She’s the Grammy-winning, sitar-wielding daughter of Ravi Shankar, half-sister of Norah Jones and wife of British film director Joe Wright, of “Atonement” renown. But perhaps the reason the California-educated Anoushka Shankar isn’t a household name yet is because she plays an arcane type of music — classical Hindustani, sometimes fused with genres such as jazz or traditional flamenco, as on her intricate new CD “Traveller.” She recorded with Jones on her last effort, 2007’s “Breathing Under Water.” Her months-long world tour brings her to San Francisco today.
The sitar seems so huge and unwieldy. And you began playing it at age 7? Yes, but I had a sitar made that was about half the size for me when I started playing, the same way violins come in different sizes and stuff. But it is a big instrument, regardless of what size you are, and it’s very challenging — possibly one of the most challenging instruments, and very difficult to learn.
How easy was it to meld Indian and flamenco music? Whenever you play with another form, it’s a challenge to choose where you’re going to interact. But with flamenco, it’s interesting, because it is based in Western harmony and chord structures, but it also has roots in Indian music, Middle Eastern music and other modal forms. So there was definitely space for dialogue.
You’ve said “Traveller” was inspired by the birth of your son Zubin. Is that from Zubin Mehta? Yes, that’s right. My husband and I have very different tastes in boys’ names, it turns out. So that was the only one that we both liked. And Zubin Mehta is an old friend of my father’s that I’ve known for a long time, and he was very much on our minds when I was pregnant, because one of the events that I had to cancel was a very important series of shows with him and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. But I think the name helped smooth things over.
As a film lover yourself, seriously, how great was that famous long continuous shot of James McAvoy in your husband’s film “Atonement”? That’s probably one of the reasons I met him. I thought it was one of the most amazing pieces of filmmaking I’d ever seen, so when I found out he was attending a dinner a friend of mine was giving, I canceled my plans that I had that night to go, because I figured he would be someone very intriguing. But I didn’t think he’d end up being the father of my child!
Where: Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. today
Tickets: $25 to $60
Contact: (866) 920-5299, www.sfjazz.org