Friday, August 22, 2014

Sister, Sister

I’m perfecting my Rip Van Winkling.  So much happens in the world — interesting things that you think I’d keep my ear to the ground about — but I don’t find out about it till much later.  Why didn’t I know about some of these things?  How come I didn’t learn about them when they were new?  Where was my mind at the time?  I might as well have been sleeping for 20 years after drinking and playing nine-pins with Henry Hudson’s ghost.

Ravi Shankar (1920-2012)
One thought that’s lightly crossed my mind a few times over the past few years is what a collaboration between Anoushka Shankar and Norah Jones would sound like.  I’m guessing that anyone reading this blogpost already knows that both of them are daughters of the late Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar, probably the world’s most famous avatar of his instrument.  Anoushka Shankar, a sitarist herself, is the daughter of the Indian woman that the sitar maestro eventually married, while Norah Jones is the progeny of his relationship with the American concert promoter Sue Jones.  

Growing up, the London-born Anoushka divided her time between the British capital and India but went to secondary school in California, studying the sitar with her father the whole time and eventually establishing a career as a sitarist.  Norah Jones was born in New York and raised in Texas, where she was immersed in jazz and the blues.  All of this (as you likely already know) lead in time to Jones’s multi-platinum pop-jazz album Come Away with Me (2002) and a huge career in the music industry.  According to the Los Angeles Times, Jones grew up knowing of Anouska, but Shankar fille was in her teens before learning the existence of her half-sister.   The two didn’t meet each other until 1997, when Anoushka was 16 and Norah was 18.  Given the seemingly complicated history between Ravi Shankar’s families, this set the stage for a lot of potential discord between them, potential discord that apparently never came to pass.  I’m relieved that Anoushka and Norah seem to get along so well.

Given the women’s common paternity but widely divergent lives and musical specialties, I sometimes wondered over the years what they would sound like if they ever worked together.  Well, I know now — a full year after the release of their first single from Anoushka Shankar’s album Traces of You, which features three collaborative songs.  I have embedded the video for the title track at the top of the post.  (Why I didn’t know about the album when it was released is a question that flummoxes me.)  Sadly, Ravi Shankar died while Anoushka was working on Traces of You.  One track from the album, “Unsaid,” is in their father’s memory.  “Unsaid” has lyrics by Anoushka Shankar and music by Norah Jones, their only co-authored song on the CD, a felicitous instance of a family’s grief healed by a family’s unity.  

So, after all these years of wondering what Norah Jones and Anoushka Shankar would sound like together, their three songs in collaboration on Traces of You finally answer my question — but for some strange reason, I didn’t learn of the album’s existence until a year after it came out.  Now, with that query satisfied, I can go back to sleep for 20 years.

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