Sitarist Anoushka Shankar on writing music about the refugee crisis

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The daughter of sitarist guru Ravi Shankar, Anoushka Shankar is best known for her powerful musical lineage. But, while she learned quite a bit from her father in the hundreds of concerts they’ve played together, she’s become a master in her own right. Her latest album, Land of Gold, came out this month and responds directly to the refugee crisis in Europe and beyond.

She spoke with KCRW before her performance in Santa Barbara.

1What moved you to make music about this issue in particular?

I think there’s something about having become a parent in the last few years that has made me more sensitive to issues in the world and more impassioned about wanting to be a part of positive change. I care about the future in a whole different way. I’m more invested in it than I ever have been before.

Did having such a visual theme help you write the music?

It really did. It was the first time I worked with my husband (film director Joe Wright) as a co-producer in my music. He came to the studio with a completely different perspective on how he thinks about and hears music. Having someone like him constantly ground the writing process back into one that’s centered on mood really changed the way I played. Every time I was recording a piece of music, I was thinking in terms of story or context.

What have you learned about mixing art with politics?

Speaking only for myself, I have to make music that’s honest. Only then will it connect with people who can hear that honesty. I try to stay away from stepping into things I don’t know. I’m not an expert in politics, and I don’t claim to be. But, I am a citizen in this world and a human being, so I have a right to voice when I think things are wrong, or when I want to connect with people or talk about something. It’s just about trying to stay on the right side of honesty, really.

You’ve lived in three countries – The United States, England and India. Have you noticed differences in the ways these three countries address and think about refugee issues?

This time period in particular feels like such a fraught one. There’s so many issues coming to a head. They’re all interconnected, but they manifest in slightly different ways. Obviously, the refugee crisis is having a more direct impact on Europe at the moment than it is in India or North America, whereas here there’s a whole other set of issues that are being focused on right now. It feels like we’re all at a time of such big choice between connection and isolation.

Is there something you hope to achieve by making this record?

The very fact that you and I are sitting and having this conversation and talking about the refugee crisis, that in itself is part of the goal. If people are like me and feel the same way I do and choose to be part of that connection, then I feel like bigger, beautiful things can happen.