt. Ravi Shankar and vocalist Sukanya Rajan Shankar, Anoushka Shankar is deeply rooted in Indian classical music even as she forges new connections between Indian classical music and genres as diverse electronica, jazz and western classical music. Anoushka, 30, has worked with artistes such as Sting, Lenny Kravitz and acclaimed violinist Joshua Bell. In her latest album ‘Traveller”, released in October 2011, she creates an ear-opening fusion of Indian classical music and Flamenco traditions.

Anoushka has been twice nominated for a Grammy Award and is the youngest and the first female recipient of the House of Commons Shield from the British House of Parliament in 1999. She has recently been nominated in the category of “Best Artiste” for the Songlines Awards 2012, for her outstanding talent in the music world.

Anoushka trained with her father since the age of nine and started giving sitar recitals at the tender age of 13. By age 15 she had already performed at the iconic Carnegie Hall. Before age 20 she made three classical Indian sitar records for Angel/EMI under the guidance of her father. She has established herself as one of the foremost classical sitarists of the world.

“Traveller”, her sixth album, was released by the classical music label, Deutsche Grammophon Records. Multi award winning musician Nitin Sawhney comments on the sleeve of the album “Traveller” that “no one embodies the spirit of innovation and experimentation more evidently than Anoushka Shankar”. This is her third in a series of explorative albums. In 2005 she produced “Rise’ followed by “Breathing under Water” (in 2007), a unique collaborative venture between Anoushka and multi-instrumentalist and composer, Karsh Kale.

This is not all – Anoushka has authored the biography of her father, “Bappi - Love of my Life”, has been nominated for Best Supporting actress in “Dance Like a Man” and is India’s ambassador to the United nations World Food Programme. Her face appears on the covers of the March issue of Indian women’s magazine Femina and the February issue of “La Yoga”, a ayurvedic and health magazine in the US.Anoushka lives in London with her artiste husband Joe Wright and 13-month-old son Zubin Shankar Wright. 

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