What Indian Raga and Ashtanga Have In Common

Music is big in The Confluence Countdown home. I used to burn playlists for my Ashtanga teacher. (I know—And she played rock music! Shocking!) I was in Austin in the ‘80s and Seattle in the ‘90s. Steve was in Seattle then, too; and like all cool dudes he used to be in a band.

So we’re pretty psyched that Anoushka Shankar is coming to town Saturday. She’s the daughter of Ravi Shankar, and an amazing collaborator. Her work with the sitar is exploratory and experimental, but firmly rooted in the teachings of her father. And man, can she sing. I’m very fond of the work she’s done with Thievery Corporation (who doesn’t love Thievery Corp?), like this remix they did of “Beloved.”

But her new stuff involves the Andalusia region of Spain. It’s been surprising to me to learn that its musical roots are in India, although it’s obvious when you think about it. You can learn more, as well as hear some of the music, in this interview she did for NPR.

Shankar said a few things in the interview that got me thinking. When asked about tradition in Indian music, she said this very interesting thing:

I do feel a commitment to this art form and to my father’s teachings, and the older I am getting, the more I am feeling it, the need to share it. It‘s not just in and of itself having learned from my father, who is the greatest exponent of this musical style. But it is an oral tradition that is only generally passed on in that manner, and so without the people who continue to  learn it and perform it, it dies. And so, in that sense, I feel a great sense of wanting to share the music with people and push it forward.

Push it forward. Her father brought Indian music to the West with his collaboration with jazz musicians

Sitar master Anoushka Shankar, looking back.

and rock stars. But in the interview, when asked about sharing her innovations with her father, Shankar gives a nervous laugh. “He could even just twitch a smile and frown,” she says, “and it’s totally going to send me running in circles. I’m going to think it’s not good enough.”

Innovation and tradition are nervous partners. There is no living form without innovation. At the same time, innovation must keep an accountable eye on tradition. Sounds very familiar, doesn’t it?

Posted by Bobbie

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