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IMCRadio.Net’s first Obituary (English Version) for Sitar Legend RAVI SHANKAR (4/7/1920-12/11/2012)

Posted by ElJay Arem (IMC OnAir) on December 16, 2012


Re-Print: 16th Dec 2012 (fully length inclusive music: 15:00:00 min / without music: 11:54:00 min)

broadcasting dates …
13th December 2012 – 10:00-10:15 p.m. CET (4:00-04:15 pm EST) @ TIDE Radio (DE) 
(premiere: December 13, 2012 – 07:00-07:15 p.m. @ radio (Berlin))
broadcasting plan | streaming (Internet Radio & Mobile Radio) | Podcast

A radio commentary by ElJay Arem (cultural journalist, media producer and radio presenter)

For reminiscence (as pure Text version (no music examples) 11 min 54 sec long):

(1) An obituary “World Music? – Heritage of Sitar legend Pandit Ravi Shankar.”

Sitar legend Ravi Shankar died at the age of 92 on 11th December 2012 around 04:30 pm local time in San Diego, on the Pacific coast of North America.

The news of Ravi Shankar’s death a few days after surgery on his heart in a hospital near his home in California went across the ticker (European time) in the night from Tuesday to Wednesday, and quickly via Twitter and Facebook around the world. The worldwide sympathy within the community of music lovers and their mourning felt like a shock wave. I myself choose wisely the term ‘music lovers of Indian classical music’ whose representative Ravi Shankar was.

As cultural journalist one is very tempted to indulge in stereotypical reviews. In view of the more than eight (8) decades of Ravi Shankar’s musical career one can find that he was a master to promote his own career extremely radical, not only on the Sitar. Lately at the age of 58 years his first daughter Norah Jones was born and two years later Anoushka Shankar, the younger half sister. Both daughters are known to different audiences worldwide – with very different careers in music. (Editor’s note: The only son of Ravi Shankar, Shubhendra Shankar who lived from 1942 till 1992 was a painter and sitar player. Ravi’s son came from his marriage with Annapurna Devi (see below).)

On the obit of Ravi Shankar the music label East meets West music of the Ravi Shankar Foundation released the DVD “Ravi Shankar – Tenth Decade in Concert”. The DVD is a documentary with a concert the 91 year old Ravi Shankar had given (in October 2011) in Escondido, California.

[01:53:29: Music Example 1 .. Raga Mala]

(2.1) World Music …

The “Godfather of World Music is dead – Long live the Godfather of World Music”. This image of the primal father of world music was marked heavily by George Harrison of The Beatles… until his own death in November 2001.
It would be inappropriate to reduce Ravi Shankar on his lifetime and close friendship with George Harrison. – And it would be unwise as the dispatch of Ravi Shankar to his audience and to the artists in the global music circus is a totally different.

What does ‘world music’ mean in the 20th or 21st century ? – The least known is that Western Classical style developed from Indian classical music on the way via Greece and its five-tone musi – the pentatonic music – into the sacred church modes in medieval time of “Old Europe”. Thus it is justified that in India Johann Sebastian Bach is called the most Indian-sounding composer of the West. Johann S. Bach lived from 1658 to 1750.

So why should be seen ‘world music’ as a modern genre of music? – What does the term world music in the eyes of today’s viewer mean ? – And what did it mean in the understanding of George Harrison who took sitar lessons from Ravi Shankar while traveling with The Beatles in India to quest for meaning. It was the time of the hippie movement. The hype which surrounded The Beatles as one of the first commercially boy group also alienated a George Harrison. He too was rather seriously with the music as Ravi Shankar himself. George Harrison realized the commercialisation of a global music industry – as it began in the 60’s with rock music and the 68 student movement – might be harmfuly for the existence of a real musician.

George Harrison who had come with The Beatles to wealth thus understood himself as a protector and father figure for Ravi Shankar, who was more seriously with the pure classical form of Indian music – despite his exaggerations in the commercialization of Indian classical music.

(2.2) Education …

On closer examination Ravi Shankar hasn’t left his roots of Indian classical music. He was trained together with Sarod legend Ali Akbar Khan and Ali’s highly talented sister Annapurna Devi by both father Allaudhin Khan. The education was dominated by the traditional pedagogic form of Indian Classical music, a personal, lifelong teacher-student relationship – Guru-Shishya parampara. Ravi Shankar probably wouldn’t have become such outstanding sitar mastro without his long-time companion Ali Akbar Khan (on the Sarod), both equally suffering during the education. The strong hand of Allaudhin Khan to his son Ali Akbar deterred the sensitive Ravi. It is due to the action of Ali Akbar Khan that Ravi Shankar hasn’t chucked and later even married Ali Akbar’s sister Annapurna Devi.
Annapurna was probably the most gifted talents of all three. But she back turned her own artistic development to the benefit of Ravi Shankar’s own career. Her marriage with Ravi Shankar was consummated in 1941. Annapurna Devi was just 14 years old and seven (7) years younger than Ravi Shankar.

Working as a cultural journalist one can certainly learn from the interviews with top world-class musicians such as percussionist Trilok Gurtu from Mumbai, the Indian violinist Kala Ramnath or IndoJazz saxophonist George Brooks. From their experiences of international music projects these truly globalized people think no more in national borders as politicians and high diplomacy still do and herewith create potentials of new conflicts. In the political sense Ravi Shankar was certainly a globalized musician as the Santoor maestro Shiv Kumar Sharma called it in his first reaction to the demise of Ravi Shankar.

As a wanderer between the worlds of music Ravi Shankar received a mindset training at the age of ten (10) by his brother Uday Shankar. Uday took with him the little Ravi for his perennial dance tours (Compaigne de Danse et Musique) through Europe. Thus Ravi received the chance in 1930 to meet an European culture before the second World War – and learnt to understand the balance of his own Indian origin. Ravi Shankar was on an early check of his own identity rethinkening and questioning about the existing privileges as a member of a highly ranked Brahmin family in the Indian caste system.

Just as important as Ravi Shankar’s socialization are some artistic milestones, e.g. he had taken with the virtuoso violinist Sir Yehudi Menuhin. The collaboration started already in the 50s. On the origins of Indian democracy Menuhin frequently came to India for his personal studies of Indian classical music.

Yehudin had understood the very essence of Indian classics from a distance by his own origin and character of Western classics. To date the North Indian classics as Ravi Shankar was its representative this music is largely improvised within a differentiated set of rules for countless Raga scales.

The collaboration between Ravi Shankar and Yehudi Menuhin is documented on the double album “West meets East”. It was published in the year 1966 as part 1 and one year later 1967 as part 2.

[07:15:22: Music Example 2 .. Raga Piloo]

(3) Commercialization … Tradition & Modernity

Music is a language which can be understood cross-border and internationally. In this sense one may always define music by its essence as universal language and therefore as ‘world music’. This term includes not automatically that musicians from different cultures and the combination of stylistic elements of different music systems produce qualitatively good world music.

Ravi Shankar has also learned from his own “experiments”. His performances at the Monterey International Pop Music Festival in 1967 in California, two years later at the Woodstock Festival or in New York City at Madison Square Gardens in August 1971 – with the tabla legend Alla Rakha and Sarod maestro Ali Akbar Khan for the Concert for Bangladesh which was initialized by The Beatles – this time Ravi Shankar later regretted retrospectively. The hype which surrounded Ravi Shankar was part of the hippie culture. A noisy audience that Ravi Shankar’s sitar has probably misunderstood as an access to enlightenment was even less in good memories for Ravi Shankar himself.

However Ravi Shankar retained his curiosity for new music into higher ages, similar to jazz legend Miles Davis. Ravi Shankar published in 1990 at the age of 70 the album ‘Passages’ along with the American composer Philip Glass, one of the leading exponents of contemporary music. The collaboration came about by Peter Baumann of Tangerine Dream, the German music group for electronic music. Tangerine Dream was founded by Edgar Froese in the early 1967th.

[09:27:23: Music Example 3 .. Ragas in Minor Scale]

(4) Art & Politics …

Ravi Shankar understood himself as world citizen with his lifestyle and the education of his daughter Anoushka in London, Delhi and California. He was a wanderer between cultures. The choice of his first home was for North America, free of bourgeois conventions and without having lefft his own position as a musician of North Indian classics.

Striking and not without controversy among music lovers was seen Ravi Shankar’s recording in the days of glasnost and perestroika under Michail Sergejewitsch Gorbatschow. The album ’Inside the Kremlin’ is a live recording of Ravi Shankar’s performance at the ‘Palace of Culture’, in 1988. For ‘Inside the Kremlin’ Ravi Shankar played together with an orchestra of 140 musicians who came from India and the Soviet Union. As is known the Russian Communism came to an end in 1991.

[10:59:24: Music Example 4 .. Tarana]

(5) Indian philosophy… Spirituality

To be a true musician means also to be the pursuit of truth in man forever. Ravi Shankar was influenced for his musical work by the spirit of Indian philosophy, the Vedanta. The ancient Vedanta was the basis for Hinduism and also Buddhism. In our time we would understand Ravi Shankar’s attitude towards music and life as spiritual. Ravi Shankar was a master in sadhana. It is a spiritual discipline through training, personal effort, the task of the ego to achieve a spiritual goal, in the case of Ravi Shankar through music. There is a variety of shots that express this spiritual attitude of Ravi Shankar and his understanding of man as a spiritual being.

[12:21:17: Music Example 5 .. Asato Maa (Shanti Mantra)]

(6) Musical offspring… perspectives of the future

It may be seen critically that Ravi Shankar attracted the rich and powerful ones and getting heavily media attention for his personal success. He was also represented in the board of some big Indian record companies such as HMV and Saregama and thus had a direct influence on the market dominating record labels and their productions of his music. Ravi Shankar’s personal evaluations of young talents in Indian classical music often decided about the existence or non-existence of musical careers.

Nevertheless we can understand the legacy of Ravi Shankar that the awareness of own background, musical roots and remaining true to oneself are the requirements for an understanding of sustainable real and traditional values as found in the art form of Indian classical music. Ravi Shankar’s success was based on the resistance during the last five (5) decades, against modernity in terms of trends as we know it in pop and event culture of mega festivals.

Our post-industrialized, modern multi-ethnic societies try currently to understand the mechanisms of inter-culturalism. The decades of work and Ravi Shankar’s continuously creativity can provide to us orientation points.

A few weeks before his death Ravi Shankar was nominated for the Grammy in the category “Best World Music”, for his latest album “Living Room Sessions – Part 1” (produced in 2012). Thus Ravi Shankar was a few days ago in competition with his daughter Anoushka Shankar, who has also been proposed as a Grammy contender for her world music album “Traveller”. It was released in 2011 by the label Deutsche Grammophon. Ravi Shankar will be concerned posthumously for the “Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award” on 10th February 2013 at the 55th Grammy Award night, alongside six other artists like the Temptations or the Jazz musician Charlie Haden. Then we might consider again the function of godfathers and concepts of world music.

Printable version…


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