Ravi Shankar 1920- 2012

12 Dec

Labeled “the godfather of world music” by  George Harrison, Ravi Shankar inspired many professional musicians as well as millions of lovers of music to explore the traditions of Indian music.

“He was legend of legends,” Shivkumar Sharma, a noted santoor player who performed with Shankar, told Indian media. “Indian classical was not at all known in the Western world. He was the musician who had that training … the ability to communicate with the Western audience.”

I am one of many that met Ravi Shankar through the Beatles, and Shivkumar Sharma has a point. But I rather think this notion is more accurate for popular music and it’s audience. All types of  music from the east was making inroads into the western sound-scape. Many composers in the west were influenced by Asian and middle eastern music long before George Harrison of the Beatles became entranced with it.

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)  was one western composer of many. Debussy’s principal influences included the music of Russia, the exotic colors of Asian music (which he first heard at the Paris International Exposition in 1889), and the ideas of writers and poets like Stéphane Mallarmé, Paul Verlaine, and Charles-Pierre Baudelaire.

An introduction to Indian music by Ravi Shankar.

Shankar on music.

Chants of India. George Harrison produced Shankar’s album Chants of India (1997), in which classical Indian forms (mantras and chants based on Sanskrit prayers) were combined with a choir and Western instrumentation including vibraphone, harps, violins and cellos. Harrison also edited Shankar’s autobiography, Raga Mala (Garland of Ragas, 1999), and once dubbed him “the Godfather of world music”.


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