"Raviji looks at her and says, `My God, she reminds me frighteningly of myself when I was young,'" recounts her mother, Sukanya. Anoushka is the only musician to have been trained exclusively by Ravi Shankar. As the maestro celebrates his 80th birthday, Anoushka comes across as a younger reflection, a continuation of the family heritage. When she was just 9, the master fashioned a baby sitar for her, teaching her fingers the language of music, and at 13 she made her musical debut, to glowing reviews. She's performed as a soloist with the London Symphony Orchestra, with Zubin Mehta conducting, and she's the only female and the youngest person to receive Britain's House of Commons Shield for her artistry.
In short, Anoushka is a celebrity in her own right. She has recently been interviewed by Vanity Fair and People. Stella McCartney is designing her wardrobe (with Mary McCartney photographing it for The New York Times). But her rise has hardly been sudden. The stir she's causing this summer grows out of her 1998 appearance at Peter Gabriel's WOMAD Festival in Seattle, followed by Carnegie Hall and Town Hall in New York. Then this June, she took part in a concert in London at the Royal Opera House, along with Madonna, Vanessa Redgrave, and Miranda Richardson, performing for the Tibetan Peace Garden appeal, organized by Trudie Styler, rock star Sting's wife.
Celebrity, of course, has been with Anoushka all her life. Her new fame has been a mix of the famous and old friends, including ex-Beatle George Harrison, who brought her father's music to the attention of young people in the West a generation ago now. Says Anoushka, "I call him Uncle George. He's one of my father's best friends and they are very, very close. He and Bapi [Bengali for daddy] have such a corny sense of humor, you put them together and they get a million times cornier! They both feed on each other, and they are really funny."
Along with the spotlight of celebrity and music, Ravi Shankar bestowed his faith. "Music is very spiritual for him," says Sukanya. "Often, he'll just sit alone and play--and it's like a prayer for him. His ragas are all spontaneously created, and only later does he check them for technicalities and put them right. A lot of the ragas have been created in temples--he's been inspired and created the music."
The Shankars have lived in California for many years, Hindu culture is as much a given in their home as it is in their music. "She's seen a lot of rituals growing up," says her mom. "Wherever we've been, we've been Hindus, and observed all traditions and rituals." She adds, "Anoushka chants Sanskrit slokas beautifully. She's read the Mahabharata seven or eight times. And each time Karna dies, she cries. And I tell her, Anoushka, you've read it before--you know what's going to happen!"
Whether it's daily prayers or rituals, Anoushka has absorbed them all by osmosis. She explains, "When my parents are home, I don't do puja. But when they're away, I do it because I feel the puja should not be neglected."
Anoushka, meanwhile, has merged her Hindu side with her American lifestyle and found a perfect balance--a true California Sitar Girl, as one magazine billed her. Her taste in music includes Bob Marley, German bass, Rage Against the Machine, and Goan trance, as well as Western classical music and flamenco.
New York's "Downtown" scene has discovered too. Her recent concert at Summerstage in Central Park saw her sandwiched between rock bands. She says, "It was fun for me because it was a very different audience--people my age. It's such a broad type of music. It's classical music, so it's lovely to play in beautiful halls but at the same time it's extremely exciting music that young people love, too, so it's more about giving it the exposure so that people can discover it."
She's still discovering it herself. Her first album, a solo debut titled simply "Anoushka," was recorded on her father's label, Angel/EMI Classics. Her new CD, "Anourag," takes her further. "Some of it is very soothing, some of it exciting," she says. "I've done a little less of the flashy things that I did on the last CD and a little more of the serious material."
Yet even as she finds her own voice and creates her own persona, her father's impact is still very much there. On "Anourag," six of the tracks were composed by Ravi Shankar, mostly traditional ragas. On "Pancham Se Gara," the final track, Anoushka is her father's accompanist--the role she has performed in all their concerts together.
In a true father and daughter enterprise, the pair will share the stage in the "Full Circle" tour that has been on the road since August. Yet she is also beginning to shape her solo flight. On this tour, she will be playing the maestro's Sitar Concerto No. 1 with major U.S. orchestras in cities as diverse as Des Moines, Boston, Nashville, Sarasota, New York, Chicago, and Tucson.
Will people look at her through Ravi-Shankar-tinted glasses, or is the talent genuinely there? Anoushka says simply: "I really believe people will listen to me once because I'm his daughter, but if they listen to me a second time, it's because I'm good."
The two have a very close relationship, melding that of guru and disciple with that of parent and child. As she admits, "He's old enough to be my mother's father, so really there's this huge generation gap, and music has really brought us together. We also love to watch old movies together, especially Alfred Hitchcock films."
The family has recently opened the Ravi Shankar School in New Delhi, and the building will be ready this winter. It is a huge place, with an auditorium, recording studio, archives, teaching facilities, and rooms for students. The school will host regular concerts of artists and also train a few selected students in the old tradition, while the family installs itself in living quarters on the top floor. Anoushka, who will teach some master classes, is excited at the prospect. "I've lived in India in that style every winter all my life anyway. I'm ready for that change now."
In India, sons of famous musicians traditionally carry on the music of the gharana, or family. With the opening of this grand new school, Anoushka becomes one of the very female musicians to create a father and daughter tradition. What could be a more joyful raga?