‘The lyrics came from an inner vulnerable place’: Anoushka Shankar on her new album Love Letters

Anoushka Shankar has grown accustomed to the “your famous dad” line of questioning, and will probably hear a lot of it later in the year when she celebrates her father’s 100th birth anniversary. But for the moment she is basking in the success of her new Extended Play Love Letters where she has done a very creditable job of convincing you that she’s already her own woman, what with the poise and charm it exudes.

Deeply evocative in its sound, for the first time ever, Love Letters is being released as an EP, as opposed to a solo album. “I’ve really enjoyed the process of releasing a song one at a time over the last few months and getting to engage with listeners in this way. It’s gentler than a massive album promo kind of vibe,” shares the six-time Grammy Award-nominated sitarist, whilst adding. “I just feel really attached to this group of songs; it’s been a really gentle process of working exclusively with women in all aspects of the songwriting and recording process. It’s some of the simplest music I’ve ever made; it’s just straightforward songwriting and emotional truth telling.”

Following the success of her past albums, 2013’s Traces Of You, 2015’s Home, and 2016’s Land Of Gold, Love Letters documents a time of profound flux for the artist: health issues, heartbreak, domestic upheaval.

“The title was just sort of a phrase that stuck a while ago, because I have been writing these songs on and off over the last couple of years. It’s been a very slow process of writing songs around the rest of my life. There have been lots of storytelling going on and many different aspects of love being gone into, primarily on the back end of a relationship. When we think of ‘love letters’, we just kind of think of the beginning bit. We think of the romance and the passion, but actually, there’s such a long journey with relationships, even just the years of staying together or the difficult parts that we endure, all of that comes under the journey of love. I found it interesting to use a phrase like ‘love letters’ because you are actually continuing to communicate through all the parts of the journey,” reasons Shankar.

Shankar, who separated from husband film director Joe Wright after seven years of marriage, also expresses her anguish in her songs. “Separation is a long process with marriage. It’s not like breaking up with a boyfriend in high school that it just takes the amount of time that it takes to say those words,” she states. “So the separation has been ongoing and I have been writing through that process. For me, in going through the shock of a separation, is not the time that I would be sharing that publicly. I’m dealing with the fallout privately.”

For over two decades, Shankar has been hailed as a maverick, seamlessly merging classical with contemporary, East with West. This time she has taken her music forward delving into a more intimate, stripped back mode, bringing to the fore her vulnerable and raw side as a songwriter and musician. For the first time she has done away with tradition to perform vocals. We quiz her on the new road she has taken. “These lyrics were just so simple and so truthful that they really came from an inner, vulnerable place. So the people I was working with, like Ibeyi, were saying “Well, you should sing that line, it’s coming from you. And I could see what they meant, because I felt the same way. It was something my inner voice was saying, so it needed to come out of me. I don’t know if I’m gonna move into being a singer though.”

With 2020 being Ravi Shankar’s birth centenary, Anoushka and her half-sister Norah Jones, will come together for the very first time for a concert in London on their father’s birthday. “This is really the big event of the year. We are also doing a series of special concerts that will feature musicians playing music that people never get to hear live. I’m very involved in putting the shows together, choosing some of my favourite music of my dad’s. I am also excited about bringing that back to India later in the year,” she signs off.