He may be famous for introducing The Beatles – especially George Harrison – to traditional Indian sitar music back in the 1960s but is Ravi Shankar much more than a traditional Indian music curiosity?
By: Ringo Bones
A few days ago - December 11, 2012, Ravi Shankar passed away aged 92 in a San Diego, California hospital. Most people in the West probably know him as that “Indian musician” who popularized traditional Indian sitar music in America and the rest of the Western world during the latter half of the 1960s. But to music lovers who only discovered his musical works during the “world music” and tube-based hi-fi boom of the mid 1990s, Ravi Shankar is much more than that.
Shankar was very influential in shaping the “psychedelic” period of the Beatles during the mid 1960s and was instrumental in expanding Beatle guitarist George Harrison’s musical vocabulary. The timing of Ravi Shankar striking a universal chord and earning the admiration of Western music lovers during the politically turbulent period of the 1960s had forever made Shankar “inextricably” associated with 1960s era protest songs while making traditional Indian and other traditional music of the rest of the subcontinent “palatable” to Western ears. As a testament to this, Ravi Shankar even won a Grammy back in 1983 for composing the soundtrack of the movie Gandhi.
Without Ravi Shankar, his fellow traditional Indian musician Ali Akbar Khan and Qawwali musician from Pakistan named Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan probably would have never got the fame they deserved during the “world music” boom of the mid 1990s. Thanks to Shankar’s efforts in the 1960s, Eddie Vedder, Jeff Buckley and all those hipster musicians from the 1990s had at least a richer musical vocabulary more or less rivaling that of 1960s psychedelic era musicians. And not to mention musicians playing Central Asian Sufi Muslim torch-songs via a Gibson Les Paul and an excruciatingly loud Marshall amplifier that seems to make the Spice Girls and 1990s era boy-bands seem musically insignificant by comparison.