A true star on the sitar – Anoushka Shankar

Her father is the legendary Ravi, affectionately known as ‘Pandit’ or teacher, such are his skills and fame with the Indian instrument. So it’s no surprise that Anoushka was ‘immersed’ in the instrument from an early age. We’ll get the chance to hear the sublime skills she learned from her father tonight – the first night of a tour that takes in 20 shows across the US as well as the UAE capital’s annual festival. Anoushka explains: “My dad was my only teacher, so as far as lessons and learning sitar went, it was all with him. I started very young, around eight or nine, and when I started learning, neither mum or dad forced me to play, they did explain that I should only play if I wanted to. “But they did impress upon me the dedication it would take. I started off with half an hour or an hour a day, but within a few years I was up to three or four hours every day.” Her latest album ‘Traveller’ fuses Flamenco and Indian music and the title is quite apt, given that she was brought up in London, California and New Delhi by her superstar father. “If I was on a tour of India with dad, things would be quite intense. When we travelled I wouldn’t go to school, I would sometimes play six to eight hours a day with his other students,” she explains. “But I found learning the technique to be quite calming. Even in piano, I would love all the Hanon exercises and even now, I don’t do the scales so regularly but I do find it soothing and familiar.” It’s no surprise that Anoushka has less time for scales and practice. Married to ‘Atonement’ movie director Joe Wright and based in London, she’s the proud mum of one-year-old son Zubin. But she’s learning to combine family and career. Anoushka says: “It is tricky, but it’s changing every day. In Europe, he could come on the entire tour, it was really fun to take him on the tour bus. But now he has got that little older and, with the flights in America, I won’t be taking him so much. But his daddy is happy with that. It’s a balancing act. “When the tour is over, I’m going to use a friend’s house to work so I can go in a few hours a day. If I’m at home, every time I hear him laugh I want to see what he is doing so it’s difficult to write!” Anoushka is proud to be carrying on the family tradition. And although dad is now 91, he’s still her favourite collaborator. She’s worked with everyone from Sting to Herbie Hancock and half-sister Norah Jones. But she says: “Actually we just did an amazing show together in February in Bangalore – it was the first time we’d played together in over a year, because I was so busy with my son. But it felt really amazing to play with him again – as well as just playing together, we have this very close thing on stage that I just don’t have with anyone else. I finish the American tour in California, where he lives so we’ll all hang back a little and catch up.”

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