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Rough Guide

The Rough Guide To Ravi Shankar

Ravi Shankar

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Unrivalled master of the sitar, Ravi Shankar inspired millions in the West to adore Indian classical music. A true cultural giant, this Rough Guide showcases a unique talent who spawned a musical revolution.

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Unrivalled master of the sitar, Ravi Shankar inspired millions in the West to adore Indian classical music. A true cultural giant, this Rough Guide showcases a unique talent who spawned a musical revolution.

In the popular imagination of the big, wide world Pandit Ravi Shankar (1920-2012) was the foremost champion and populariser of the Hindustani musical tradition. His rise may have been accelerated through his associations with the Beatles and Byrds but the seeds had been planted several decades before the 'sitary' 1960s. His rise was a confluence of many factors and cultural tropes. By 1966 he had become both the most famous Indian musician on the planet and one of the subcontinent's most familiar names. In terms of recognition, Shankar ranked alongside Tagore, Gandhi and Nehru.

Compiled by Ken Hunt, Pandit Ravi Shankar's approved biographer and foremost exponent of Indian classical music, this Rough Guide charts Ravi Shankar's rise to global stardom and includes some of his most memorable performances of six different ragas. Ken Hunt has interwoven three strands into this anthology. To begin at the very beginning, the first is Bengal. Bengali culture supplied Ravi Shankar with his roots and mother tongue. He would weave any number of Bengali secular, devotional, vernacular and folk songs and tunes into his repertoire. 'Bangla Kirtan' is an unspecified kirtan - a form of religious narrative.

Recorded in the age of shellac 'Bangla Kirtan' reminds how the sitarist epitomises changes to art in the age of mechanical reproduction - the only major technological sound retrieval vehicle he missed was cylinder recordings. Adapting spontaneous creativity to technological limitations such as length and what microphones could capture imposed new disciplines.

The two recordings of his raga composition 'Tilak Shyam' reflect 78 and 33 rpm technology's constraints and opportunities to think afresh. Raga is a continual well-spring ever refreshed. Across India one of the primary elements that replenishes and refreshes the water table and surface waters are monsoon rains. Many ragas, whether their time is a particular hour or season, have simple names. Megh is an example. It means 'cloud' and is a rainy season raga.

When people say that India colonised the Western mind, much of it was of his doing, and when it came to getting people to pay heed to the wonders of Hindustani music, nobody ever surpassed Ravi Shankar - India's best-known sitar player opened the breach through which many others poured. Through his influence, this missionary, pioneer and experimenter changed the face of contemporary Western music. Blessed with a highly cosmopolitan background and a flair for adaptability, he was the right man in the right places at a rightly receptive time. Of worldwide influence, Ravi Shankar has managed to enter the non-Indian consciousness and vocabulary in a way that only a select pantheon have. Ravi Shankar unpacked many mysteries while unveiling the mystery of creativity.