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Ravi Shankar: A Different Raga

Ravi Shankar: A Different Raga

December 13, 2012

Ravi Shankar will be best remembered for uniting people of all colours and from diverse cultures, on the same raga.

My first everlasting memory of the music maestro Ravi Shankar is a hilarious moment about 4 minutes into the Concert for Bangladesh, organized by George Harrison at the behest of Ravi Shankar, and held on August 1, 1971, at Madison Square Garden, New York, when Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan adjust their instruments. As soon as they stop, the crowd bursts into applause, at which point Ravi Shankar says drily, "Thank you, if you appreciate the tuning so much, I hope you will enjoy the playing more". The Indian virtuosos played a tune called Bangla Dhun composed for the occasion by Ravi Shankar. This is just one of the many genius moments in the life of Ravi Shankar, an extraordinarily talented musician, sitar legend and composer who passed away at the age of 92 in San Diego, California. Credited with being the first composer to bridge the musical gap between India and the west by bringing Indian classical music in the west he is survived by his second wife, Sukanya, their daughter, Anoushka, also a well-known sitar player; as well as his daughter—with the New York based concert producer Sue Jones—the multi award winning Norah Jones. Born in Varanasi, India in 1920 Ravi Shankar began touring Europe and India with the dance group of his brother Uday Shankar, when just in his teens. Aged eighteen he began studying to play the sitar under his guru court musician Allaudin Khan, and who’s daughter Annapurna Devi, became his first wife. Shankar gave his first concert in 1939, going onto write the musical scores for Indian films, Dharti ke Lal (Children of the Earth) and Neecha Nagar (The City Below), in 1946, following that up with the production of music for The Discovery of India, based on the book by Jawaharlal Nehru. Shankar is also remembered for composing the music of the path breaking Apu Trilogy, by renown Indian film director Satyajit Ray. He then took on the reins of the All India Radio, New Delhi, as music director of from 1949 to 1956. It was however when he began to tour Europe and the Americas through the seventies and the eighties as an Indian classical musician and composer, that he really came to be noticed by the world. His meeting with violinist Yehudi Menuhin, led to their recording three albums together, the first of which, East Meets West, won a Grammy in 1967; later his burgeoning friendship with George Harrison, led to the Beatle going to India to learn the sitar from Ravi Shankar, and which led to the formation of Shankar Family & Friends was formed (1974). His position as the poster child of Indian music in the west was sealed with his performances at landmark pop festivals of the time – including notably Woodstock in 1969. He has been recognized by many awards, notable amongst which are, the Bharat Ratna (Jewel of India) in 1999, a Commandeur de la Légion d'Honneur in France, 2000, an honorary KBE in Britain, 2001. Based in both California (USA) and New Delhi (India) he later founded Ravi Shankar Institute of Music and the Performing Arts in India, which now attracts students from across the world. From inspiring the flower-power generation to influencing contemporary jazz, his music has touched the lives of musicians of many different schools. Yet, Ravi Shankar, will be best remembered for uniting people of all colours, and from very diverse cultures, on the same raga. - Ravi (Ravindra) Shankar Chowdhury, musician and composer, 1920 - 2012

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