Music, daughters motivate Shankar

Boston Globe,  October 2, 2005

Sitar master Ravi Shankar is a legend of Indian music at home and abroad. The era when he taught the Beatles and resisted the overtures of the hippie movement is long gone. More recent disciples include many young Indian virtuosos and Shankar’s daughter Anoushka, who excels in traditional ragas and in the contemporary, globalized sounds of her new album “Rise.” The other famous Shankar daughter is singer Norah Jones. Shankar, still an active and passionate musician at 85, comes to Symphony Hall tonight with Anoushka and a passel of other musicians. He spoke with us from New York a few days ago.

Q. Has Western appreciation of Indian music changed over the years?

A. It has changed so much. When I started in the mid-1950s, just a small audience was curious about Indian music. But none of the musicians had any concept of the Western audience. They would do the same thing as in India, playing Darbari Kanada [a very slow raga that can take hours to unfold] and so on.

We needed to edit, like in film. We already had this system in South India, of starting a concert with shorter items. I started performing in that manner. And I became very popular, which was good because it was attracting more audience.

After almost 11 years, George Harrison became my student I’m sure you know that whole story, and you know that I had a lot of problems with that. But I didn’t sell [out] I didn’t become raga-rock. I was very strong about preserving the traditional form.

Q. What about now?

A. And the whole thing changed gradually. Now all these great young musicians are coming more and more. But still most of them have 95 percent Indians in their audience. I’ve made it a point that my audience is always [heavily] local. The difference now is that you know people are interested in India for the spiritual side, and they are much more open to the fine points of the music.

Q. A few years ago, you held a concert to mark your retirement from touring. What inspired you to come back?

A. This time is different. I’ve got 10 wonderful musicians with me, and they will play some of my old and new compositions in the first half, with my daughter Anoushka on the sitar. After the intermission I will play, with Anoushka.

Q. Tell me about some of the musicians.

A. Ravichandra Kulur is a fantastic flutist from Bangalore. Ramachandra from Madras is a fantastic violinist. We have a young veena player who lives in London, Hari Sivenesan. My very advanced student, Parthosarathi, is playing the sarod.

Q. You have two musician daughters who have become celebrities in their own right.

A. First of all, I am really grateful and happy for this double blessing. As far as Norah is concerned, she is completely American. She was born here and raised here, and grew up with jazz, country and western, and everything, and she is doing the music she loves. Anoushka is different because from the age of 8 she was with me, and studied with me. She is extraordinarily talented not just playing the sitar but writing, conducting, even modeling, in everything she does. And when she performs, I feel she is completely what I gave her. Though of course everyone has their own individuality.

Q. Do you draw inspiration from her work?

A. Not her work, but when she performs with me I become very inspired. I get into a very special height of creativity.

Q. After all these years and accomplishments, what motivates you to work every day?

A. I guess it is music itself. It is part of me, it’s everything that is important to me. Going on 86, it’s what has kept me alive.