What a great musician was Ravi Shankar. What a great contribution to “World Music”, with apologies to people who distrust the term and classification. Sometimes the overused phrase “World Music” can be mistakenly read as meaning, “Funny sounding foreign music for pompous pseudo-musicologists*”, or an implication that music should be divided between “ours and theirs”. But Ravi Shankar did cross barriers as he added music of real passion, skill, and authentic tradition to the genre. At its best, “World Music” unites people not by dismissing or homogenising cultures, but by uncovering and celebrating our differences in the languages of rhythm and harmony, structure and song. And the singing! The singing has been meaningful since forgotten millennia, straight from the innocent soul, long before the arrival of language – the speech of the deceitful mind.
Once the sitar was popularised by The Beatles’ George Harrison, Ravi Shankar demonstrated to the Western World to the reward of patient meditation over slow development, in the delights of extended ragas, fighting against the reduction of our attention spans from previous symphonic hours to then vinyl minutes (and now to ringtone seconds). In retrospect, we look back on the videos of him talking with great respect about the young George Harrison, and sitting with him, patiently, and urgently pressing him into the task of acquiring knowledge and skills in a path that leads on beyond any lifetime. How wonderful to see the grace that accepts the novice and with him retraces the first steps of the long journey.
Rest in Peace, Ravi Shankar. Your legacy is treasured by all who love music for its power to transport us out of ourselves, and into each others’ souls. In your music, we hear your spirit, and we hear and share the passion and the beauty and the vitality of all our lives.
* pompous musicologist? moi?