Anoushka Shankar Joins Father On The Raga Road To Fame

Ravi Shankar's teenage daughter releases second album, Anourag, and tours with dad.

Bearing a famous name is difficult enough, but following in your father's footsteps is a potential ego crusher.

Sitarist Anoushka Shankar, however, who has just released her second album, Anourag, claims to have no such problems as the daughter of Indian sitar master Ravi Shankar.

"I was brought up in the public eye," she said. "I was raised in a family where being on view is normal."

At 19, she's achieved more than most performers. Two years ago the British Parliament awarded her the rare House of Commons shield in honor of her artistry. She has performed with classical orchestras, worked with former Beatles member George Harrison, who produced her father's Chants of India album, and released her eponymous debut in 1998.

Still, "I'm not doing much more than the average successful kid who gets good grades and does a lot," she said.

"She's driven," Ken Hunt, journalist and Ravi Shankar biographer, said. "She's her father's daughter, both genetically and musically. She has the same fire for the music he has." The heat she can generate is demonstrated in her playing on "Yaman Kalyan" (RealAudio excerpt).

Shankar, who grew up in England, India and California, began learning the sitar from her father when she was 9, at her mother's behest.

"My dad didn't want to teach me," she said. "He wanted to wait until I went to him. It was uncomfortable and difficult at first. But by the time I was 11, I was playing better and grew to enjoy it."

Shankar made her professional debut at 13, and has been regularly joining her 80-year-old father onstage since, first as an accompanist and more recently as a soloist. "For the past year, as he can't perform a full show anymore, I play the first half on my own, then accompany him in the second half."

Anourag, with its six Ravi Shankar compositions, including "Shuddha Sarang" (RealAudio excerpt), places her directly in the spotlight.

None of the pieces was written expressly for the CD, however. "They were pieces he'd already composed that I was performing, or stuff he'd taught me that wasn't finished. But I liked the way they sounded and wanted people to hear them."

Father and daughter duet on "Pancham Se Gara" (RealAudio excerpt), something that meant a lot to Anoushka because, she said, "I don't think he's done that with anyone else before."

She will play some dates with her father during her Full Circle tour, now under way. She will also perform another of his works, "Sitar Concerto No. 1," which she debuted with conductor Zubin Mehta and the London Symphony Orchestra when she was 16. Performing the opus with orchestras around the United States will be a bit nerve-wracking, she said, because it forces the orchestra to work in an unfamiliar musical style. "It's not Western classical music, so it's not part of their training and it doesn't come naturally."

Many people view Anoushka as the keeper of the Shankar flame. "There's a lot of external pressure on me, people looking for the family tradition to continue. But my father just wants me to be happy; he's always said that."

But even with two albums under her belt, she doesn't feel comfortable yet. One thing missing from her work, she admitted, is improvisation. "Right now she's playing with her father's trademark style," Hunt said. "But she's still young, and I think she'll reach the stage of spontaneous creation."

And Shankar herself knows how far she has to go — both musically and geographically. "I'm only just starting to tour solo, so I haven't done a solo tour in India yet, which is the real test."