While artists are typically recognised for their on-stage or on-screen personas, their off-stage struggles and challenges often remain shrouded in mystery. Breaking this barrier, however, is sitar player Anoushka Shankar, who recently took to social media to share the other side.
She started by talking about her recent performance at the Edinburgh International Festival. “It’s been a week since I played the closing night of Edinburgh International Festival, but I haven’t felt like posting my usual elated after-show thank you (even though I was so excited to play there) and have been wondering whether to share why,” Shankar wrote.
She acknowledged that while she is known for her vulnerability and many people relate to her, the previous weekend made her realise that her transparency is around things like trauma, recovery, motherhood, and other things. “Hardly ever about music,” she said.
Shankar revealed how deeply embedded her upbringing is around music, performance, and the mantra of ‘the show must go on.’ “Like was filled with family legends around. For example, my father going on stage straight after learning he’d lost a brother, and pouring that pain into his music rather than cancelling the show. When I was younger, I was sometimes sent to perform in my father’s place when he was in hospital, rather than encouraged to stay and be near him,” the music artist said.
“I never shared what it was like sitting nightly in our classical cross-legged position with a torn hip ligament, or performing in front of thousands of people newly sober, just having hit rock bottom and feeling like I had no skin, or going onstage the night I learned my marriage was over,” she continued.
Shankar shared that as she watched others start to share more about the difficulties of touring in recent years, she regretted letting people in that little bit further.
“So here I go, in the hope that maybe it helps someone! Playing in Edinburgh was difficult. I suffer from debilitating migraines and last Sunday was one of the few times the peak of a very bad migraine coincided with showtime. Right beforehand, I was vomiting and in searing pain, hiding in a dark room with every part of me pleading to not have to go out into the light and loud sound. But I did it anyway.”
Shankar said that she was full of fear about how she would play and be judged for her performance at a huge important show when deeply sick. “Live music only ever gives you one chance, even across a hundred shows, for that unique place in time with those people,” she said.
This incident made her filled with “self-pity and also compassion” for others in her life as they can’t call in sick on a day like that. “It simply isn’t possible to send a full auditorium home ten minutes before a show. Short of injuring a hand or having a full breakdown there isn’t much that justifies cancelling, so we simply have to go on.”
She acknowledged that this is so incredibly difficult sometimes. “Those of us who do this are warriors in a very particular way that is often invisible,” she said, concluding by expressing her gratitude to her band, crew, music, and the audience.