On Saturday, September 22, 2001, the Cultural Events Series began its third season with a concert featuring classical Indian prodigy, Anoushka Shankar. Shankar, the daughter of Indian sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar, is carrying the family tradition nicely, from what the Yuba College audience saw.
Taught by her father to play sitar, she is coming into her own. Her musical and personal influences are her father, her mother, whose idea it was for her to start playing sitar, George Harrison, whom she referred to as “A really spiritual guy, a great personal influence on me,” and Sting, whom she will be touring with soon.
Shankar was calm and collected Saturday night, with the exception of a few smiles and giggles between songs. You’d expect that though from a girl who grew up in Southern California, having moved to Encinitas, CA, from London at age 11.
“For me, it’s normal to perform in front of an audience”, she said, “Being on stage feels like the natural thing to do.”
Shankar opened the concert with “Madhuvanti”, which began with interplay between the sitar and the two tampura players, Tony Karasek, and Yuba College professor Neelam Canto-Lugo. The tampuras, instruments that sustain a long, droning note in tune with the piece, laid the foundation for Shankar’s gentle sitar melodies. After this relaxing beginning section, they started playing a definitive rhythm. The raga, or song, then became very fast paced, becoming intense, the rhythms getting very complex, yet she never lost her melodic touch or her focus.
Watching the way she approached her sitar, the audience could tell she was pouring her heart and soul into her music. The tablas, played by Bikram Ghosh and Tanmoy Bose, then completed the structure of the rhythm. The three rhythms overlapped nicely, forming the heart of the raga. The piece ended suddenly, however, the audience didn’t appear to feel as though it was left unfinished.
“I couldn’t figure out how the drums got the full, water-like sounds,” said Yuba College student Katrina Seagraves. “I actually watched the concert the whole way through, it was never boring. Plus, my speech teacher played one of the backup instruments, so it was nice to see that.”
The concert was really enjoyable, and the musicianship was really excellent. The tabla players, Ghosh and Bose, did an exceptional job on “Tabla Duet,” playing very intricate and precise rhythms on their tables. It also included the only vocals of the night. Ghosh and Bose were chanting to each other during the song, it sounded like either they were communicating the rhythms to each other or they were arguing about how the rhythm should go. It was like “Dueling Banjos” for the tablas.
“I was really impressed,” said Yuba College student Holiday Davis, “I especially loved the tabla duet, it was really cool. I love Indian music.”Other ragas that night stood out as well.
“Puriya Dhanshri,” a tune that managed to be fluid, relaxing, rapid, and intense at the same time. There was plenty of room for Shankar to improvise. “Mishra Piloo,” the final tune that night, was very awesome. Shankar did a lot of octave jumping, working the fretboard very quick and precise. The rhythm section was tight, forming a solid backbone for her to play her beautiful melodies.
The whole night climaxed on that raga, you could feel the musical tension as the music got more intense. As soon as it hit its peak, the raga ended, though it wasn’t “abrupt,” it was perfectly placed. The audience gave a standing ovation, well deserved for the gifted musicians on stage.
After the show, the audience seemed to have enjoyed the concert. It was an interesting contrast to the music we are used to hearing. Dr. Robert Matthews, Yuba College music professor, attended the concert.
“It was an incredible concert. There was such a high degree of virtuosity and musicianship coming through to the audience,” he said. “Also, the cultural aspects were wonderful. Many in the audience were learning new timbers and rhythm patterns that simply cannot be found in western music”.
“It was a great experience”, Shankar said after the performance, “The audience was warm and wonderful. Since the auditorium is small, the music sounds fuller.” It was a cultural experience that no one in the audience shall soon forget.