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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Album review: Anoushka Shankar re-embraces electronics and cross-genre collaborations in Land of Gold

Ravi Shankar's daughter offers a meditative response to the refugee crisis, fusing the classical sitar with theatrical soundscapes and contemporary collaborations.
Land of Gold by Anoushka Shankar. Courtesy Deutsche Grammophon
Land of Gold by Anoushka Shankar. Courtesy Deutsche Grammophon

Land of Gold

Anoushka Shankar

(Deutsche Grammophon)

Four stars

To be the offspring of a celebrity carries great blessings and burdens. Whatever your own achievements, they will always be filtered through a prism of presumed nepotism. The critical daggers hover with suspicion and malice before a note is played.

A case in point is classical sitarist Anoushka Shankar. She is the daughter of the late Ravi Shankar, who was not only the instrument’s best-known practitioner but, thanks to The Beatles, arguably the first “world-music” star.

Shankar – who will perform her new album at Dubai Opera on October 15 – first appeared on stage alongside her father at the age of 10, gave her first solo sitar recital at 13, and signed a record deal at 16. She released a debut album based on her father’s raga adaptations, 1998’s Anoushka, while still in secondary school.

Since her father’s death in late 2012, eyes and ears have focused more heavily on Shankar than ever, as the presumed heir apparent. After a decade of dabbling with electronica, flamenco and pop, last year’s Home marked a return to the 35-year-old virtuoso’s classical roots. It was an emotional, inward-looking “offering” to her late father, which only lengthened the shadow he casts over her career.

With Land of Gold, in contrast, Shankar looks out at the world with a musical “cry against injustice” inspired by the refugee ­crisis. This album, her eighth studio release, also finds Shankar re-embracing electronics and cross-genre collaborations.

The largely instrumental album frames Shankar’s sitar in a rich, sympathetic soundscape. Key textures are provided by celebrated hang player and co-writer Manu Delago. A second, improvisational voice is found in Sanjeev Shankar, a student of her father’s who plays the shehnai, an Indian woodwind instrument. Along with Shankar’s sitar, this core acoustic trio provide an organic, human counterpoint to pop producer Matt Robertson’s at-times ­overpowering electronics.

Vocals are used sparingly and pointedly. Rapper M I A.’s voice is looped relentlessly over the ambient grove of Jump In (Cross the Line).

German-Turkish singer Alev Lenz voices the title track, a tender, string-led ballad with snaking sitar lines and haunting harmonies.

Veteran British actress Vanessa Redgrave reads a monologue on the melodramatic misstep that is Remain the Sea.

The influence of cinema is palpable, with Shankar’s husband, film director Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice, Atonement) serving as the album’s producer – but at times the effect is more melodramatic schlock horror than airy art-house contemplation. Last Chance lilts like a tired wanderer, before breaking out into a frantic movie chase. A BBC news report emerges midway through the spiralling, piano-led minimalist Dissolving Boundaries.

More expressive moments come when Shankar’s sitar is given the space to soar – the epic Crossing The Rubicon offers an 11-minute excursion of haunting honesty and fiery exorcism, as spirited as it is spiritual.

rgarratt@thenational.ae