• LTR024
    Anoushka Shankar
    In Her Name

Anoushka Shankar, the acclaimed sitar player, producer, film composer and activist, returns to LEITER for the release of a new single, ‘In Her Name’, featuring the renowned British-Indian poet, writer, playwright and illustrator Nikita Gill. The track – which is accompanied by an instrumental version – is available for download and via all streaming platforms from December 16, commemorating ten years since the terrible incident which initially inspired it, the 2012 gang rape in Delhi of Jyoti Singh, who died from her injuries thirteen days later.

The release coincides with Shankar’s first tour of India since the pandemic, and follows her Best Global Album Grammy nomination for ‘Between Us…’, a live album featuring Manu Delago, Jules Buckley and the Metropole Orkest which was released by LEITER earlier in 2022. Shankar was also nominated for a Best Global Performance Grammy for her collaboration with Arooj Aftab, ‘Udhero Na’, taken from the Deluxe Edition of the Pakistani singer and composer’s ‘Vulture Prince’. This means Shankar has now received an extraordinary total of nine nominations during her career so far.

‘In Her Name’ is a newly recorded – and substantially developed – version of a track originally released in 2013 as ‘In Jyoti’s Name’, included on Shankar’s ‘Traces Of You’ album. The new title reflects its significantly expanded horizons, and acknowledges how little has changed in the decade since the atrocity that first provoked the song as well as headlines across the world. Six months afterwards, in July 2013, the United Nations estimated that one in three women would be beaten or raped in her lifetime. Almost ten years on, that harrowing figure remains constant. ‘In Her Name’ now bears witness to the global ubiquity of violence and sexual violence against women, the policing of women’s bodies, and the increasing erosion of women’s rights in more insidious but no less dangerous manners throughout the world.

“One of the reasons I’ve come back to this song,” Shankar says, “is because of this endless wave of horrifying story after horrifying story, and each time there’s this wave of pain and grief: ‘When is it going to stop? When is enough enough?’ What happened to Jyoti should have been the last time anything like that ever happened. The song was about her, but now it’s also about everyone else like her.”

This, sadly, is a theme acutely close to Shankar’s heart. In 2013, in the wake of Jyoti’s tragic death, she recorded a message of support for One Billion Rising, a campaign whose very name highlights the number of women who will suffer sexual violence in their lifetime. The organisation’s founder, V (formerly known as Eve Ensler), asked her to tape a gesture of solidarity, and in her video Shankar chose to reveal that she, too, is a victim of abuse. “There’s been a real change over the last decade,” she explains of her decision to open up, “but at that time there were very few people talking about this, especially where I come from. So it felt important to universalise it, to say it’s not a one-off, it’s not only in a certain demographic, to say that ‘If I’m not safe, no one’s safe’.”

This time, Shankar turned to Nikita Gill to help articulate her feelings, inviting her to contribute a text for the song’s middle section which could communicate the all-encompassing nature of this ongoing threat. “She’s like a sister to me,” Shankar confides. “She’s one of the people I would have wept on the phone to when, for example, Sarah Everard died. She speaks from a very particular place culturally, as a modern, female, Indian-heritage poet, and that chimes with me, while sisterhood is also a very strong theme in her work. It was a very natural, obvious connection, and when I said ‘Would you please write something?’ she didn’t even wait for me to finish my sentence.”

Shankar delivers Gill’s lines in calm, collected fashion during a meditative musical passage midway through the song, enabling these powerful sentiments to strike with more force before its ultimate climax. “Let our fury echo through the pages of history,” she recites firmly. “Do not let this death be quiet like all the thousands before it. Time cannot devour what we will not allow to be forgotten.” Her accompaniment, meanwhile, conveys her anger in a similarly eloquent manner, especially in its repeated, syncopated phrases. “There are different stages to the song,” Shankar elaborates, “but, though it’s not overtly raging, fury is a driving factor. Anger can often be stifled, especially in women, and yet it’s such a propelling force, a fire that generates an energy to create change, especially that feeling of collective fury that starts in my belly, that I feel in other women’s bellies too.”

When it came to the song’s artwork and video, Shankar chose further collaborators with whom she shares her cultural heritage and artistic sensibilities. Indian contemporary artist Shilo Shiv Suleman, who co-founded the activist art group Fearless Collective in 2012, is responsible for the cover image and bronze sculptures in the remarkable video, which was filmed in London and Los Angeles and features Indian-American Bharatanatyam dancer Mythili Prakash.

“Mythili and I have been close since childhood and have an ongoing artistic relationship. I trust her artistry implicitly, and I knew she could embody the song in a suitably sensitive but still striking manner,” Shankar adds. “She brings forth unbelievable power, depth and nuance through her choreography and performance. Shilo and I connected more recently through other like-minded artists. Her work is deeply passionate and poetic and I’m so grateful to feature her powerful sculptures in the video. Crucially, Nikita, Mythili, Shilo and I all have a shared experience as women and particularly as Indian women, in how we were affected by what happened to Jyoti, whilst as artists, we speak a common language across our mediums that goes beyond our cultural roots but carries them at the core.”

Shankar recorded ‘In Her Name’ this autumn at London’s Guildhall, with regular collaborators Pirashanna Thevarajah adding mridangam, the south Indian double-headed drum, and Tom Farmer on bass. “It’s a really interesting sonic space,” Shankar says. “Having upright bass pulls the sitar out of a certain sound world that people are used to hearing it in, and yet the Indian percussion gives me the intricacy that I feel like I can really fly with. Both instruments add a primal and driving quality that feels essential to the song.” The track represents the first studio music from Shankar since 2020’s ‘Love Letters’, though she’s currently working on a new album too. For the time being, however, she’s focussing her attention on ‘In Her Name’.

“Marking ten years is very personal,” Shankar concludes. “My life changed, indirectly but profoundly, as a result of what happened to Jyoti. She was the catalyst for me telling my story, setting me on a different tangent, publicly and privately. But this is more than that: it’s a remembrance. It’s about not forgetting, and about hope for change. Every time there’s a news cycle we talk about these stories, then put them down again, but change comes from truly remembering, and I am unwilling to ever let this go quiet again…”