Sitarist Anoushka Shankar began working on her new EP Love Letters after going through a particularly difficult time in her private life. The songs address the complex reality of dealing with her divorce and its emotional aftermath.
Shankar chose to work mainly with other women on this project, seeking solace from her female friendships. As she explained in a recent interview, “I really got to experience the way women show up for each other when crisis strikes. And, that’s really where this music came from — the shared experience of women, holding my hand and helping me find a safe place to put some of my feelings”. She works with an array of women on the album from guest singers to engineer Heba Kadry and illustrator Azeema Nur.
Love Letters begins with the brutal truth of Bright Eyes, about contemplating your ex-husband’s new young lover. Do you call her bright eyes too? Sings Alev Lenz, her principal vocal collaborator and co-producer on this project. The music is a piercingly powerful mix of her traditional instrument and modern confessional songwriting.
On Those Words she’s joined by Indian singer Shilpa Rao and cellist Ayanna Witter-Johnson. It’s the only song not in English, and yet even without knowing the words you understand the emotional truths in every note of this lament.
Working with other singers underlines the universal relevance of her experiences. Shankur does actually sing on the EP, on Lovable with twin sisters Ibeyi helping her to express the personal uncertainty that comes after such a break up. The song incorporates some modern, computerised sounds to echo the sitar. Maybe the combination might sound strange at first but this fusion gives the project its depth and should elevate it beyond just the ‘world music’ category. Wallet too uses these electronic sounds to add something unique to a song about the reality of being left only with money after a divorce.
Space is angry, realising what she’s had to sacrifice for her husband. By the end of the song she has found her self again, now there’s space for me / no more space for you. It’s a quietly powerful moment. The final song In This Mouth, again sung by Alev Lenz, is a haunting ballad. These are intimate moments, expressed in a way that all women can empathise with.
Through her playing and songwriting Shankar expresses the sorrow, confusion and hope that comes with a broken heart. Love Letters is a bruise that blossoms into something musically beautiful.