Live Music + Gig Reviews

Anoushka Shankar @ Barbican, London

6 April 2024


Acclaimed sitarist continues to push the boundaries of her instrument, providing moments of bejewelled drama and sensory engulfment along the way

Anoushka Shankar performing at the Barbican (Photo: Michal Augustini)

Anoushka Shankar performing at the Barbican (Photo: Michal Augustini)

Anoushka Shankar may be best known for being one of the world’s premier sitar players but her music, certainly in recent years, has encompassed and embraced much more than just that particular instrument. It’s been especially noticeable in the live arena and tonight’s show at the Barbican was to provide further evidence of her ability to present it in fresh ways.

It’s been a productive few years for Shankar. She has just released her Chapter II: How Dark It Is Before Dawn EP, which followed on from last year’s Chapter I: Forever, For Now release and she also co-composed the score to Mira Nair’s recent BBC six-part series A Suitable Boy. Selections from both EPs appeared early in tonight’s set, with the minimalist soft drone of Offering opening the show, soon followed by the looped, double tracked solo sitar of Stolen Moments. There’s an immediate exoticism to her sound, certainly to Western ears, and there’s a distinct sense of transportation to what unfurls over the next 90 minutes. She’s joined on stage by her band, clarinetist Arun Ghosh, drummer Sarathy Korwar, multi-instrumentalist Pirashanna Thevarajah and bassist Tom Farmer and the sound soon broadens accordingly.

Boat To Nowhere from 2016’s politically charged Land Of Gold album sees the pace increase and while it may address the ongoing refugee crisis it’s equally hard to resist it evoking images of Indian sunrises and the sensory engulfment brought about by that country. Secret Heart from the same album follows, with Ghosh’s clarinet prominent amid the sliding scales and restless energy. New Dawn meanwhile achieves its impact with more in the way of discretion and a skilled build up and release of tension.

Anoushka Shankar and band performing at the Barbican (Photo: Michal Augustini)

Anoushka Shankar and band performing at the Barbican (Photo: Michal Augustini)

Shankar comments on how special it is to play the Barbican given the number of times she has performed at the venue alongside her father Ravi Shankar (including for the first time in 1996) and they play a version of his piece Fire Night next. Rich in embellishments and containing many jazz-style diversions, it sees Shankar allow the focus to be centred on her band as percussive colour, supple baselines and intricate musical associations abound. It’s followed by Dancing In Madness, arguably the highlight of the set, as Shankar achieves ignition through her dexterously quick hand movements, her sitar coating the other instruments with a golden sheen. It’s a dazzling spectacle with a palpable sense of charged momentum (aided by Thevarajah’s deft vocalisations).

Shankar announces how Reunion is “a springboard for us to jump off into other ideas” and it certainly offers up moments of bejewelled drama within its grooves, tiers and bending notes. They finish with an instrumental version of Traces Of You (with Ghosh’s clarinet replicating the original vocal melodies of Shankar’s sister Norah Jones). It puts the seal on an entrancing show that confirms her to be an artist adept at illuminating venues in captivating style.


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