Ravi Shankar Biography

7 April 1920, Benares, India. The foremost exponent of Indian music, Shankar was largely responsible for introducing the sitar to western audiences. He began his career as a member of elder brother Uday’s music company, and was first recorded in 1936 playing esraj. In 1938 he gave up an interest in dance to study classical music under Guru Ustad Allauddin Khan of Mahair. An intensive eight-year period ensued, following which Shankar began performing in his own right. He contributed music to film maker Satyajit Ray’s trilogy: Pather Panchali, Aparajito and The World Of Apu. A US tour in 1957 ignited interest in both the artist and the syncopated raga. This position was enhanced by subsequent appearances under the sponsorship of the Asia Society Performing Arts Program. Shankar also enjoyed the approbation of fellow musicians, recording West Meets East with violinist Yehudi Menuhin and parts of Portrait Of A Genius with flautist Paul Horn, but drew greater recognition when Beatles guitarist George Harrison professed his admiration. The sitar thus appeared in pop, notably on the former group’s ‘Norwegian Wood’, but while Harrison’s interest was undoubtedly genuine - he studied under the maestro in Bombay - the short-lived ‘raga-rock’ genre was marked by expediency.

Although initially sceptical, Shankar later enjoyed his new-found status although he was dismissive of rock’s temporal trappings, in particular its drug culture, disowning his excellent soundtrack to Chappaqua upon discovering the film’s hedonistic content. In May 1967, Shankar opened the Kinnara School Of Music in Los Angeles and within weeks was one of the star attractions at the Monterey Pop Festival. By this point the artist had been joined by long-standing tabla player Alla Rakha (b. 29 April 1919, Jammu, India, d. 3 February 2000), a disciple of Lahore musician Ustad Quader Bax. His dextrous technique inspired Shankar to even greater artistic heights, as evinced on Portrait Of A Genius and Ravi Shankar In New York. In 1969, the sitar player appeared at the Woodstock Festival, and was one of the artists signed to the Beatles’ Apple Records. Galvanized by Shankar’s concern over famine in Bangla Desh, George Harrison organized an all-star concert in New York’s Madison Square Garden. The ensuing Concert For Bangla Desh (1971), featured the master musician’s contribution to the performance. He subsequently recorded for Harrison’s Dark Horse label and in 1974 toured the US with Harrison to promote Ravi Shankar, Family And Friends.

Such appearances brought Shankar’s spell within the ‘rock’ community to an end, but he remains a highly-respected and popular figure on the international concert circuit and has contributed greatly to the now-burgeoning ‘world music’ movement. His late 80s and 90s recordings saw him increasingly accommodated by America’s burgeoning new age community, working with both American and Russian musicians as well as family members. A magnificent box set, produced by George Harrison was issued in 1996 and an album of new material followed a year later.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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