Anoushka Shankar, Like Father Like Daughter

Photograph Source: Harald Krichel – CC BY-SA 4.0

“Sold out.” Those words have greeted fans of Anousha Shanker when they went online recently to buy tickets for her one and only performance in San Francisco. Her father’s concerts were also sold out. Having been cooped up during the pandemic, The City’s culturally minded citizens snap up tickets for events as soon as they go on sale lest they read “Sold Out” and have to stay at home.

No one today plays the sitar with as much panache, precision and passion as Anoushka. That’s no surprise. The youngest daughter of Ravi Shankar—who first brought his brand of Indian music to the west in the 1960s— Anousha is the half-sister of singer/songwriter/musician Nora Jones.

Like Nora, she has performed jazz, appeared in movies, released more than a dozen albums and received numerous awards. This year, she branched out and became a visiting professor in music business— a subject she knows well from her own experience — at Oxford University in England. For the past two decades, she has lent her name and her music to the cause of refugees and the environment and for global peace and reconciliation.

Anoushka appears on stage at the Herbst Theatre for one evening only, October 18, 2023, starting at 8 p.m., after performances on the East Coast and in Toronto, Montreal, and in Chicago and Seattle. It’s probably too late to catch her in San Francisco this year, but you might catch her when she returns, so keep an eye out. In some ways coming to California is like coming home. As a teenager, she lived in Encinitas and attended San Dieguito Academy where she graced the school as Homecoming Queen. You can’t get more Californian or American than Homecoming Queen. Anoushka is definitely the academy’s most famous graduate.

Music critic, J.D. Considine, noted not long ago in “Downbeat” magazine, that “like her father, the legendary Ravi Shankar, Anoushka is a master of Hindustani classical music, but also open to working outside that tradition in various types of fusion formats.”

Considine added that her “sitar remains constant—not just its sound, but the musical sensibility behind it.”

Anoushka has fused Hindustani music with the blues and with flamenco and has created a strange and wonderful sound.

Born in London, and now 42 years old, she began to play the sitar with her father when she was 8 years old and barely big enough and strong enough to hold the instrument that Ravi made world famous and that can have 18, 19, 20 and 21 strings which are plucked.

Anoushka performed in public for the first time at age 13 in New Delhi, India. Two years later, she worked with her father on the album, Chants of India, which was produced by Beatle George Harrison. At 16, she released her first album, titled simply Anoushka. Fans around the world know her and love her by her first name. No other name is needed.

Over the years, fans have grown to appreciate the ways she has carved out her own style, even as she pays homage to her father’s groundbreaking work. Sitar music in the 21st century isn’t the same as sitar music in the 1960s, when it was linked to rock ‘n’ roll and to psychedelics. But it is no less popular today in the West than it was during the height of the American cultural revolution.

For several years, Anoushka performed fifty or sixty times a year. These days her schedule is far less hectic.

Her Bay Area appearance at the Herbst Theater is rare indeed. She last went on stage in San Francisco in 2007 when she performed at the Fern Grove Festival with Karsh Kale and half-a-dozen other musicians, including drummers and flutists.

Part of that inspiring concert can be viewed on YouTube where it offers a rare opportunity to appreciate Anoushka’s virtuoso skills, along with the technical expertise of her ensemble that performs the traditional music of ancient India with a contemporary twist.

Yes, contrary to popular belief, East does meet West.

There was no advance publicity for the music Anoushka would perform at the Herbst, along with Arun Gosh on Clarinet, Tom Farmer on bass, Sarathy Korwar on drums and Parashanna Thevarajah on percussion. The word “spontaneity” doesn’t seem to exist in Hindi, but Anoushka and her crew sound like they’re playing spontaneously.

No doubt there will be pleasant surprises during the concert, plus familiar melodies reminiscent of the ragas her father performed for Princess Diana and for Margaret Thatcher and who was known during his lifetime as “The Godfather of World Music.”

Anoushka carries on Ravi’s legacy with pride and with love.

Jonah Raskin is the author of Beat Blues, San Francisco, 1955.