Anoushka Shankar and Karsh Kale Breathing Under Water Review

Album. Released 2007.  

BBC Review

An album which blends Shankar’s skilful, ornate sitar playing with many of the tools...

Louis Pattison 2007

This album is a featured release on BBC's Asian Network

Just in case you’re wondering, yes, Anoushka Shankar is who you think she is: the twenty-six year old daughter of Ravi Shankar, probably the most famous sitar player of modern times, and through his collaborations with figures like The Beatles’ George Harrison, the man largely responsible for introducing the sounds of traditional Indian music to the Western world.

Unlike her famous half-sister, Norah Jones, Anoushka has followed closely in her father’s footsteps - she gave her first public performance on sitar at the age of 13, and has played often alongside her father. That’s not to say, though, she is a strictly traditional practitioner of her chosen instrument. Take Breathing Under Water. A collaboration with Karsh Kale, best known as the producer of global techno outfit Tabla Beat Science, this is an album which blends Shankar’s skilful, ornate sitar playing with many of the tools of modern electronica production. The pair are keen to point out they weren’t playing fusion ‘for the sake of playing fusion’, flailing around in search of a sound that sticks. Rather, here, you can hear how each musician carefully tempers their musical contributions to forge strong stylistic links. First, on “Burn”, Shankar’s peaceful melodies are bourn up on languid beats and bursts of splashes cymbal to create a serene, soothing downbeat. But next, on Slither, they flip the script, Kale taking a base track from Shankar’s sitar and feeding into his microprocessor, turning back a strange signal of stutter-ridden, glitchy melodies. It’s the sort of active give and take that allows a collaboration like this to really flower.

It’s not just Shankar and Kale here, though: Breathing Under Water features numerous special guests, some of them actually rather famous. “Sea Dreamer”, featuring vocals and acoustic guitar from Sting, is one of the blander tracks here, rather plodding next to the record’s more fiery, proficient moments. But “Easy”, featuring a vocal from Norah Jones, is surely the album’s flat-out prettiest track, a delicate, restrained piece that sees the two sisters trying to out-do each other on the blissful melodies. Best we call it a draw.

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