Sunday, October 23, 2011

Rendered Beautifully: Anoushka Shankar’s Traveller

With all the political turmoil in the world today, it’s comforting to know that music continues to be such a unifying force. On her new album Traveller (Deutsche Grammophon), sitarist Anoushka Shankar brings the music and rhythms of India and Spain together in one remarkable recording.

At first glance, it may seem odd to couple the multiple beats of Indian classical music with Spanish flamenco, but that’s not the case. History tells us that flamenco music arrived with the exodus of the so-called “Untouchables” from the Punjab c. 800 AD. These gypsies, who were considered persons of low caste, traveled across Asia through what is now known as the Middle East, eventually settling in Europe. Carrying what was quite possibly all their worldly possessions, including instruments, they brought with them the music and rhythms of their culture and then connected with new sounds along the way. Traveller is an exploration of this cultural merger and Shankar and a host of exceptional Indian and Spanish musicians have beautifully rendered it.

Traveller is an album that succeeds because it is rooted in rhythm which allows the music to rise up naturally. But I think it’s the talent of the composers Javier Limon and Anoushka Shankar who have created songs here that are not specifically Indian or Spanish, but a fusion of the two traditions. Consider the song, "Si No Puedo Verla" (translated as “If I Cannot See”). Limon and Shankar use a lyric originally written in Farsi. Then they translate it into Spanish and have it sung by Duquende, the rising Cantaor who is a member of Paco Lucia’s sextet. I've heard him with Lucia's band and his heartfelt tones pour over the listener with grace.

Javier Limon
"Dancing in Madness" is an extraordinary instrumental that features two dancers, Mythili Prakash, a bharata natyam dancer, and flamenco performer, Farruco. The blending of the sounds are boldly amazing as the performers build a relationship between the two disciplines. But flamenco music is not only about the hand-clapping and dancers, it's also about the guitar. On "Boy Meets Girl," Shankar teams up with Pepe Habichuela for a duet that is delightful to the ear and full of the kind of communication that words do not allow. It's another fine example of how good the musicians are at their respective instruments. The bright sounds of the sitar plus the warm tones of flamenco guitar make for a truly unifying force. Another beautiful combination of words and music is found on the ballad, "Casi Uno" (translated as “Almost”). Vocalist Concha Buika, supported by Shankar’s responses on sitar, performs it with a sublimely intoxicating mixture of the best in Spanish flamenco and Indian music.

The album closes with a decidedly appealing blend of both India and Spain. Simply called "Lola's Lullaby," it features the sitar, tambura, flute and percussion. It's a piece that takes you to the beautiful countryside of India while tapping into the gentleness of Spain's flower gardens. The first time I heard and saw Indian music performed was when I was about 10 years of age. On television one night, was a program that featured Ravi Shankar, Anoushka's father, with his tabla player, Allah Rakha. The sounds and rhythms and Rakha’s careful hand movements were spellbinding. It transcended anything I ever heard before. I always remember fondly how cool it was to see and hear music unique to a country and a culture so different from mine.

"Bhairavi" is an original Shankar instrumental that captures that particular memory for me. It's a straight-ahead Indian composition featuring Tanmoy Bose on tabla and Kenji Ota on tambura. Now some 40 years later, Anoushka Shankar and Javier Limon have taken me on an equally riveting “raga flamenco journey.”

Traveller is currently streaming here. The CD is scheduled for release in North America on October 25th.

John Corcelli is a musician, writer and broadcaster. He is a member of the Festival Wind Orchestra. On November 6th, CBC Radio's Inside the Music presents the documentary Dream Times: The Story of Perth County Conspiracy...Does Not Exist, written and hosted by Kevin Courrier with sound design and production by John Corcelli.

No comments:

Post a Comment