"We'd written some of the material before," Shankar says, curled on a huge armchair in her
music was cathartic, but promoting the album was traumatic. I was talking so much about him, I'd go home and feel raw." She looks pointedly at me. "After a while, it was just like, 'I can't do this for you guys any more.'"
More than a year later, Shankar is ready to talk about her father again. And it is impossible, in discussing her music, not to feel his shadow: it was Raviji, as Shankar Sr was affectionately known, who began teaching his daughter to play the sitar as a child, on a miniature instrument he had specially made for her.
She was a reluctant student at first - the sitar is a fiendishly difficult instrument to master - but she persevered, and so began a relationship that went beyond that of father and daughter to become that of guru and pupil. They performed together regularly from Shankar's early teens until shortly before her father's death.
But Shankar is a good deal more than just a great man's daughter. Now 32, she is one of the best sitar players in the world; if not, now that her father has passed away, the best. Her seven albums - from 1998's Anoushka, made when she was 17, to last year's Traces of You - run the gamut from pure classical sitar to an eclectic, globalised sound, drawing on everything from flamenco to electronica. That reflects Shankar's restless upbringing: she was born in
This month, Shankar is headlining Alchemy, the annual festival of south Asian arts at the
music. And it has a strong bent towards
It was love that prompted Shankar to move back to
researching a film called Indian
Summer, about the last days of the British Raj. The film came to nothing, but Wright and Shankar fell in love, married the following year, and had a son, Zubin, now three.
Last September, they bought the house we are now sitting in - a former hay-barn in east
"Love is a huge influence," she says of her family's influence on her creativity. "Love and the joy and the pain that come with that. I have a lighter touch with my music now. Music is my passion, it's my fun - but what's really important are the people I build a family with. That comes first."
She is used to fielding a higher degree of interest in her family life than most classical musicians. Shankar's early life was famously unconventional: she was raised in Willesden Green by her mother, Sukanya, and saw little of her father until she was seven, when her parents decided to marry. She didn't meet her half-sister, Norah, until she was 16. But it was all a lot less fraught, Shankar says now with a wry smile, than many have tried to imply. "We've always been very close - it just took a long time for the world to figure that out."
It is a remarkable story: two sisters growing up thousands of miles apart, each developing her own very different musical style. Jones's languid vocals have made her a lounge-jazz star, while Shankar remains firmly rooted in the Indian classical tradition. It is one of the world's most complex musical forms, and one whose purity her father sought fervently to preserve, while also helping her to find her own musical path.
"There was no cutting corners," Shankar says. "But what was amazing about him was that within all that classicism and purity, he found a route to being really creative."
interested in pushing boundaries,
Shankar hasn't only pushed boundaries with the music she writes: she has also pretty much singlehandedly originated the idea that a woman can play the sitar, traditionally a male preserve in
She insists, however, that she has never thought of herself as a pioneer. "My parents were very unusual," she says. "They were pro-women and independence and they wanted me to have my own career. And because of my lineage, every door was opened for me. Coming from somewhere else, I'm sure it would have been harder."
Shankar defines herself as a feminist: as a teenager in
Now Shankar is getting to grips with the practical difficulties of combining motherhood with touring: her Festival Hall date is one stop on a European tour, on which Zubin will accompany her as much as possible. "I always had musicians in my band having children," she says drily, "and their wives were the ones at home taking care of the kids. So I never thought much of it. And then suddenly I'm the parent, but I'm the woman, and it's like, 'Ah, what happens now?'"
Then, in September, she's curating a series of concerts at
As for what it will sound like - well, we'll just have to wait and see. "I never quite know where I'm going next," Shankar says with a broad smile. "I don't know if that's a bad thing, but that's how it always is for me."
'Every door was opened for me' . . . (clockwise from left)
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