There are musicians who grace the world with their presence, inspire, and pass. There are those who transcend their genre to leave a lasting impression on other forms of music. There are musicians who use their celebrity to advance spirituality, or humanitarian issues. There are those who are quite simply the best in their class.
And then there is Ravi Shankar, who was all of those things.
Ravi Shankar passed away on Tuesday at the age of 92. Beginning in the 1950’s teacher, composer and sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar almost singlehandedly brought Indian music into western popular culture. By the mid-1960s his influence could be heard in pop music, with countless artists incorporating Indian rhythms and instrumentation into their work. He gained significant mainstream exposure with his dazzling performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and played at Woodstock two years later.
Truly understanding Shankar’s incredible mastery of this very complex art form can be as intimidating as rocket science. Rhythmic cycles have as many as 108 beats and may be subdivided into fractions. The pitch structure is so exceptionally nuanced that only a highly trained ear can apprehend it. A knowledge of the many traditional ragas is required to grasp how Shankar’s improvisatory art made the ageless new and the new ageless. This became one hint about the essence of existence.
Shankar was, thus, a musician to be approached in a state of reverence and awe. Unless, that is, you happened to be in the audience of, say, the Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967 already lighting up your third joint.
But from a Beatles perspective it is his influence on the music, the spirituality and indeed the life of George Harrison that is most notable. George met Ravi in 1966 and quickly became his pupil. Through Ravi George not only learned the sitar, but he was exposed to eastern philosophy and religion which were to have a profound influence on George for the rest of his life. George and Ravi remained close friends until George’s death in 2001.
We’d like to take this opportunity to celebrate the life of Ravi Shankar with footage of Ravi teaching George the sitar in 1966 as well as an excerpt from Ravi’s mesmerizing set at the Monterey Pop Festival. Rest in Peace, Ravi.