Anoushka Shankar: Rise

Matt Cibula

Gone are the strict raga compositions, tweaked ever-so-slightly; these are songs that use raga bases, and they are filled with as many hooks as drones.

Anoushka Shankar


Label: Angel
US Release Date: 2005-09-27
UK Release Date: Available as import
iTunes affiliate
Amazon affiliate

She's really onto something, here.

Anoushka Shankar's previous albums, depending on who you are, are either quite beautiful expressions of Indian raga music or horrible abominations that are barely worthy of mention. (Read some of the reviews sometime, if you want to see the split between the two.) Not being an angry young Indian person who demands authenticity above all else, I fall mostly into the former camp. But I've been kind of underwhelmed so far; sure, they were nice, but Anoushka and Anourag were both a little boring, both too much in the shadow of her father, the single biggest worldwide name in raga sitar composition and performance. After all, why buy the Anoushka when the Ravi is free, or at least plentiful? (Plus, she was barely 17 when her first record came out.)

Well, here she is, at age 24, taking the fresh step, with fine and fun results. Gone are the strict raga compositions, tweaked ever-so-slightly; these are songs that use raga bases (only one is over 10 minutes!), and they are filled with as many hooks as drones. On "Sinister Grains", her sitar sound is tarted up with effects to create a wall of weird sounds, and on a couple of tracks, Shankar doesn't even play sitar at all, just keyboards. I'm sure the moldy-mango traditionalists will go nutfire on this one, but I think it's all for the better.

Turns out homegirl is a synthesist at heart. Her pianist, Ricardo Miño, mixes in Cuban and South American and flamenco stylings; she takes four lines her father wrote and turns them into a grand suite called "Mahadeva" that sounds more like an A.R. Rahman film composition than anything on a "Now That's What I Call Raga" comp; it's clear from "Sinister Grains" that she's been hearing Karsh Kale and Midival Punditz and the various bhangra boiz try to integrate Indian classical music with electronic and dance culture. It's experimental, perhaps, but in an extremely ear-friendly way.

The biggest happiness here, however, is how ego-less Anoushka turns out to be. Sure, there are look-at-me workouts (the sexy "Naked", especially, where it's just her on sitar and synths) but she allows Miño a lot of room on tracks like "Solea", where he plays Young Herbie Hancock to her Miles Davis. She calls in Vishwan Mohan Bhatt, one of her father's prized pupils, to play the veena slide guitar on "Prayer in Passing", but their interplay is more about the music than about itself. The tracks with vocals seem just as heartfelt as the ones without.

The measure of Shankar's selflessness is how she lets the best track on the album be completely taken over by her two tabla players, Tanmoy Bose and Bikram Ghosh. They are playing on "Red Sun", but they also collaborate on one of the most exciting exhibitions of bol vocalizing I've ever heard. (Bol is where a tabla player uses nonsense syllables and sounds to imitate the lightning-fast sounds of his percussion.) Over an uptempo and dance-savvy beat, they spit wordless phrases at each other, trading lines like old jazz guys hopped up on curry powder. Sometimes they become suddenly multiple through tracking; at the end, they somehow manage to sing the same impossible lines simultaneously with the suddenly-introduced rock drumbeat. It is, simply, the future of world music.

Pretty soon, people will stop having to mention the whole "she's Ravi's daughter" thing in every review.* Anoushka Shankar might end up being just as interesting, in her own way, as anyone else in her family. Yeah, I said it. Because, after the promise and guts shown in Rise, she's earned it.

* And, of course, the identity of her famous half-sister. Ho-hum, unless they record together, which would be awesome.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.