The Father and Child solution

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April 23, 2002 // UPDATED 1:18 pm - April 30, 2007
By: Dean J. Seal
Dean J. Seal

Ravi and Anoushka Shankar bring two generations of sitar virtuosity to the State Theater

There's something cool about watching a gig being passed from parent to child. If it's done right, the offspring carries the continuity of the parent's life into a new era, and brings something original to the process.

That is what we can see happening right here on the State Theater stage when Ravi and Anoushka Shankar come May 3 for a dual concert.

Ravi is the world's most famous Indian musician and, according to the late George Harrison, the leading edge of World Music, the first great musician to bring non-western music to the west. His 21-string sitar has a 2,000-year-old classical tradition, but one that's based on improvisation.

The 85-year-old dad is joining his 21-year-old daughter on her tour. While she is doing dozens of dates, Dad only comes to certain cities.

"I only try to accept the programs that play in major places, like Chicago, Paris, London, San Francisco, Minneapolis -- places where I feel like playing," he said.

The color of emotion

Asked how much of Indian raga -- a musical method of coloring the listener's mind with an emotion -- is structured versus improvised, Ravi said, "I have always been very much into improvisation as much as possible. And I will say I go as far as 90 to 95 percent, because raga is a cluster of notes ascending and descending. Each time, I play with different embellishments and ornamentation, within the chamber of the raga -- all the rules and regulations -- and still be free as much as possible."

Ravi has seen a seismic shift in interest in world music in the last few years. "The big impact came after George became my student, and this was from early '60s. All over the world the young people wanted to listen to sitar," he said. "Especially after 'Norwegian Wood,' or whatever he played, that became really popular, a fad in the pop sense. I not only performed, but I talked about it. I gave demonstrations and explained what raga is, all that. During the last eight to ten years, the interest has become not just a fad, but really much more, and people are more understanding than before."

While many people find raga to be transporting into another time and place, its spiritual roots should not be oversold. "There are hundreds and thousands of ragas," Ravi explained. "So the spiritual aspect is always there in our music; but at the same time, it is not only spiritual but we have a lot of rhythmic aspect, a lot of fun, lot of interplay with the drums, and all the different modes.

"The spiritual aspect evolves into what we call our devotion. And it can fall into complete tranquility. And we have this tremendous amount of love aspect, and, of course, a lot of sadness."

Proud papa

Ravi discusses his daughter with a detached pride, a professional evaluation touched with satisfaction. When asked if she is more classical or more modern, he knew where to put her.

"At present, she's a classicist," he said. "It's the way I have groomed her from the age of 9. She plays music that is very traditional."

He added, "Our music has never stood still -- for the past 2,000 years, it has gone on developing. But you shouldn't misunderstand that this present strain of 'fusion,' all this cocktail-hodge-podge, and making gimmicky things, and making new things just for commercials to sell a new car -- that is a completely different area. Within our classical format, we have so much freedom for a creative person to introduce new things -- new music! That's how she has been groomed; that's what she performs."

Anoushka's new record "Live From Carnegie Hall" shows her, pardon my French, kicking some live ass. There is an American accent when she speaks, and while you never feel like you are listening to anything that is not Indian music, there seems to be a forceful drive, a young and strong energy to the melody lines. Like her father, there are astonishing shifts of tempo and melody, taking the listener to places unheard.

Aside from watching generational history in the making, what should our expectations be going into the show? "What you should do is just let yourself go and don't have any preconceived idea!" Ravi said. "If you are a person of today who hears jazz or folk all the time, I think you will not have any problem, just let yourself go and let the music do the work itself. Don't try hard to understand!"