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Sitar legend Ravi Shankar dies

2012-12-12 09:56
 
ravi shankar
New Delhi - Ravi Shankar, the sitar virtuoso who became a hippie musical icon of the 1960s after hobnobbing with the Beatles and who introduced traditional Indian ragas to Western audiences over an eight-decade career, has died. He was 92.

The prime minister's office confirmed his death and called him a "national treasure".

Labelled "the godfather of world music" by George Harrison, Shankar helped millions of classical, jazz and rock lovers discover the centuries-old traditions of Indian music.

He also pioneered the concept of the rock benefit with the 1971 Concert For Bangladesh. To later generations, he was known as the estranged father of popular American singer Norah Jones.

Close relationship with George Harrison

As early as the 1950s, Shankar began collaborating with and teaching some of the greats of Western music, including violinist Yehudi Menuhin and jazz saxophonist John Coltrane. He played well-received shows in concert halls in Europe and the United States, but faced a constant struggle to bridge the musical gap between the West and the East.

Describing an early Shankar tour in 1957, Time magazine said "US audiences were receptive but occasionally puzzled."

His close relationship with Harrison, the Beatles lead guitarist, shot Shankar to global stardom in the 1960s.

Harrison had grown fascinated with the sitar and played the instrument, with a Western tuning, on the song Norwegian Wood, but soon sought out Shankar, already a musical icon in India, to teach him to play it properly.

The pair spent weeks together, starting the lessons at Harrison's house in England and then moving to a houseboat in Kashmir and later to California.

Gaining confidence with the complex instrument, Harrison recorded the Indian-inspired song Within You Without You on the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, helping spark the raga-rock phase of 60s music and drawing increasing attention to Shankar and his work.

Horrified when Jimi Hendrix lit his guitar

Shankar's popularity exploded, and he soon found himself playing on bills with some of the top rock musicians of the era. He played a four-hour set at the Monterey Pop Festival and the opening day of Woodstock.

Though the audience for his music had hugely expanded, Shankar, a serious, disciplined traditionalist who had played Carnegie Hall, chafed against the drug use and rebelliousness of the hippie culture.

"I was shocked to see people dressing so flamboyantly. They were all stoned. To me, it was a new world," Shankar told Rolling Stone of the Monterey festival.

While he enjoyed Otis Redding and the Mamas and the Papas at the festival, he was horrified when Jimi Hendrix lit his guitar on fire.

"That was too much for me. In our culture, we have such respect for musical instruments, they are like part of God," he said.

In 1971, moved by the plight of millions of refugees fleeing into India to escape the war in Bangladesh, Shankar reached out to Harrison to see what they could do to help.

In what Shankar later described as "one of the most moving and intense musical experiences of the century," the pair organised two benefit concerts at Madison Square Garden that included Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan and Ringo Starr.

The concert, which spawned an album and a film, raised millions of dollars for UNICEF and inspired other rock benefits, including the 1985 Live Aid concert to raise funds for famine relief in Ethiopia and the 2010 Hope For Haiti Now telethon.

Personal life

His 1941 marriage to renowned musician Baba Allaudin Khan's daughter, Annapurna Devi, ended in divorce. Though he had a decades-long relationship with dancer Kamala Shastri that ended in 1981, he had relationships with several other women in the 1970s.

In 1979, he fathered Norah Jones with New York concert promoter Sue Jones, and in 1981, Sukanya Rajan, who played the tanpura at his concerts, gave birth to his daughter Anoushka.

He grew estranged from Sue Jones in the 80s and didn't see Norah for a decade, though they later re-established contact.

He married Rajan in 1989 and trained young Anoushka as his heir on the sitar. In recent years, father and daughter toured the world together.

A riddle to many Western ears

When Jones shot to stardom and won five Grammy awards in 2003, Anoushka Shankar was nominated for a Grammy of her own.

Shankar, himself, has won three Grammy awards and was nominated for an Oscar for his musical score for the movie Gandhi.

Despite his fame, numerous albums and decades of world tours, Shankar's music remained a riddle to many Western ears.

Shankar was amused after he and colleague Ustad Ali Akbar Khan were greeted with admiring applause when they opened the Concert for Bangladesh by twanging their sitar and sarod for a minute and a half.

"If you like our tuning so much, I hope you will enjoy the playing more," he told the confused crowd, and then launched into his set.

- SAPA

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