The history of the migration of gipsies from India to Spain during the Middle Ages has today become one of the dominant influences of the Grammy-nominated Indian sitarist v's new album Traveller.
Tomorrow night, Shankar will be performing in the capital for the first time at Emirates Palace as part of the Abu Dhabi Festival, accompanied by a six-member band for a night of raga-flamenco music that retraces the link between Spanish and Indian sounds.
Shankar is the daughter of the Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar, who is widely credited as the first to bring classical Indian music to the West in the late 1950s. She is also the only musician to have been taught exclusively by him.
"Traveller is a product of so many things. I believe each of my previous albums led me to it. My last two records, including Breathing Under Water, were non-classical, exploratory and ambitious, so after that I wanted to focus on exploring a smaller idea more fully," said Shankar from her home in London. "I love flamenco music very much and the idea of the album was intriguing. The word 'journey' is more about the exploration, not the destination. It is connecting the ancient with the modern."
The album Breathing Under Water featured a collaboration with her half-sister, the Grammy-Award winning American singer Norah Jones (Geetali Norah Jones Shankar) on the song Easy. Released in 2007, the album also features the English singer, songwriter and activist Sting.
Shankar has also collaborated with Lenny Kravitz, the American DJ duo Thievery Corporation and has shared the stage with other artists such as Madonna and Elton John.
"Collaborating with musicians is a lot of fun, especially when they are of a certain calibre because when you step outside of your comfort zone, it makes you grow," she said. "Collaboration comes with this amazing energy. It's very electric and I learn from those experiences. It's very exciting because I work with people that I really like."
In 2010, Shankar married the British director Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice, Atonement, The Soloist), whom she met while he was scouting film locations in India. It was while she was pregnant with her son that she worked on Traveller. The album was produced by the Latin Grammy-award-winning Spanish musician Javier Limon.
"It was incredible. I found out that I was pregnant after we began work for the album and I made the decision to carry on as planned," she said. "The pregnancy and record really influenced each other. Balancing family and career, I feel, is an ongoing learning experience because every stage of the child's life is different, so it's building around that."
A music studio is also being built in their home, where her husband spends much of his time editing, so the family can spend more time together.
"I've always been a working woman, with a need to be creative," said Shankar.
Her musical journey began when she was approximately seven years old and by the age of 15 she was playing at venues such as Carnegie Hall in Manhattan. She often toured with her father, was twice nominated for a Grammy and became the first Indian musician to perform at the ceremony in 2006. She was also the youngest and the first woman to be nominated in the World Music category for her 2002 album, Live at Carnegie Hall.
In 1999, she also became the youngest and the first female to receive the House of Commons Shield from the British House of Parliament.
"Music is so ingrained in my life. It's something I grew up around and am familiar with. Being around the magic of my father's performance and learning to play with him was also inspiring," said Shankar. This allowed for a deeper relationship to be forged between the two, and eventually a biography of her father she co-authored, called Bapi: The Love of my Life.
Following her Abu Dhabi performance, Shankar will continue on her world tour which will see her visit locations across North America and Europe.
Tickets for her Abu Dhabi concert, which starts at 8pm tomorrow at the Emirates Palace Auditorium, cost Dh495 for Diamond and Dh295 for Pearl (Balcony). Visit www.abudhabifestival.ae for more information.
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