'Godfather of world music' dies aged 92
The Indian prime minister has led tributes to Ravi Shankar, calling the sitar virtuoso, who died at home in California aged 92, a national treasure.
“An era has passed away with Ravi Shankar. The nation joins me to pay tributes to his unsurpassable genius, his art and his humility, Manmohan Singh’s spokesman said.
Shankar’s family said his music would live for ever. “Although it is a time for sorrow and sadness, it is also a time for all of us to give thanks and to be grateful that we were able to have him as a part of our lives, the family said.
Shankar composed for the sitar and helped make the sound of the instrument known the world over and synonymous with all things Indian.
He became a hippie musical icon after introducing the Beatles to the sitar and pioneered the concept of benefit rock concerts by organising one for Bangladeshi refugees in 1971.
Dubbed the “godfather of world music” by George Harrison of the Beatles, Shankar played haunting ragas for nearly half a century, collaborating with some of the greats of Western music, including violinist Yehudi Menuhin, with whom he recorded the acclaimed West Meets East album.
He gave sitar lessons to the jazz saxophonist and composer John Coltrane, who named his son Ravi in Shankar’s honour and collaborated with flautist Jean Pierre Rampal, composer Philip Glass and conductors Andre Previn and Zubin Mehta.
Shankar played at the Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967 and the 1969 Woodstock concert.
During the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh at Madison Square Garden in New York he was amused after being greeted with rapturous applause when he began tuning his sitar before starting to play. “If you like the tuning so much I hope you will enjoy the playing more,” Shankar drolly told the embarrassed audience.
Intrigued by complexity
Interest in the instrument exploded in 1965, when Harrison encountered a sitar on the set of Help!, the Beatles’ second film, after their album of the same name. Intrigued by the instrument’s complexity, Harrison learned its rudiments and used it on a Beatles recording, Norwegian Wood, that year.
The Rolling Stones, the Animals, the Byrds and other rock groups quickly followed suit, although few went as far as Harrison, who recorded several songs that appeared on Beatles albums with Indian musicians, rather than his band mates. By the summer of 1967 the sitar was in vogue in the rock world.
Beginning his artistic career as a dancer in older brother Uday’s world famous troupe in Paris in 1930 at the age of 10, Shankar toured Europe, the US and Asia for eight years, hobnobbing with luminaries like novelist Gertrude Stein, classical guitarist Andres Segovia and songwriter Cole Porter.
Renowned Indian musician Baba Allaudin Khan joined the troupe and taught Shankar the sitar over seven ascetic years of rigorous training.
Shankar won three Grammy awards and was nominated for an Oscar for his musical score for the movie Gandhi.
Shankar’s personal life, however was complex. His marriage in 1941 to Allaudin Khan’s daughter, Annapurna Devi, ended in divorce. He had relationships with several women and in 1979 fathered Norah Jones with New York concert promoter Sue Jones.In 1981 he had a daughter ,Anoushka, with musician Sukanya Rajan, whom he married in 1989.
When Norah Jones won five Grammys in 2003, Anoushka was also nominated.