The Cork Board, World Music

Gig Review: Anoushka Shankar, Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Note: for some reason the videos embedded in this post sometimes disappear. If you are reading a version without the videos I encourage you to seek out the “Land of Gold” narrative and title track via your favourite search engine. It will enhance your experience. Thanks.

I first fell in love with Anoushkar Shankar and her music when I accidentally caught her in performance  with her “Traveller” band. I was at a Songlines awards concert, really to see Tinariwen, where Anoushkar was picking up some award or other – I forget – and she gave a 45 minute performance with her current band at the time.


I have to say that I was mesmerised. She blew me away and the short but powerful set remains one of my lifetime musical highlights. I suddenly got it, as it were, and I have been a fan ever since, checking out her comings and goings and her back catalogue. And whilst Indian classical sitar might benefit from a little explanation to the uninitiated (me) I do find that Anoushka’s modern musicality opens up avenues to enjoy this expressive instrument.


Her latest album, “Land of Gold”, draws inspiration from the plight of the refugee crisis in Europe and her reaction to it as a mother and as an individual with a sense of helplessness. The music flows as a conceptual piece from start to finish, the title track touching upon the notion that in fleeing their homeland refugees may one day find their land of gold.

At times it is a moody and thoughtful reflection but there is clear cohesion running through the work. You can see that some sense of unity was reached for and achieved.

Anoushka and her band, Manu Delago,who is billed as co-writer of the album, on hang drum and percussion, Tom Farmer on bass and Sanjeev Shankar on the shehnai, a highly evocative reed pipe, are touring and I catch them in Birmingham at the Symphony Hall.


Anoushka is clear that this is not a political statement but a human reaction and response to what is happening in the world today. The fascinating thing is that in live performance the music is embellished with improvised jams which are clearly evolving as an expression of their feelings as musicians to the times. You can sense it. I hope a live album comes out of these excursions so that we can hear the changes and the development. ( An idea, Anoushka?)

There is delicacy, sensitivity, space and then anger. Manu Delgado’s percussion, and particularly his hang drum playing, is texturally a masterclass. Delicate then thumping with rage. Tom Farmer’s bass roots everything with a generous pulse. The shehnai in the hands of Sanjeez Shankar pleads like no other instrument I can imagine.

Anoushka Shankar always looks like she was born on stage. In complete command, relaxed and expressive, friendly, inviting us to enjoy what is after all, serious music about a serious subject. A virtuoso in all she seems to do.

The concerts are few and far between – she is a working Mum – but if you get chance, it is an evening well spent, fascinating and enriching. Otherwise, buy the album, it is available through all the usual outlets. You know it makes sense.

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