Reconciliations: Anoushka Shankar and Karsh Kale, Breathing Under Water

By Daniel Garrett

Anoushka Shankar, Karsh Kale, Breathing Under Water
Composed, arranged and performed by Shankar and Kale
Produced by Gaurav Raina, Karsh Kale and Anoushka Shankar
Co-produced by Salim Merchant
Manhattan/Blue Note Label Group, 2007

Traditional and modern music, eastern and western, acoustic and electric, male and female: they are all to be found on the recording by Anoushka Shankar and Karsh Kale, Breathing Under Water. Anoushka Shankar has produced four other albums: Anoushka (1998), Anourag (2000), Live at Carnegie Hall (2001), and Rise (2005); and Karsh Kale as well has produced four—Realize (2001), Redesign (a remix of Realize; 2002), Liberation (2003), and Broken English (2006). She is associated with classic Indian music, and he with contemporary electronic music. Each has spoken of how natural their collaboration has been, allowing them to explore new aspects of their talents, while making a statement about how complementary different forms of music are: on Breaking Under Water, she, as composer and instrumentalist, handled some of the electronic productions and worked as a pianist, and he composed, and played guitar, drums, and even sang. Yet, her sitar is central to all the music they have made. The first song on Breathing Under Water is a call to dance entitled “Burn,” and it includes classical strings, sitar, electronic beats, and the singing of Noah (Noa?) Lembersky, a male-sounding first name attached to a feminine voice. This is music that is fun and smart. “Slither” is a “future is now” dance track—with a dense structure and pleasing spirit—and it is dance music punctuated by moments of relative quiet. The title song, the third song, is meditative, and “Sea Dreamer” features Sting (Gordon Sumner), who has been cited as an influence by both Shankar and Kale. There is an interesting arrangement for “Ghost Story,” featuring an astute and dramatic use of silence, short metallic twanging notes, heavy fat beats, strings, and the high voice of singer Sunidhi Chauhan. Rhythm builds and builds in “PD7,” an interpretation of traditional East Indian music, featuring Shankar Mahadevan, a male singer who sings in first a grave ballad style then a fast chant. The soothing sound of Norah Jones is part of “Easy,” and “Little Glass Folk” reminds me of a classical European dance piece; and it has an interesting structure (and flute). Mahadevan participates in “A Perfect Rain,” and Vishai Vaid is the singer presented in “Abyss,” which is less forbidding than its name. Notes are played against a drone in “Oceanic, part 1” whereas the rhythm is quicker, more pronounced, in part 2, giving way to counter-rhythms, suggesting a lot of energy, as it reconciles western and eastern, modern and traditional Indian music, while featuring—and paying tribute to—the great sitar-player Ravi Shankar, Anoushka’s father, before the album closes with a reprise.

Daniel Garrett’s extensive commentary on the film Brokeback Mountain was published abroad last year, in Film International. Daniel Garrett, Louisiana-born and a longtime New York resident, a graduate of the New School for Social Research, and the founder of the Cultural Politics Discussion Group at ABC No Rio and Poets House, is a writer of essays and creative work, including fiction, drama, and poetry. His work has appeared in The African,, American Book Review, Art & Antiques, The Audubon Activist, Cinetext.Philo, Film International, The Humanist, Hyphen,, Muse Apprentice Guild, Offscreen, Option,, Rain Taxi, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, and World Literature Today. For The Compulsive Reader, Daniel Garrett has written on music, films, and books. Author contact: or