On Friday, 23 May 2014, Anoushka Shankar, a Grammy-nominated Indian Sitar player performed at the Royal Festival Hall, London, to a fully occupied audience of around nine hundred. The genre of her music is Indian classical, crossed over with western music, which is played by the members of her band. Her music ranged from being spiritual, powerful and unstoppable, activist for Indian rape victims, contemporary, and romantic. By spreading out to so many different spectrums, her music exhibits the incredible heights that classical music can reach. It is a genre that does not belong to popular culture and, as her performance speaks unquestionably, such music has its own important position.
The genre of Shankar's music has roots in ancient Hindu philosophy and Indian culture, but her compositions, positioned in the twenty-first century world, astonishingly connect the inner microcosm of the individual to the expansive macrocosm of the universe. The first song was particularly reflective of the spiritual nature of music performed on the Sitar (an Indian instrument), where her music effortlessly lead the audience to access the deep reaching psychological self, and enter into reflective thinking. Following from this song, the scepticism of getting to watch purely introspective music was constantly challenged, and to such a degree, that the penultimate song invoked a standing ovation from nine hundred people.
Some of the other distinguished songs, after the first one, are as follows. The song titled 'Metamorphosis' was notable for the drumming that accompanied the music, and it ended with a long section of Sanskrit chants, sang in three-person harmony, including Shankar and two other Indian musicians. This song was enticingly hypnotising, and one could wish that it continued longer.
The next song in sequence was written by Shankar when she learned about the rape and murder of a girl in New Delhi in 2012, an event that made global headlines. She spoke about how this song invoked some uncomfortable feelings in her, and that to deal with them, she composed this piece. The title of the song contained the Hindi word Jyoti, which means 'light', but there was very important and powerful symbolism in this music, translating into nonviolent resistance. As this piece was being performed, on the stage background, there was a symbol of the Hindu goddess of music, who played the Sitar herself, representing the gentle and enjoyable aspect of music, along with a symbol of the Hindu god of destruction, who fights injustice. This combined symbolism reflected all throughout this song that had an evocative rhythm, but its relevance in our modern times is that nonviolent resistance in music is an historic phenomenon, where the gentle and enjoyable aspects of music integrate with the furious aspect of the psyche.
The penultimate song was a very long and contemporary piece, which invited roars of excitement from the crowds, along with a standing ovation. The last song, titled 'Monsoon', was composed by Shankar for her husband when they fell in love, and it was a beautiful, heart-warming piece. She bowed out to the crowds with her hands pressed together, in the Indian gesture of gratitude.
Some of her pieces, like the one called Jyoti, or 'light', were so significant in their modern-day translation that I could not help but think that beyond being Indian and fusion music, hers is a music that has the potential to heal the divides that cause human conflicts at social and global levels. One song that she played was based on a fifteenth century composition, created when India was occupied by the Mughals. The present-day Algerian political regime must seriously think over this, and allow their own people to freely express themselves through the arts; Algerians face tough censorship, and the withdrawal of funding if their art challenges politics.
I would like her concert to be played out before the United Nations assembly where peace scholars and national diplomats gather. I would like her concert to be broadcasted on the BBC to show us that there is much more to India than the poverty stories that pre-occupy documentary films. I would like her song, Jyoti to be played out in any part of the world, every time a rape-story hits the news. I would like her music to be seen as the force that opposes neocolonialism: the latter exploits the resources and people of the other countries, whereas her music brings together musicians from different countries to play a touching harmony, whilst being firmly rooted in individual dignity. Finally, I would like her concert to be staged in the UK more frequently.