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Ravi Shankar

Ravi Shankar, KBE, LH (born Robindro Shaunkor Chowdhury, sometimes spelled as Rabindra Shankar Chowdhury; 7 April 1920 – 11 December 2012) was an Indian sitarist and composer. A sitar virtuoso, he became the world's best-known expert of North Indian classical music in the second half of the 20th century, and influenced many musicians in India and throughout the world. Shankar was awarded India's highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, in 1999.

Shankar was born to a Bengali Brahmin family in India, and spent his youth as a dancer touring India and Europe with the dance group of his brother Uday Shankar. At age 18, he gave up dancing to pursue a career in music, studying the sitar for seven years under court musician Allauddin Khan. After finishing his studies in 1944, Shankar worked as a composer, creating the music for the Apu Trilogy by Satyajit Ray, and was music director of All India Radio, New Delhi, from 1949 to 1956.

In 1956, Shankar began to tour Europe and the Americas playing Indian classical music and increased its popularity there in the 1960s through teaching, performance, and his association with violinist Yehudi Menuhin and Beatles guitarist George Harrison. His influence on Harrison helped popularize the use of Indian instruments in Western pop music in the latter half of the 1960s. Shankar engaged Western music by writing compositions for sitar and orchestra and toured the world in the 1970s and 1980s. From 1986 to 1992, he served as a nominated member of Rajya Sabha, the upper chamber of the Parliament of India. He continued to perform until the end of his life. He was a recipient of numerous prestigious musical accolades, including a Polar Music Prize and five Grammy Awards.

Impact on The Beatles music[]

Ravi Shankar and George Harrison

Ravi Shankar teaching George Harrison how to play the sitar

Shankar became widely known for his collaborations with The Beatles, among other western musicians, and brought the intricacy and beauty of classical Indian music to the masses in doing so. While Shankar’s own efforts cannot be underestimated, George Harrison’s connection with the sitar player undoubtedly opened doors for him.

During the 1950s, Shankar was on the road trying to enlighten those he met with his soulful and smoky sounds of the sitar. He didn’t just keep to his own comfortable surroundings either, Shankar was determined to open up India to the world through music. It meant he visited countries such as the Soviet Union, Western Europe and even over to the US — one can only imagine the reception his traditional dress and sound could have received during the decade. In 1966 things would change.

Shankar would cross paths with one of the world’s biggest rock stars and likely one of the most well-known faces on the planet during that time —the late, great George Harrison. As a member of The Beatles, Harrison had reached the height of fame and fortune and it was at this height in 1966 that he turned his attention inwards and went to India in search of spiritual balancing.

A fan of the sitar already, when Harrison met Shankar he seized his opportunity to learn the instrument from a master and realising himself at the same time.

What followed was an intense and friendly relationship full of trading talent and shared goals. Harrison travelled to India and spent weeks with Shankar both learning the sitar and engaging with his own spirituality. In turn, Shankar would be almost instantaneously catapulted into the limelight as a friend and confidant of the Quiet Beatle.

Harrison’s penchant for classical Indian music can be heard across The Beatles back catalogue as Harrison brought Eastern philosophy to the heart of the Western world’s pop darlings. After Harrison and Shankar met, the Fab Four started to use a lot of his techniques.

His association with Harrison and The Beatles ensured he was sought after artist for any festival or late-night TV show as the ultimate guest. He performed at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival (which you can see below) and even brought traditional Indian music to the American masses when he appeared on The Dick Cavett Show in the same year (below).

It’s an opportunity he would likely have not to be afforded without Harrison. Gracing the stage of festivals and operating on America’s favourite late night television shows was a large step for Shankar and his mission to bring the beauty of classical Indian music to the people.

Soon Shankar’s association with The Beatles and the ‘hippie’ culture which surrounded the Fab Four among many others became a problem in his homeland. Despite Shankar’s dislike of the “flower and bead” brigade, the image of Shankar as a drug-taking hippie deeply hurt the sitarist.

Later in 1971, Harrison and Shankar would again work together and this time on far nobler causes. George Harrison had arranged, with the help of Shankar, a benefit concert for the people of Bangladesh who, at the time, were struggling with suaves of famine and war affecting the country. The concert would feature an all-star line up of Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, Leon Russell, Billy Preston, Eric Clapton, Klaus Voorman, Badfinger, and, of course, Ravi Shankar.

It began a long tradition of benefit concerts and would likely have remained one of the purer moments of both Shankar and Harrison’s careers. Shankar was inspirational when it came to ‘The Concert for Bangladesh’, when asked by a reporter as to why Harrison should put on a gig for the aid of Bangladesh he replied: “Because I was asked by a friend if I would help, you know, that’s all”.

The duo also shared what would end up being George Harrison’s final performance on VH1 in 1997 as Shankar accompanied the guitarist on a few songs. It proves that what they shared not only affected Harrison nor just The Beatles but arguably the world.

A long-lasting friendship George Harrison and Ravi Shankar, from such separate places in the world, would come together to not only enjoy one another but to help those less fortunate—and it all happened because of a sitar lesson.

RaviShankar

Studio and live albums[]

  • Three Ragas (1956)
  • Music of India (1962)
  • Improvisations (1962)
  • In Concert (1962)
  • Ravi Shankar (Odeon Records, India catalogue) (1963)
  • India's Master Musician (1963)
  • In London (1964)
  • Ragas & Talas (1964)
  • The Master Musicians of India (with Ali Akbar Khan) (1964)
  • Portrait of Genius (1964)
  • Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan (1965)
  • Sound of the Sitar (1965)
  • West Meets East with Yehudi Menuhin (also titled Menuhin Meets Shankar) (1967)
  • In San Francisco (1967)
  • The Exotic Sitar and Sarod (1967)
  • Two Raga Moods (1967)
  • Live: Ravi Shankar at the Monterey International Pop Festival (1967)
  • A Morning Raga / An Evening Raga (1968)
  • The Sounds of India (1968)
  • In New York (1968)
  • West Meets East, Volume 2 with Yehudi Menuhin (1968)
  • Music from India serie no.8 (1968)
  • A Sitar Recital (1968)
  • Ravi Shankar Improvisations & theme from Pather Panchali (1968)
  • Ravi Shankar's Festival from India (1968)
  • Ravi Shankar (1969)
  • At the Woodstock Festival (1969)
  • Music of India A Dhun and a Raga with Ali Akbar Khan (1969)
  • Ravi Shankar Raga Parameshwari (1970)
  • Six Ragas (1970)
  • The Exciting Music of Ravi Shankar (1970)
  • Four Raga Moods (1971)
  • PBP Ravi Shankar and PBU Ahmedjan Thirakhwa (1971)
  • Joi Bangla EP (1971)
  • Concerto for Sitar & Orchestra with the London Symphony Orchestra and André Previn (1971)
  • The Concert for Bangladesh (1971) – side one only, with Ali Akbar Khan
  • The Genius of Ravi Shankar (1972)
  • Ravi Shankar (1972)
  • Ravi Shankar Ragas (1972)
  • The Masters of Indian Music (1972) (double album with Ali Albar Khan)
  • In Concert 1972 with Ali Akbar Khan (1973)
  • Ragas with Ali Akbar Khan – contains The Master Musicians of India (1964) and the Ali Akbar Khan album The Soul of Indian Music (1965) (released as a double album in 1973)
  • Shankar Family & Friends (1974) – available as part of Shankar and George Harrison box set Collaborations (2010)
  • Ravi Shankar's Music Festival from India (1976) – available as part of Collaborations box set (2010)
  • Improvisations – West Meets East 3 – with Yehudi Menuhin and Jean-Pierre Rampal (1976)
  • Ravi Shankar (1979)
  • Shankar in Japan (1979)
  • Jazzmine (1980) – with George Adams and others
  • The Spirit of India (Deutsche Grammophon, 1980)
  • Homage to Mahatma Gandhi (1981)
  • Raga-Mala (Sitar Concerto No. 2) (1982)
  • Raga Mishra Piloo: duet for sitar & sarod (1983) – with Ali Akbar Khan
  • Pandit Ravi Shankar (1986)
  • Tana Mana (1987)
  • Ravi Shankar: the Doyen of Hindustani Music (1988)
  • Inside the Kremlin (1988)
  • Passages with Philip Glass (1990) (Atlantic Records)
  • Concert for Peace: Royal Albert Hall (1995)
  • Genesis (1995)
  • Towards the Rising Sun (1996)
  • Ravi Shankar: In Celebration (1996)
  • Chants of India (1997) – available as part of Collaborations box set (2010)
  • Raga Tala (1997)
  • Shankar: Sitar Concertos and Other Works (1998)
  • Shankar: Raga Jogeshwari (1998)
  • Vision of Peace: The Art of Ravi Shankar (2000)
  • Full Circle: Carnegie Hall 2000 (2001)
  • Between Two Worlds (documentary directed by Mark Kidel) (2001)
  • Flowers of India (2007)
  • More Flowers of India (2008)
  • Collaborations box set, with George Harrison (2010)
  • Symphony with London Philharmonic Orchestra and David Murphy (2012)
  • The Living Room Sessions Part 1 (2012)
  • The Living Room Sessions Part 2 (2013)
  • A Night at St. John the Divine (2014)
  • In Hollywood, 1971 (2016)
  • Ghanashyam: A Broken Branch (2017)
  • Live in Copenhagen (2020)

Film music[]

  • Neecha Nagar (1946, directed by Chetan Anand)
  • The Apu Trilogy (1955–1959, directed by Satyajit Ray)
  • A Chairy Tale (1957, directed by Norman McLaren)
  • Parash Pathar (1958, directed by Satyajit Ray)
  • Anuradha (1960, directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee)
  • Godaan (1963, directed by Trilok Jetley)
  • Alice in Wonderland (1966, directed by Jonathan Miller) – composer of original score
  • Chappaqua (1966, directed by Conrad Rooks)
  • Monterey Pop (1968, documentary by D.A. Pennebaker)
  • Charly (1968, directed by Ralph Nelson)
  • Raga (1971, directed by Howard Worth)
  • The Concert for Bangladesh by Saul Swimmer (1972) organized by George Harrison with Ravi Shankar
  • Viola (1973, produced by R. Davis), British art film, soundtrack album: Transmigration Macabre, Spark Records SRLM 2002
  • Forbidden Image (1974, directed by Jeremy Marre)
  • Meera (1979, Directed by Gulzar)
  • Gandhi (1982, directed by Richard Attenborough), (Academy Award nomination for Shankar and George Fenton)
  • Genesis (1986)
  • Concert for George (2003, directed by David Leland)
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