The headline in the New York Times read, “Ravi Shankar, Sitarist Who Introduced Indian Music to the West, Dies at 92”. All perfectly true. Shankar blasted away musical boundaries, working with classical, jazz, and pop musicians in the West, and also engaging all kinds of audiences. I could go on about his importance, but I think a personal anecdote will cover it nicely.
It was the late sixties. I was the youngest of three brothers who were firm in our devotion to rock music. In particular, my oldest brother, at that age, was sure that he was going to be the next Eric Clapton. My parents had us when they were older than most parents in those days especially. So the generation gap was in full force in my family, when it came to music. My parents were amateur classical musicians. My father also remembered the western swing he grew up hearing on the radio in Oklahoma, while my mother grew up on the big band music that was everywhere in her native New York City.
So I have no idea where my father got the idea to take us boys to see Ravi Shankar. It was in New York City, at Carnegie Hall. So that gave it some legitimacy in my father‘s eyes. My oldest brother probably knew of the Beatles connection, so he was OK with it too. I, however, had no idea what I was doing there. Still, I went. I remember the concert as being something like the video I have chosen for this post. I don‘t think there was a video component, but the group was the small one shown, and the sound was the same. The four of us were spellbound. I don‘t remember any of us squirming, or talking, or anything but listening to this amazing new, (to us), music. For a brief interval, there was no generation gap in my family.
For me, that one concert has led to a lifelong fascination with music of the world. In his career, Shankar often worked with East-West fusions of various kinds, but that concert had a purity to it that has been my standard ever since for what world music should be. As I write this, it also occurs to me that that music probably helped me years later when I decided to learn to meditate. I credit Ravi Shankar and his music with all of that, and I can think of no better tribute.