Worlds of roots

Anoushka Shankar, the blues, and other international delights
By TED DROZDOWSKI  |  September 13, 2006

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NATURAL TALENT: Is it any wonder that Anoushka’s interests led to the sitar?
It’s no hyperbole to say that ANOUSHKA SHANKAR was born to play sitar. After all, her father, Ravi, is the world’s most famous sitarist, and she’s studied with him since she was nine.

“But I never received pressure from my parents,” the 25-year-old virtuoso says. “I knew music was an option and a part of my heritage, yet they put the focus on my being able to enjoy music and explore my own interests. I was allowed to fall in love with the sitar myself. It appealed to my nature because there is a real feeling of reward when you achieve anything on the instrument. I also discovered that playing this music allows you to find the very deepest part of yourself.”

That interior exploration also led Shankar to create her latest album, Rise (Angel), which combines Indian and European classical music, flamenco, didjeridoo, and electronic soundscapes. Although some 40 players appear on the disc, Shankar will re-create its songs with her eight-piece ensemble when she appears at the Berklee Performance Center on October 22.

“I was curious what sort of music I would create if I didn’t have the classical boundaries I usually work in,” she explains. “I listen to a lot of electronica, ambient trance. So I just stepped outside my usual creative interests. The album’s very personal. Other people have called it an inventive world-music/fusion album, but for me it’s a logical, very personal extension of Indian classical music and its avenues, because it’s inspired by ragas.”

Shankar has been performing extensively since her debut recording, 1998’s Anoushka (Angel), and her month-long October tour follows three weeks on the road with her father. As for all foreign artists, the trials of travel to and from the US continue thanks to post-9/11 security measures, trials now compounded by the latest round of air-terrorist arrests in Great Britain.

“I understand why all these rules are in place,” she acknowledges, “but the attitude at the airports does make me nervous. Being Indian, my band and I are always ‘randomly’ selected by security, and when you have to go through that every couple of days, it brings a negative energy to your being, which is difficult, because the music I play is about summoning positive energy.”

If Indian classical music and old-school American blues have a crossroads, it’s positive energy. Both forms are designed to help cure what ails the mind and spirit. So it’s fitting that another major event on the local roots calendar is the 11th annual free BOSTON BLUES FESTIVAL, at the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade next weekend, September 23 and 24, from noon to 6 pm.

Despite being a Herculean task, the festival is run by its founder and organizer, WBRS blues disc jockey Greg Sarni, with a mere handful of volunteers and sponsors, under Sarni’s non-profit Blues Trust Productions umbrella. On Saturday he’s arranged a reunion of Anson Funderburgh and singer Darrell Nulisch, the duo who formed Texas blues outfit the Rockets 30 years ago. Jimmy & the Soul Cats, Boston Blues Express, Loaded Dice, and Mary Lou Ferrante will also play. On Sunday another Texas legend, Finus Tasby, headlines with guests Enrico Crivellaro and local hero Brian Templeton of the Radio Kings. Sixties revivalists the Soul Band, the Dave Hannon Band, and a trio of Bill McQuaid, Jim Fitting, and Steve Sadler will also perform; visit www.bluestrust.com.

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