We all remember his affiliation with The Beatles, but Ravi Shankar stood on his own as a legend. He was a giant in the field of Indian Classical music, having toured the world several times before establishing the pop music affiliation.
Raga Ramkali (1964)
Indian classical music to this day is just as mysterious as it has ever been. With it’s varying rhythmic quality and ethereal nature, there is an air of unpredictability that cannot be encapsulated into the standard, Western sensibilities of 4/4 timing. The music never gets old, because it is timeless. It was that quality which attracted luminaries of the era; with people like Jazz great John Coltrane, David Crosby and even Bruce Lee seeking out the music of Shankar to free themselves from typical, condensed timing structures. In 1965 Coltrane would name his son “Ravi” in honor of Shankar.
David Crosby referred to John Coltrane and Ravi Shankar as “The world’s two greatest living musicians”. It was he who would make the introduction to George Harrison of The Beatles. The affiliation would prove to be a lifelong one, with the duo even touring long after the Beatles broke up. Harrison was even able to convince other members of his super-group to make pilgrimages to India, and embrace the music and culture therein.
Perhaps the “Beatles” most famous, (and my favorite) collaboration with Ravi Shankar.. a rare recording of “Across The Universe” serves to highlight the beauty of completely disparate cultures working together with respect for one another. Shankar was able to contain the seemingly unbridled nature of his classical perspective to enhance the blues chord-laden composition of Lennon/McCartney. George accompanies on guitar. The result was something that to this day gives me a feeling that great things can happen through music.
When I was younger (5th grade) I remember a discussion in music class about a famous Indian musician who played with the greats of the Western world, but he had a heart attack “back in the 70′s”. His name was Ravi Shankar…. and I spent the next DECADE thinking he was dead.
I also devoured every recording I could find with his name on it. Meanwhile he was continuing to record and release great music. The power of the internet allows us to find out what we need to know at a glance. I am happy to now see that this legend received almost every accolade he could during his lifetime, and passed away at the relatively young age of 92. He was also well-loved by everyone whose life he touched. We should all be so lucky.