Contemporary sitar artist Anoushka Shankar, one of Indian classical music’s most important modern figures, has witnessed just about every kind of live audience across her two decades touring the world.
When she takes the stage Monday night at the Arkley Center For the Performing Arts in Eureka, Shankar won’t know quite what to expect — the prolific live performer reckons it’s her first time playing in Humboldt County, though she’s not sure — but she’ll be prepared to make certain adjustments.
“If I’m really somewhere with a fresh audience, I might talk a bit more or explain what I’m doing a bit more,” Shankar said. “But on the whole, first-time listeners or people who don’t know the music can totally have a great experience.”
With other Indian classical artists, fresh attendees would have a lot to unpack. The traditional form adheres to strict rhythms and melodic structures. What emerges between the austerity shares the spontaneity of a jazz solo. In climactic moments, the sitar’s string riffs sprawl up and down the scales in untethered fashion, other times slowing to more contemplative improvisations.
Shankar’s show on Monday will incorporate those elements, but it won’t be a regular classical concert. The 38-year-old artist spent her teenage years performing in live classical ensembles with her father, the late legend Ravi Shankar. Her handful of studio albums in the two decades since have defied genre and etched out her place as a mainstream artistic force.
Shankar’s latest compilation album, Reflections, features collaborative tracks between her and other diverse international artists. The album has vocal firepower — top-selling jazz artist Norah Jones, her half-sister, makes a couple appearances — but Monday’s show will be entirely instrumental, she said.
“It will be a predominantly Indian instrument setup,” she said, “but also featuring cello and piano. With this band, I’m able to meld some of my more classical works into my more harmonically structured crossover works.”
“On the whole, it’s an evening that strikes a good balance” she added. “It’s not as far-leaning as some of my other shows, where people who come in expecting only classical sitar music might be disappointed. But it’s also got enough of these crossover elements that listeners who aren’t necessarily interested only in traditional music would be happy to hear.”
Shankar will blend work from her entire discography, aligning live musicians she chose specifically for versatility across different styles. Artists who play freely across genres lend to a collaborative live experience that much resembles a journey, she said.
Humboldt County might be out of the way for other international artists, but Shankar — no stranger to new places — says touring in cities besides the major stops can often be more exciting.
“I find again and again, over the years, that I sometimes have the most fun in the smaller cities,” she said. “The audience is much more enthused and appreciative… It can create a different kind of energy in the audience. And I feel it on stage as well.”
Shomik Mukherjee can be reached at 707-441-0504.