The two musically accomplished daughters of late Indian musical legend Ravi Shankar have collaborated to pay a tribute to their father, and they've come up with something memorable.
Shankar attained worldwide fame through his mentoring of George Harrison, but his messy personal life is not so well known. He left his first wife, Annapurna Devi, in the 1940s, and in the 1970s had an affair with Sue Jones, an American concert producer, even while in a long-term relationship with another woman. It was with Sue that he had Norah, the multiple-Grammy-winning composer and singer. A few years after, with Sukanya Rajan, an Indian, Shankar fathered Anoushka, a Grammy-nominated sitarist and musician.
Shankar lovingly nurtured Anoushka, and in his later years would showcase her in concerts where he would play a supporting role. On the other hand, his relationship with Norah was notoriously distant, and they reconciled only toward the end of his life. So, it's touching that Anoushka and Norah have come together on the just-released album "Traces of You."
Shankar was famous for bringing the Indian classical sound to the West and for teaming up with a number of Western performers, such as the third Beatle, Yehudi Menuhin, Philip Glass, and John Coltrane (who actually named his son Ravi in Shankar's honor). Anoushka has taken the fusion idea further, displaying easy comfort with Western sounds and instruments in albums such as "Breathing Under Water."
Anoushka had started work on "Traces of You" when her father passed away last year. She reached out to Norah, with whom she had a good relationship by that point. (Norah had put in a guest appearance on "Breathing Under Water.") The result can be appreciated on the new album.
The very first song, "The Sun Won't Set," is an homage to their dad, given deeper meaning because Ravi means sun. "I missed the morning heat fall upon my face/I wish I knew you then, it's always sunset in this place," Norah poignantly sings.
Norah lends her voice to two more songs on the album. The final one is "Unsaid," where Norah heartbreakingly laments: "Were there things I should have done? It's too late, now that you're gone."
Norah came up with the tune of "Unsaid," and in an amazing coincidence, it was eerily similar to the main theme that Ravi composed for the film classic "Pather Panchali," considered to have one of the best soundtracks in the history of cinema.
"When I said that to her, I was surprised to find out that she'd never heard that melody before," Anoushka Shankar told NPR. "It just felt like a lovely affirmation that we were on the right track."
But Norah's appearances are not the only reason to listen to the album. Anoushka has created an extremely listenable fusion sound that is accessible to a Western ear, but that at the same time veers not too far from its Indian roots. Most of the tracks are without vocals (one is a tribute to the victim of last winter's Delhi gang-rape) with melodies that linger on in your mind.
The sitar -- made so famous by the father -- plays a major role.
Ravi Shankar would have been proud.