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Ravi Shankar has died.
December 11, 2012 9:07 PM   Subscribe

Ravi Shankar, sitar virtuoso, has died at 92.
posted by Rustic Etruscan (126 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by Artw at 9:10 PM on December 11, 2012


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posted by njohnson23 at 9:11 PM on December 11, 2012


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posted by droomoord at 9:11 PM on December 11, 2012


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posted by Prince_of_Cups at 9:11 PM on December 11, 2012


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posted by b1tr0t at 9:12 PM on December 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


Aw. After the George Harrison/Beatles thread from a couple days ago, this is very sad. I've had "Within You Without You" in my head ever since then.

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posted by Curious Artificer at 9:12 PM on December 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


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posted by fingers_of_fire at 9:16 PM on December 11, 2012


My first introduction to his music.

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posted by Dismantled King at 9:16 PM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


92? Hey, that's a good long run.

So long, Ravi, and thanks for introducing the sitar and Indian music to the world!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:17 PM on December 11, 2012 [10 favorites]


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End credits music to "Gandhi"
posted by dnash at 9:18 PM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


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posted by /\/\/\/ at 9:18 PM on December 11, 2012


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posted by marienbad at 9:19 PM on December 11, 2012


Aw. He performed at my mom's all women, Roman Catholic college in Iowa in the early '60s and Mom got to go. It was, according to her, by far the highlight of her stay at an all women, Roman Catholic college in Iowa in the early '60s.
posted by medeine at 9:21 PM on December 11, 2012 [8 favorites]


empatterson: "I feel like a little more context or background about this person would make a more interesting post."

Most immediately relevant in the West, perhaps, he was the Beatle's guru and introduced them to Indian music. There's a whole lot -- a whole lot more about him, but that's the tip of the iceberg. He was a recognized master of music. Scholar. Trivially, he was Norah Jones' dad. Where do you even start?
posted by boo_radley at 9:22 PM on December 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


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posted by parki at 9:23 PM on December 11, 2012


I named my first born son after him. When people asked me who Ravi Shankar was, I told them simply he is the world's greatest living musician. A Ravi Shankar concert was like seeing Miles Davis, Sonic Youth, or the Grateful Dead, in fact it's inappropriate to mention him in the same sentence as these amateurs. I am so grateful for him and his music. I am also so grateful he mentored his daughter who is an amazing sitarist in her own right, perhaps his equal. I visited his home in Varanasi the last time I was in there but he was away.

So very happy and sad right now.

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posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:23 PM on December 11, 2012 [30 favorites]


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posted by Seekerofsplendor at 9:24 PM on December 11, 2012


Trivially, he was Norah Jones' dad.

Nora might take issue with the "trivially" characterization! :)
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:25 PM on December 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


I am also so grateful he mentored his daughter

His daughter Anoushka, not the other one of course.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:26 PM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh no!

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posted by shakespeherian at 9:28 PM on December 11, 2012


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posted by wotsac at 9:30 PM on December 11, 2012


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posted by fishmasta at 9:30 PM on December 11, 2012


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posted by pipian at 9:31 PM on December 11, 2012


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posted by vverse23 at 9:33 PM on December 11, 2012


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posted by 1367 at 9:35 PM on December 11, 2012


There aren't any substantive obits up yet, but the FPP linked obit uses more than 50% of its paragraphs talking about Shankar's connection to western pop music so,yeah, a meatier post would be nice. I will put up others as they come available.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:39 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ravi Shankar teaches George Harrison how to play sitar 1968
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posted by unliteral at 9:40 PM on December 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


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posted by Miko at 9:42 PM on December 11, 2012


Play it again, Ravi.

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posted by smirkette at 9:42 PM on December 11, 2012


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posted by Halloween Jack at 9:47 PM on December 11, 2012


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posted by R. Schlock at 9:48 PM on December 11, 2012


Wow. I took a bellydance workshop recently that used only Shankar's music, and the experience was...transcendent. Such a gifted musician.

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posted by MissySedai at 9:49 PM on December 11, 2012


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posted by scody at 9:50 PM on December 11, 2012


Have seen him twice in the last 3 years when he came to play at the Davies Symphony Hall in SF. Both times were unimaginable, beautiful, and just......

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posted by ruhroh at 9:51 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I saw Ravi in Seattle, during George Harrison's 1974 concert at the Coliseum. George was in poor form that night -- his voice was almost completely gone, the second night of the tour -- but Ravi was spectacular. Just like the record of the Concert For Bangladesh, he asked that people refrain from smoking, and just like there they didn't (yes, you could smoke indoors then), but it was marvelous to see. Alla Rakha on tabla. In retrospect much more interesting than the boring pop music (except for Billy Preston).

The stories I've heard of Shankar's training regimen -- twelve hours a day, seven days a week, for twelve years -- sound apocryphal, but the mysteries of that giant instrument, the likes of which George barely scratched the surface of, still surprise and astound me. I remember, as a struggling, indeed full-on crappy, guitarist, hearing "the frets all move for every tune" and thinking I'd better just pack it in. Today, it's not the kind of music I reach for first, but he was a great musician and a great ambassador.

About the same age as Dave Brubeck, then.
posted by Fnarf at 9:51 PM on December 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


Here's the NYTimes obit.
posted by anewnadir at 9:53 PM on December 11, 2012


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posted by Nick Verstayne at 10:03 PM on December 11, 2012


Been listening to his music for many years now, timeless and beautiful. Turned me on the rest of classical Indian music as well. Thank you Ravi.

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posted by captain cosine at 10:04 PM on December 11, 2012


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posted by Joey Michaels at 10:07 PM on December 11, 2012


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posted by mike3k at 10:09 PM on December 11, 2012


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posted by lapolla at 10:14 PM on December 11, 2012


Aww, man, I kinda assumed he'd never die.
posted by klangklangston at 10:17 PM on December 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


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92 is obviously a good run, but I thought he was timeless, like his music.
posted by mosk at 10:18 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


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posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:19 PM on December 11, 2012


Apparently Fox News just did this: "Oh boy! @FoxNews just had on a long segment on Ravi Shankar's death....with a huge SriSri-art-of-living Ravi Shankar pic as the backdrop".

For those who don't know, this is the other Ravi Shankar.
posted by vidur at 10:20 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


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posted by en forme de poire at 10:22 PM on December 11, 2012


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posted by facetious at 10:23 PM on December 11, 2012


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posted by furtive at 10:23 PM on December 11, 2012


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posted by Lynsey at 10:24 PM on December 11, 2012


Tremendous musician, hugely influential.
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posted by Wolof at 10:26 PM on December 11, 2012


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posted by quazichimp at 10:32 PM on December 11, 2012


Here is his talented daughter, Anoushka performing in a tribute to George Harrison
posted by quazichimp at 10:43 PM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


So in 2012, we've lost Shankar, Brubeck, Edward Mirzoyen, Ben Kynard, Kitty Wells, Howard H. Scott, and Sam Sniderman, all at the age of 92 or 92 minus one day.

(Sniderman wasn't a musician, mind you, but he was the Record Man, and Scott was The LP Man.)

I wonder what the odds are of a musician either dying tragically young or hanging on for much longer than the average person. The streak of 92 year olds I listed above doesn't mean much -- you could find a similarly sized cluster in any profession, I think -- but there do seem to be a lot of truly elderly but vibrant jazz, blues and classical musicians out there.
posted by maudlin at 10:49 PM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


A Bengali Brahmin, he was born Robindra Shankar on April 7, 1920 in Varanasi, the youngest of four brothers, and spent his first 10 years in relative poverty, brought up by his mother. He was almost eight before he met his absent father, a globe-trotting lawyer, philosopher, writer and former minister to the Maharajah of Jhalawar.

In 1930, his eldest brother Uday Shankar uprooted the family to Paris, and over the next eight years Shankar enjoyed the limelight in Uday's troupe, which toured the world introducing Europeans and Americans to Indian classical and folk dance.

[...snipping the usual... and adding a portion on his gharana and guru]

A Magsaysay award winner, Shankar was nominated as a member of the Rajya Sabha in 1986.

Believing in the greatness of Indian classical music and blessed with charisma and intelligence, he pursued a dream of taking the music out to the Western world.

Between the early 1950s and the mid-1960s he became the leading international emissary for Indian music, first performing as a solo artist in the USSR in 1954, in Europe and North America in 1956, and Japan in 1958.

He developed a characteristic sitar sound, with powerful bass notes and a serene and spiritual touch in the alap movement of a raga.

The sitar virtuoso was responsible for incorporating many aspects of Carnatic ( south Indian) music into the north Indian system, especially its mathematical approach to rhythm. He also gave a new prominence to the tabla player in concert.

He was appointed Director of Music at the Indian People's Theatre Association, and later held the same position at All India Radio (1949?56). He composed his first new raga in 1945 (30 more would follow) and began a prolific recording career.

The music doyen wrote a new melody for Mohammed Iqbal's patriotic poem 'Sare Jahan Se Accha'.


PTI (Press Trust of India) via The Hindu
posted by infini at 10:56 PM on December 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


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posted by infini at 10:58 PM on December 11, 2012


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posted by jabo at 11:03 PM on December 11, 2012


The stories I've heard of Shankar's training regimen -- twelve hours a day, seven days a week, for twelve years -- sound apocryphal, but the mysteries of that giant instrument, the likes of which George barely scratched the surface of, still surprise and astound me.
posted by infini at 11:11 PM on December 11, 2012


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posted by Sys Rq at 11:21 PM on December 11, 2012


Heart heavy to hear about Ravi Shankar's death. Delighted he lived to be 92, a good, long and amazingly accomplished life. Glad too his daughter, Anoushka Shankar, took up music as well.

I remember in 1967, when I was 13 years old, first hearing Ravi Shankar's music, right after his very well liked appearance in the Monterey Pop Festival. He was up there with Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Who, Otis Redding, The Byrds, Jefferson Airplane and pretty much dazzled everybody with his breathtaking performance, most who had never heard such extraordinary Indian classical music. He then appeared at the Concert for Bangla Desh and The Woodstock Festival.

All of a sudden then there was everything Indian in the USA, posters, clothes, food, music, textiles, bedspreads, long printed skirts, men wearing kurtas and Nehru jackets. Jimi Hendrix' album Axis Bold As Love in 1967 had a Hindu deity on the cover, George was playing sitar and the Beatles were into Maharishi Mahaesh Yoga, Mia Farrow, the Beatles, one of the Beach Boys and Donovan all went to Rishikesh. Then Hare Krishna people turned up at airports, various swamis and gurus were all the trend, followed by everybody, the butt of jokes as well as devotion. It mingled with the Buddhism of the Beat Generation, Zen and then when the Tibetan lama wave came West in 1975. East met West.

Ravi was woven in Westerners' minds with the mysticism of the East without most people knowing anything about classical Indian music, Indian mysticism, Hinduism or the spiritual tradition, the sadhana, of learning a music instrument in India.

In an unexpected way, Ravi Shankar's music had an influence on my life. Hearing it in the West, in London of the early 70's I had learned to love his sitar playing and when I hitch hiked overland from Greece to India in 1975, was sitting in a Tibetan restaurant-hotel in McLeod Ganj, Northern India, I heard the most wonderful classical India music coming from one of the rooms and went to see who it was. The man playing the sarod, Jon, an Australian student of classical Indian music, ended up becoming my husband, now my ex, a musician, maker of classical Indian musical instruments (this is a sarod he made) and filmer of other Indian musicians.

My condolences to his family, his many friends and students/disciples. What a beautiful resonance he brought to the world. I'm so glad he was born, lived and played.
posted by nickyskye at 11:22 PM on December 11, 2012 [26 favorites]


sandhya raga
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posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:21 AM on December 12, 2012


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Once heard an interview with Jerry Garcia and Mickey Hart both effusively praising Ravi and his influence on their own music.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:35 AM on December 12, 2012


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posted by lipsum at 12:49 AM on December 12, 2012


I named my first born son after him.
I learned the hard way that people named Ravi Shankar <whatever> are really not interested in discussing their parents' musical preferences.

I think Kraftwerk is amazing, so if I ever have kids, I'll name them Michael[le] Milken.
posted by b1tr0t at 12:52 AM on December 12, 2012


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posted by raztaj at 1:54 AM on December 12, 2012


RIP

My first Ravi Shankar concert was in London's Royal Festival Hall in 1956.

My brother and I had heard ragas on the radio and were fascinated by the music.
We were probably the only "white" people in the very enthusiastic audience.

Towards the end several besuited functionaries walked on stage looking fiercely at their watches but backed off as the music climaxed and the entire audience including us schoolboys were on their feet in pure ecstacy . They played for another hour



The Beatles pale by comparison, but the interest in Indian music provided a lot of teaching jobs for London's poor Indian musicians
posted by jan murray at 2:11 AM on December 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


I'm very happy to have walked on this planet at the same time as Shankar.
posted by item at 2:14 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I went to see Ravi Shankar perform with his daughter at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley a few years ago. It was an incredible concert. I didn't expect him to play so well at 80+ years old, but neither his musicianship nor his enthusiasm betrayed his age in the least. Apparently he was still taking new students at the time!

I find it unbelievable that this man never stopped perfecting his art until his last breath. He lived his life to the absolute fullest, and as a result, several generations of musicians and music lovers have benefitted from his music. I hope that I can be as active as him when I'm in my 90s.

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posted by archagon at 3:09 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Mixed feelings about his legacy, but not about his artistry. I studied with one of his students and met him once, so I will claim gharana affiliation in saluting Pandit Ravi Shankar.

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posted by spitbull at 3:23 AM on December 12, 2012


Worth pointing out that Ravi's primary teacher was Muslim (as were almost all professional Hindustani musicians before the 20th century) and that the association of raga based music with Hindu mysticism was an invention of Ravi and his generation of Brahmin nationalists.


Sure put one over on the gullible hippies.

Also worth pointing it that he never hid this truth.
posted by spitbull at 3:28 AM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well, ok, first Paluskar and Bhatkande had to de-oral-traditionalize it it.
posted by spitbull at 3:31 AM on December 12, 2012


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posted by El Brendano at 3:46 AM on December 12, 2012


Someone referenced the "Concert for George" above - and something Ravi Shankar said of George that night is equally applicable of Ravi Shankar now (paraphrased as I am mis-remembering):
I believe that [Ravi] is here now. How could he not be, when we have all his beautiful music and we have all of the people who loved him so much?
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posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:11 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


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posted by JoeXIII007 at 4:30 AM on December 12, 2012


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posted by klausness at 4:42 AM on December 12, 2012


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posted by Erroneous at 5:07 AM on December 12, 2012


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posted by X | ANA | X at 5:32 AM on December 12, 2012


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posted by hippybear at 5:45 AM on December 12, 2012


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With him and Dave Brubeck both going, I feel like the kaleidoscope of music I can't understand, but can still tell is beautiful is dimming.

Concert for Bangladesh on repeat the rest of the day.
posted by DigDoug at 6:05 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


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posted by Gelatin at 6:24 AM on December 12, 2012


A few years ago my father, a retired detective and a Sufi minister (try and swallow that) took me a few days before my birthday to see Ravi Shankar perform with his daughter Anoushka in Dallas. I was in my early twenties and did not quite get the hype surrounding this show. There on stage he sat, his daughter along side, and proceeded to weave a beautiful symphony to the ears. Anoushka then played... and it was obvious that she had become, dare I say, his equal in talent with the sitar.
I'm not a religious or spiritual person, but two times in my life I felt closest to god. One was seeing the Whirling Dervishes perform where I swear I heard chanting all around me only to see stoic audience members watching the stage in a glaze. The other time was experiencing Ravi Shankar's music live. My 20-something cynical ass experienced my first bout of ecstasy through music. I've been fully in admiration of the man since.

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posted by hillabeans at 6:24 AM on December 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


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posted by tommasz at 6:34 AM on December 12, 2012


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posted by scottatdrake at 6:47 AM on December 12, 2012


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A great musician.
posted by epilnivek at 6:54 AM on December 12, 2012


I was lucky enough to see Pandit Ravi Shankar perform live twice, and they were two of the most transcendent musical experiences of my life. Also, a couple of years ago, I bought a used Shankar CD and found that it had been signed by the Maestro himself; one of my prized possessions.

I had been expecting this for a while, but it makes it no less of a gut punch to the soul.

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posted by Saxon Kane at 7:12 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


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posted by Iridic at 7:19 AM on December 12, 2012


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posted by n2linux at 7:30 AM on December 12, 2012


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posted by c10h12n2 at 7:35 AM on December 12, 2012


This bit from the Monterrey Pop Festival has always captivated me...

I was 12 when my mom gave me a huge collection of Ravi Shankar CDs for my birthday...I used to fall asleep to them.

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posted by schyler523 at 7:37 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Damn. I also thought he would just sort of abide forever.

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posted by jquinby at 7:46 AM on December 12, 2012


Thank you. If you appreciate the tuning so much, I hope you'll like the playing more.
posted by RakDaddy at 7:52 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


spitbull: Worth pointing out that Ravi's primary teacher was Muslim (as were almost all professional Hindustani musicians before the 20th century)

That is incomplete and misinforming. The raga and Indian music pre-date the Islamic tradition.

On Ravi Shankar's own site he says: The system of Indian music known as Raga Sangeet can be traced back nearly two thousand years to its origin in the Vedic hymns of the Hindu temples, the fundamental source of all Indian music. So before you heap scorn on those "gullible hippies", please get your history straight.

What happened was the Mughuls, who were Muslim, invaded India, which was Hindu, between 1526 to 1757. The Mughal emperors, kings and leaders forced conversion from Hinduism to Islam and many musicians who were Hindu took on Muslim names. The Mughal kings had the money to support the musicians and wanted Indian musicians in their royal courts. It was from that time of the Mughal invasion that many of the renowned Northern Indian musicians came to be Muslim. But the classical Indian music tradition was - and is - deeply rooted in the Hindu Vedas.
posted by nickyskye at 8:19 AM on December 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


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posted by Goofyy at 8:23 AM on December 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


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posted by Lutoslawski at 9:13 AM on December 12, 2012


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posted by joedan at 9:14 AM on December 12, 2012


I first saw him perform in Orange County, CA, in 1989, which was his 50th anniversary of performing live. I later took sitar lessons but moved and was unable to keep up with it. Classical Indian music is about the only music I listen to these days.
posted by perhapses at 9:46 AM on December 12, 2012


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posted by lalochezia at 11:13 AM on December 12, 2012


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posted by RedOrGreen at 11:26 AM on December 12, 2012


Back in 2005, I was working on a Bollywood film shooting in New York.

We put up our cast and crew traveling from India in this one particular hotel which, for whatever reason, is preferred by Indian celebrities. As part of the deal, we were given office space in the hotel's attic. Which was just upstairs from the penthouse level. Where, as you can imagine, the "Presidential Suite" was located.

As someone who works on the boring office paperwork-pushing side of the film industry, I spent a grim six months working out of this office (in Bollywood, the hours are long, the work is dehumanizing, and the pay is embarrassing -- even by indie film standards).

During that time, Ravi Shankar was doing performances in New York. It couldn't have been one night only, it must have been a week at Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center or something. Because he, his family, and his surrounding entourage of musicians all stayed in this particular hotel for several weeks.

Every day, we film office nobodies up in the attic of a not-especially-fancy hotel in midtown Manhattan were treated to several hours of private Ravi Shankar concerts courtesy of thin walls and old plumbing. Because we were right above his suite.

People use the expression "...to be a fly on that wall" pretty frequently.

Well, I was a fly on that particular wall, and it made one of the most miserable times of my life a joy.

For that, I will always be grateful to Mr. Shankar.

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posted by Sara C. at 11:56 AM on December 12, 2012 [8 favorites]


So in 2012, we've lost Shankar, Brubeck, Edward Mirzoyen, Ben Kynard, Kitty Wells, Howard H. Scott, and Sam Sniderman, all at the age of 92 or 92 minus one day.

What a year 1920 was...
posted by Sara C. at 11:59 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I got to hear a concert for Ravi Shankar back in 1995 or so. I went to Occidental College (where Obama went for two years), and Occidental likes to rent out its campus for various uses during holidays (90210 was filmed there, etc.). During spring break, the campus auditorium was rented out to hold a birthday concert for Ravi Shankar, invitation only, of course. A friend and I who didn't go home for the holidays were wandering around campus, and stumbled upon it. They were checking tickets at the inside doors, not the outside doors, but I knew that there was a door in the back of the men's restroom that allowed access to the rafters, and was often unlocked. We checked, and, sure enough, after 10 minutes of stumbling around in the dark, found ourselves maybe 40 feet directly above the stage, next to the lights. Ravi Shankar and George Harrison were in the first row, and we got to see a great tabla performance. We wanted to hold out as long as we could, in hopes that Ravi would be called up on stage to join in and perform at some point, but after a while we just couldn't take the heat from all the stage lights, so we left.
posted by Bugbread at 12:03 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


What a year 1920 was...

I'm more wondering what was going on during the latter nine months of 1919.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:42 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


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posted by gray17 at 12:53 PM on December 12, 2012


boo_radley: Trivially, he was Norah Jones' dad.
Sadly, this is how he seemed to feel about it, and it has always pissed me off.

IRDC how those two compare in anyone else's estimation of talent and skill. He's a shit father.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:09 PM on December 12, 2012


Sounds like Ravi Shankar had a complex relationship life, many affairs and chronic infidelity, which is pretty par for the course for many famous musicians. It seems that Norah Jones' mother, Sue Jones, prevented/banned Ravi from seeing his daughter for many years. "When Shankar decided to marry Sukanya, Sue decided to break ties with him and banned him from meeting Norah as well."

My heart goes out to both Anoushka and Norah, once long estranged sisters, so close in age and both brilliant musicians in their own right. How hard it must be for them both to have had a famous gypsy, sexaholic father. I hope they develop a deep and lasting sisterhood and are able to heal their wounds.
posted by nickyskye at 1:58 PM on December 12, 2012


He's a shit father

Apparently he had one who abandoned him and his mom and ran off to London to marry/live with another woman.
posted by infini at 2:32 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


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posted by NordyneDefenceDynamics at 6:09 PM on December 12, 2012


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posted by mayurasana at 6:31 PM on December 12, 2012




Coming to this late, as I've been listening all day to (Columbia U.'s) WKCR's marathon radio tribute (with sometimes apparently narcoleptic DJs) to the man. (Which, as of 9 PM, has switched over to their RealAudio stream only. (Ugh, who the fuck uses RealAudio anymore??)

I want to say a bit about both Pandit Ravi Shankar and the role of the two major Indian religions in the music there. (A role that seems to have been overstated in this thread.)

As for many others, he was my earliest introduction to the classical music of North India (a.k.a. the Hindustani tradition, as opposed the South Indian, or Carnatic tradition.) Like a lot of impressionable hippies, my exposure was through George Harrison initially. But it was my dad (not a hippie by any stretch) bringing home a concert LP of his that really got me going, along with Harrison's Wonderwall soundtrack LP, which had a lot of Indian hired hands on it. (My first exposure to sarod, santoor, and sarangi, among other things.)The first ever Indian concert I saw was Pandit Shankar and his usual tabla player Ustad Allarakha, at Boston's Symphony Hall, while I was still in high school.

While getting my comp degree at Berklee, I attended as many local Indian concerts as I could find, and was helped in that by a drummer housemate taking tabla lessons from and becoming a right-hand man to local tabla teacher Pandit Shashi Nayak, so that I had my first exposure to intimate house concerts ("mehfils") at his Commonwealth Ave. apartment/studio.

I saw Pandit Shankar a couple of more times in Boston, most notably at MIT where he played a duet ("jugalbandi") with his erstwhile brother-in-law, sarodist Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, whose father, Baba Allauddin Khan (the teacher to whom spitbull is referring, who was nominally Muslim, yes), was guru to both of them (as well as to the late sarod maestro Vasant Rai, who was a frequent guest of Shashi's.)

Years later I attended Ali Akbar's college in San Rafael, Calif., briefly, and also became friends with a singing lineage from Lahore, Pakistan, the sons and daughter of Ustad Salamat Ali Khan, two of whom live in the Bay Area. Between the two sources, I've seen a lot of concerts large and small and many house concerts hosted by both Hindus and Muslims, often mixed. The only significant difference I ever noticed was that the Muslim hosts served meat, and the Hindus generally didn't.

Since coming to Montreal, I've gotten to know the local Indian music scene here fairly well, and the same dynamic prevails. There are great friendships between musicians and music lovers of different religions, exemplified by some of the folks I know in the local cultural organization that organizes many of the concerts here.

I currently study with a local sitarist (not on sitar, but on fretless guitar - a custom Indian guitar, 21 strings, is being made for me right now) who studied in India for ten years at a music university.

The music is, the more I study it, the most complex and sophisticated system of melody and rhythm I know of, with demands on my memory and physical technique that dwarf those of the Western classical and jazz systems I studied at Berklee. For this wonderful challenge I have Ravi first of all to thank. It's making me a better musician than I might otherwise have become, with benefits, particularly in melody, that are applicable to all the genres in which I work, from string pieces to funk to electronica.



spitbull: Worth pointing out that Ravi's primary teacher was Muslim (as were almost all professional Hindustani musicians before the 20th century)

That is incomplete and misinforming. The raga and Indian music pre-date the Islamic tradition.

On Ravi Shankar's own site he says: The system of Indian music known as Raga Sangeet can be traced back nearly two thousand years to its origin in the Vedic hymns of the Hindu temples, the fundamental source of all Indian music. So before you heap scorn on those "gullible hippies", please get your history straight.

What happened was the Mughuls, who were Muslim, invaded India, which was Hindu, between 1526 to 1757. The Mughal emperors, kings and leaders forced conversion from Hinduism to Islam and many musicians who were Hindu took on Muslim names. The Mughal kings had the money to support the musicians and wanted Indian musicians in their royal courts. It was from that time of the Mughal invasion that many of the renowned Northern Indian musicians came to be Muslim. But the classical Indian music tradition was - and is - deeply rooted in the Hindu Vedas.



One really shouldn't make too much of religion when speaking of Indian music. The music really does transcend the main religious divide. Musicians of both regularly play together, and while occasionally a few from each side might make some catty remarks about the other, that's by far the exception. The same goes for musicians from the minority religions, like Sikhs. It's one tradition, from Pakistan to India to Bangladesh to Nepal and even Afghanistan, and to a lesser extent (allowing for the Carnatic differences) to South India and Sri Lanka.

Whether most professional Hindustani musicians pre-20th were Muslim or not, I can't speak to. Even if they were, the label doesn't necessarily mean that much. The historical situation from one Mughal emperor to another varied greatly; some were hard-ass fundie types who probably did force conversions, while others, notably Akbar Shah (often called Akbar the Great, in the West, which is redundant, since "akbar' means "great") were extremely tolerant and curious about other traditions. Akbar hosted inter-religious philosophical conferences, and his court musician, Mian Tansen, is the one to whom Baba Allauddin Khan's gharana (lineage), sometimes called the Seni gharana (Tan Sen), and sometimes called the Maihar gharana, traces, as do several others.

So while many musicians may trace their family's Muslim faith back to forced conversions and the musical patronage opportunities that required that conversion, others may not have been so involuntary. You also have to realize the appeal that Islam's lack of class hierarchy had for those at the lower levels of the Hindu caste system. Some surely trace back to that, too. It wasn't always done to ingratiate with the rulers.

And the Indian practice of Islam often grew more relaxed as the centuries wore on. They lived side-by-side with their Hindu neighbours for a very long time. (The '47 Partition notwithstanding, they still do to some extent.) There was a lot of local crosstalk.

I can remember coming into the college in San Rafael for evening classes, and Ali Akbar (Khansahib, as he was and is universally, affectionately called), definitely a Muslim, would be sitting in his customary chair at the top of the stairs, smoking, sometimes with a glass of whiskey (and sometimes tea) in his hands. (I've had beers with my Sufi Muslim singer friend in SF. He's not a big drinker, but neither does he shun it with horror.) In the group classes, he would sometimes teach us melodies by setting verses from the Bhagavad Gita to music. A big picture of the Hindu goddess of music, Sarasvati, hangs over the main room. None of the many Muslim musicians who've guested there has ever made an issue of it.

(Khansahib, like Pandit Shankar with George Harrison and others, was amazingly generous in his handling of us ignorant Westerners. Both of them wanted so much to spread knowledge of this music that they risked condemnation by purist traditionalists back in India in order to do so. It's unlikely that students back in India would have been tolerated in some of things that we innocently did: One day, Khansahib looked out at the sea of tape recorders that the students in the group classes had brought to help their feeble Western memories (I brought my DAT when I went there, yup), and pronounced them "the Sony gharana". )

India is a complex place, and it's easy to oversimplify its cultures. While partisans of both of its major religions may occasionally spin the musical history to emphasize their contributions to it over others', the rough truth is that both have contributed substantially, in the centuries since the Mughals arrived, to the synthesis that is the North Indian musical tradition. (The South Indian, or Carnatic, tradition is largely if not entirely Hindu, AFAIK, and does represent the oldest and perhaps "purest" unbroken tradition going back to the Vedas. Pandit Rajiv Taranath, a sarodist in the Hindustani tradition, was in town last month for a concert and a workshop after, where he talked a bit about the ancient Vedic roots of the music for both North and South. But such knowledge as I've gained so far is only of the North tradition, so see others for any in-depth history of the Carnatic.)

The Hindustani tradition has substantial Persian and other non-Indian elements that were absorbed into it, without the basic raga theory and ethos underlying it having changed. (This means that Hindustani and Carnatic musicians can still play together without any major problems in theoretical comprehension, even though they often have different names for the same ragas and their expositional forms in concert differ substantially. I'm currently studying Raag Kirwani, an originally Carnatic raga that's been widely adopted in the North.) India's ability to absorb foreign influences and technologies without being overly transformed is one of its flexible strengths. (The sitar itself is derived from a Persian instrument, but substantially modified to meet the requirements of Indian tunings and techniques. The South Indians adapted and modified the western violin a few centuries ago, and the now ubiquitous harmoniums derive from the portable organs that some mostly (but not entirely) unsuccessful Christian missionaries brought with them. The Indians essentially said, um, you can keep your religion, but we'll take that!)

There's a resilient unity to Indian music as a whole that makes pronouncements about what religion matters most in it really quite irrelevant and a bit silly.
posted by Philofacts at 8:46 PM on December 12, 2012 [15 favorites]


Adaab, Philofacts, aur shukriyaa.
posted by infini at 9:01 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Il afoo.
posted by Philofacts at 9:24 PM on December 12, 2012


A friend (we were all thirteen year-old's) once met Zakir Hussain at a taping of a televised trivia show. This could be apocryphal, but apparently someone asked him what the difference between the Hindu and Muslim schools in the Hindustani tradition was. He takes a deep breath and says (I'm paraphrasing), "Us Muslims learn from our ustaad's. Hindus learn from their pandit's".

(And sure enough, I can verify this myself, one of the questions that the quiz master in question, Derek O'Brien, cheekily asked in a later show was: "What is the difference between ustaad's and pandit's in Hindustani music?" The right answer for which, is, obviously, none. )

So violins came to the Carnatic because of the marching Irish and Scottish military. (See what I did here!) Legend has it that, Baluswami Dikshitar, the younger brother of Muttuswami Dikshitar, one of Carnatic music's Trinity, upon hearing Scottish and Irish military and dancing bands, took it on himself to learn this strange and crazy instrument called the violin and essentially claimed it for Carnatic music, just as the British general Coote Bahadur claimed the Carnatic for the British crown (with war and violence)

Influenced by his younger brother, Muttuswami Dikshitar went on to compose 39 compositions called nottuswara's, literally well, note-swaras, extremely classical compositions with sacred, Sanskrit lyrics, but set to the Western C major scale and the Sankarabharanam raagam. Thus, God Save the Queen became an ode to the goddess Parvati, an Irish ditty about the town of Mallow in County Cork becomes an ode to the Goddess Meenakshi, and my favourite example, Mozart's piano composition based on a French tune became another ode to the Goddess Meenakshi in the Carnatic, while almost at the same time, it was becoming one of the most recognizable nursery rhymes in the Anglophone world.

So. While Ravi Shankar was no pioneer in fusing western music with Indian classical - even in the twentieth century, Rabindranath Tagore's adventures with a tune that became India's national anthem gratuitous self-link) predates him - but he certainly was the most prominent example of this cultural travels at least in the post-Independence era.

For, the contemporary Indian perspective on Ravi Shankar is about izzat (dignity) and a lack of beimaani (a lack of dishonesty) when it comes to music:
I heard Ravi Shankar live for the first time in 1955, when he came to Hyderabad for a Sangeet Sammelan concert. He promised to listen to me during his next visit to the city. He fulfilled his promise when he listened to me playing. He said “You seem to play more advanced things without learning basics, like where to put a front-stroke or a back-stroke.” In all my innocence, I replied Namaskaram, this is where I need a guru. He just said “Ok”. And this was the turning point of my life. He told me very graciously to come to Delhi. I went to Delhi in 1956 as his disciple
It was about izzat in a political sphere as well:
In 1971, during Bangladesh war, he organised ‘The Concert for Bangladesh’ with his ‘shishya’ George Harrison, in Madison Square,New York. This was the first socially conscious rock concert in the world history. Along with Harrison, rock stars like Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton came together with him to support Bangladesh. This became a model for people like Bono and Bob Geldof.
As the song goes, sur ki nadi behke saagar mein mile: a river of music flowed into the sea and joined it. To someone who strode so many worlds and excelled in so well,

.
posted by the cydonian at 11:06 PM on December 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


A wealth of fascinating historical background! Thanks! The onion has many layers.
posted by Philofacts at 11:17 PM on December 12, 2012


Mile sur mera tumhara, sur mile hamara the can't help it link
posted by infini at 11:59 PM on December 12, 2012


Infini, on one of the tunes on one of tabla player/DJ/producer Talvin Singh's CDs, the intro features an old man reciting a somewhat altered version of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star"; I figure this must be a sly, affectionate nod to Sri Muttuswami Dikshitar.

Talvin came to SF while I was still living there, around the time that CD came out, to show a film he'd just done about his learning expeditions in the Carnatic regions, playing with Carnatic drummers. At that same show he played a short tabla solo, and prefaced it with some critical remarks about some people's dilettantish, exoticist approach to Indian fusions - (I paraphrase) "I want the tabla (or any Indian element) to be front and centre. I don't want to be a stick of incense in the corner."
posted by Philofacts at 10:08 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


infini: He's a shit father

Apparently he had one who abandoned him and his mom and ran off to London to marry/live with another woman.
We learn parenting skills while very young. Unfortunately.

Of course, he's hardly the only massively talented musical wunderkind that is unkind to family. If his daughter weren't one of my favorite performers, I probably wouldn't even retain the details.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:53 AM on December 13, 2012


Philofacts, lovely comment. My point was that the Indian classical music has a spiritual tradition aspect as well as the expertise aspect. That was one of the exciting concepts about the East when Ravi Shankar made headlines in the 60's and on, that music could have this additional dimension and it is something is states quite clearly on his website:

To us, music can be a spiritual discipline on the path to self-realisation, for we follow the traditional teaching that sound is God - Nada Brahma: By this process individual consciousness can be elevated to a realm of awareness where the revelation of the true meaning of the universe - its eternal and unchanging essence - can be joyfully experienced. Our ragas are the vehicles by which this essence can be perceived.

posted by nickyskye at 2:24 PM on December 13, 2012


Sure, it's just that it's disingenious for any one religious tradition to lay claim to this aspect of Indian music. All sorts of people with all sorts of belief systems find fulfillment in it. (It may shock you, but I'm an atheist - though I don't regard that lack of belief in a deity or the supernatural as an adequate delineator of who I am, by itself; one does not define oneself by a lack, and there's much more to me - and to me all the talk of spirit, gods, and such are simply metaphors for the better parts of our human natures, and the potential for fulfillment we have in this splendiferous, if sometimes scary, universe. It doesn't stop me from fully appreciating and participating in the music.)
posted by Philofacts at 4:43 PM on December 13, 2012


.
posted by mkim at 6:14 PM on December 13, 2012


Annapurna Devi & Ravi Shankar: The tragedy of a relationship
posted by infini at 4:25 AM on December 15, 2012


I've often wondered about the Annapurna story. Thanks. I can believe both that Ravi-ji could be self-serving and that Annapurna could have a fierce temper, like her dad. I've heard many accounts of the beatings that Khansahib, her brother, endured at his hands, which, reportedly, still gave him nightmares late in life. This is not a lineage of one-dimensional saints but of extraordinary - and flawed - people.

It's a tragedy that the person who may have been the best in the gharana withdrew from the world. (For me personally, especially, since I love the surbahar's lower register, rare in Indian music. One of the reasons I settled on the fretless guitar, tuned in the Indian way, even though I began study on sitar, is that it gives me a range comparable to cello.) We are fortunate she trained as many excellent players as she did, especially the late Nikhil Bannerjee, who I had thought was a student of Baba Allauddin only, and who was arguably even better than Pandit Shankar. (I have some rare recordings of Nikhil-da performing in India that a sitarist friend gave me copies of a couple of years ago that bias me towards that conclusion.)
posted by Philofacts at 9:48 AM on December 15, 2012


Noted Hindustani singer Shubha Mudgal (who herself sang fusion before, see the first link in my earlier post) on how Ravi Sankar collaborated; it was jugalbandi, but not fusion:
Zubin Mehta explained that although Shankar scored each of the alaap passages he played, he would often stray away from the score, “go off on a tangent, then come back, and give me a sign so we could continue,” and consequently he “would have to wait for him to arrive at a certain note before we could continue.” [...] The concertos retain their Indian character against the backdrop of the philharmonic orchestra.
Coincidentally, This is Not Fusion is the cheeky, but not ironic title to Amit Chaudhuri's first album that features songs with English lyrics, but Hindustani scales. For instance, he uses Raag Todi as a "point of entry" into Eric Clapton's Layla:
[C]ould Eric Clapton, inspired for this song by George Harrison’s wife Patti, have heard his best friend George playing the bhaktiful Raga Todi some time – either on sitar or a record by George’s guru Ravi Shankar – and the tune stayed on his mind?
He also wrote a moving eulogy for Ravi Shankar in The Guardian.
posted by the cydonian at 11:36 PM on December 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


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