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passing the sitar

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Her recent album, "Live at Carnegie Hall," was nominated for a 2003 Grammy. (She lost to Reuben Blades, but her older, half-sister Norah Jones walked away with nearly every other award.)

Like her father, Shankar has the ability to bridge the gulf between the Indian and Western musical idioms through transcendence rather than translation. Her virtuosity lies in communicating emotional content without compromising the vocabulary of her art.

Indian classical music is created from archetypal rhythmic and scalar cycles assembled within a complex formal architecture. The structure is modal rather than harmonic, giving the music, however melodic, a hypnotic stillness. There are different ascending and descending scales, primary and secondary notes, and time divisions far removed from the simple 4/4 or waltzes of Western music.

The "discovery" of Indian music by Western musicians in the mid-20th century has had a wide impact, not only on the overt use of the sitar by the Beatles and in world music ensembles, but also in John Coltrane's spiritual scalar improvisations, Jerry Garcia's modal guitar grooves, and in the cyclic minimalism of Philip Glass and John Adams.

While Indian music has had its effect on the West, the reverse may be true as well. Raised in London and California, with family friends like George Harrison, Shankar was exposed to a wide range of music. While her playing is very much within the Indian tradition, it often has the kinetic charisma of a lead guitar; there is adventurousness in her playing as well as serenity.

And there is beauty. The bent notes and rapid decay of the sitar give it a unique sound, precise as a harpsichord and as vocally expressive as a bottleneck blues guitar. The music may spring from a culture thousands of years old and thousands of miles away, but it has a universal, human soul. — Peter McElhinney



Anoushka Shankar plays the Camp Concert Hall at the University of Richmond on Wednesday, April 16, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $13- $26.

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