Monday, December 17, 2012

A Pandit Passes On

Ravi Shankar died the other day. He was 92.  

"Ravi Shankar was the ideal ambassador for Indian culture. As an artist he was a great hybridizer, respecting tradition but innovating freely. Collaborating with George Harrison on the “Concert for Bangladesh”; giving lessons in Indian classical music to John Coltrane; merging new musical technologies with classical Indian instruments and dancers from the Bolshoi in a stunning live performance inside the Kremlin; working with Philip Glass on the chamber-music album “Passages”; writing film and TV scores: Shankar’s unbounded and creative curiosity, steeped in the classics but pointed always at the new..." from Ravi Shankar (namesake American writer and editor), NY Times, Dec 17, 2012

For me the deceased Ravi Shankar has been a partner in music since university days. The complex musical tradition that he almost single-highhandedly introduced to the world beyond India was alien-sounding yet completely in sync with the mood of the 1960s. It is liquid and extemporaneous but also very spiritual. Still exotic to Western ears, it speaks to us in a soulful way. I have copies of Shankar's Russian collaboration and that with Yehudi Menuhin, both gifted works of art.

I vividly recall, while driving a rental car through one fine summer evening a decade or so ago, listening enthralled to a BBC radio documentary on the differing traditional musical styles to be found down the Indian subcontinent. Some of my forbears were in military service in the former Raj and motoring down the prehistoric spine of England helped the artistic richness of another complex and ancient land resonate as a place of connection.

Before Shankar there would have been no such documentaries to enrich my travels. His contributions to our shared global culture were extraordinary. I shall miss him.

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