Pandit Ravi Shankar was in Michigan on November 6th, 2005 to perform with his daughter Anoushka Shankar at Michigan State University, Wharton Center for Performing Arts, East Lansing. Pandit Ravi Shankar is on his ‘Festival of India’ tour in the United States traveling with 10 musicians from North and South India...
Anupama Gopalakrishnan has a conversation with the
“Godfather of World Music” – Pandit Ravi Shankar.
: Excerpts from the interview:
Q: How did you get associated with music – especially Sitar?
A: …My father was an eminent barrister and a very high official in a princely state. I had a happy childhood and came from a family of artists. My eldest brother was the world renowned dancer Uday Shankar. “In 1930 I moved to Paris to be a part of his group. I pretty much heard and knew about the west, the culture, music, and the ways and means of living. In 1938, I returned to India to begin my formal training with Ustad Allauddin Khan. I was doing way too many things, playing too many instruments, when Baba Allauddin Khan showed me direction and gave me the sitar ...”
Q: How do you see the future of Indian classical/Hindustani music??
A: Well, Hindustani or Classical Music of the East can be compared in the same manner as in Western Classical Music. It never dies out. There is always a section of the society who listens to good artists who have a strong background and devotion to music. Classical music is like Classical Literature. The same way as Shakespeare cannot be appreciated by everyone; Classical Music cannot be listened or appreciated by all. Classical listeners have a little training, a little literature, and a little appreciation for art within themselves. This is classic ‘al’ music and not mass ‘ical’ music.
Q:Tell us something about your relationship with George Harrison and all the wonderful compositions and collaborations with Yehudi Menuhin and Jean Pierre Rampal.
A: Trust me Anu- you would have to write a book if I start with that story. But in a nutshell, I met George sometime in 1966. My meeting with George and the Hippie era began together. Freedom of everything was the theme. It helped the people become more open minded towards music. People started embracing various forms of music generated from different nations. In the beginning – it was all about love and peace. Slowly, the era degenerated. I had a real fantastic relationship with George. I introduced him to Indian philosophy and George slowly became my weapon in terms of presenting my music on global platform. One thing I should mention is the fact that Indian Classical Music alone provides discipline.
About Indian music and philosophy, George said: "After 'Norwegian Wood', I met Ravi Arial" Shankar at a friend's house in London, for dinner. He offered to give me instructions in the basics of the sitar, like how to sit, how to hold it, and the basic exercises. It was the first time I had ever really learned music with a bit of discipline.
Then I started to listen to Indian music for the next two years, and hardly touched the guitar, except for recordings. Having all these material things, I wanted something more. And it happened that at just the time I wanted it, it came to me in the form of Ravi Shankar, Indian music, and the whole Indian philosophy."
I will really cherish the West meets East collaboration between Yehudi Menuhin and myself. I can still remember 1973 – the time when we learned from each other. He promoted Eastern music through lectures and performances.
But to be present, as I have been, at a "chamber music" recital by Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan, each goading the other to new heights of invention, is an experience more magical than any in the world. One is in the presence of creation. Ravi Shankar introduced me to 'music making I could have only dreamed of'. – Violin genius Yehudi Menuhin on Pandit Ravi Shankar.
Q: The world has changed so fast, the whole lifestyle of the young people of today is so different. The whole art of learning music with devotion and discipline has changed. What are your comments?
A:This is indeed a big problem. Learning music and the difficulties facing it has to be solved definitely. But if you look at the younger generation, they are pretty quick in learning things. But however, a true musician is one who respects the art with discipline and commitment. We used to do 18 hours of riyaaz with devotion every day. Things are changing but musicians with genuine interest know what they are doing.
Q: You have achieved so much in your long illustrious musical career - any unfulfilled desires and dreams toward music?
A:Yes! A lot of unfulfilled desires! I am a creative artist and a composer other than being a performer. Creativity never dies. I have a whole lot of ideas in terms of films and stage orchestration.
Q: Why is it that more non-Asians show up at your concert?
A: Well, frankly speaking I have no complaints. People try to come to my show with an open mind- be it the first timers or the regulars. People who have no idea of music frequent my shows too. But what they are used to hearing is perhaps that Indian music is always rich in melody, rich in rhythms, rich in improvisations. We have our music that has qualities of playfulness, spirituality, romance and an array of emotions – all interspersed with each other. As I mentioned earlier, this kind of music has its own set of audience. I have Anoushka and Nora to carry on the tradition...I must say that I am doubly blessed!
Q: So much has been written about you and your daughters. So without taking much of your time, one final question – What can we expect from the Festival of India concert this Sunday at Michigan State?
A: The Festival of India tour is being conducted with other musicians with my compositions. The first part of the show has 10 musicians from North and South India performing to four of my compositions led by Anoushka. After intermission, it will be Anoushka and I.
Pandit Ravi Shankar will be celebrating his 86th birthday next April. But this musical genius has been traveling around the world educating the public about the “real world” of Indian classical music along with his gifted and talented daughter Anoushka Shankar. This legendary sitar virtuoso and composer was named the “Godfather of World Music” by his student George Harrison of the Beatles, and compared to Mozart for his “genius and humanity” by the famous Violin genius Yehudi Menuhin. In this special concert, Shankar plays sitar and conducts an ensemble of Indian violin, folk drums, wind instruments, and traditional vocals in his own compositions.
Pandit Ravi Shankaris undoubtedly the single most influential Indian musician of the 20th century. Watch the father- daughter duo regale the Michigan audience on Sunday, November 5 th at Wharton Center for Performing Arts on MSU Campus in East Lansing.
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