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Music Review: Love Letters EP, Anoushka Shankar

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After a brief Sitar intro, the vocalist takes over, singing “Does she feel younger than me, as you’re lying in your bed? Does she feel younger than me, or that is in my head?” Titled ‘Bright Eyes’, the opening track of Anoushka Shankar’s new EP Love Letters shows what’s in store.

The six songs, written after Shankar’s divorce from filmmaker Joe Wright, talk of heartbreak, memories, turmoil, and healing. Though the Sitar exponent has earlier been part of vocal tracks like ‘The Land Of Gold’, sung by Alev Lenz, and ‘Traces Of You’, a dedication to her father Pandit Ravi Shankar and featuring her half-sister Norah Jones, this is the first time she’s dedicated an entire EP to songs with words – five in English and one in Punjabi.

Interestingly, the Sitar is used appropriately to just embellish the songs, instead of dominating the sound. And to lend variety, she’s used vocalists with different styles. The lyrics, again a joint effort, shift from the introspective to the hard-hitting and sarcastic.

Besides the Enya-esque ‘Bright Eyes’, German singer-pianist Lenz collaborates with Anoushka Shankar on ‘Space’, ‘Wallet’ and ‘In Your Mouth’. While the uptempo ‘Space’ talks of the unfairness of only one partner requiring freedom, ‘Wallet’ has blunt and scathing lines like, “Did I owe him more of myself, My heart, my soul, my body, rob it? Did I not have a voice, just because he used his wallet?”

Paris-based sister duo Ibeyi renders ‘Lovable’, where they ask, “Am I still lovable if you stop loving me?” Though an accent comes in while using the word ‘stop’, the singing is soulful here. For an Indian flavour, Shilpa Rao sings Punjabi lines on ‘Those Words’, which also features composer-cellist Ayanna Witter-Johnson. With its nostalgia-filled lyrics, the song impresses with its easy lounge feel and melodic sitar phrases.

The songs grow on repeated listening, and for Shankar, it’s a very personal work. To promote the album, the artiste did a show at the Shanmukhananda Hall, Sion, a fortnight ago. Besides Lenz, it featured cellist Danny Keane, bassist Nina Harries, vocalist Nikki Wells, and percussionist Pirashanna Thevarajah.

Apart from the six songs from Love Letters, Shankar rendered her older tunes ‘Boat To Nowhere’, ‘Land Of Gold’, ‘Traces Of You’, ‘Voice Of The Moon’ and ‘Reunion’. A highlight was the still-to-be-released ‘Sister Susanna’, which blended Anoushka’s poetry recitation with melodic vocals and talked of the demands made by partners in a relationship.

Undoubtedly, Anoushka Shankar has come a long way. Initially, she faced comparisons with her legendary father, which though natural were also unfair. But by doing classical concerts and a variety of crossover projects simultaneously, and collaborating with artistes like Sting and Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, she has developed a fan following of her own.

That was evident at the Mumbai show, where many in the audience not only knew her older pieces but also queued up to meet her after the show, though most weren’t successful. Love Letters is yet another step forward.

Narendra Kusnur

Author: Narendra Kusnur

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