New Delhi, India- S. Kalidas recently wrote a great profile of Pandit Ravi Shankar for the Indian Publication Man’s World. Below are excerpts of the fabulous article:
“That drive, in itself, could be a signifier of Ravi Shankar’s genius as an artist. it is that innate need to keep in practice and to perform; to face the public yet all over again. To prove his worth, not only to the world, but most of all to himself. add to these, a capacity for constant travel: between cities, countries and continents. Year after year, for 80 long and eventful years and, hopefully, with many more to come.
“By the time Ravi Shankar was 18, however, he realised two things: the first was that he must learn the indian classical music systematically with Ustad (master) Allauddin Khan; and second, that he must make the west accept indian classical music as a high art. he knew, perhaps instinctively, that he had a greater tryst in life than to amuse the well meaning orientalists of the pre-second world war europe. he could not but have been conscious of the fact that platitudes apart, the west was loath to accept any art but their own as entirely significant. To get past that ceiling, he would have to delve the depths of his own tradition and lift it to greater heights instead of merely re-packaging its more superficial attractions.
“Among india’s most respected musicians, Baba Allauddin Khan was himself an extremely enigmatic person…he was famous for his outbursts of fury and foul speech, but also for his deep humility and a guileless generosity of spirit. during his long and eventful life Baba trained and taught scores of pupils, many of whom made their mark on the indian musical scene. after the second world war, he virtually adopted the children of soldiers of indian army who had died in the war and trained them in a variety of instruments (including some self-crafted ones like a xylophone made of gun barrels) and formed the Maihar Band. The Band is still playing, though with second and third generation successors.
“Whether or not the Pandit was a bit reckless in all those “experiments” is a moot question. what is certain is that virtually all western musical genres from jazz to fusion and from the experimental to the minimal, would definitely have been the poorer had they not benefitted from him and his music.
“With all due respect for masters past and present, perhaps it is finally now time to again assert that the structural format for any instrumental concert of indian classical music has been hugely re-edited and refined by Ravi Shankar. No old master ever played a raga as we are used to hearing it from their inheritors today. To lapse into hindustani musical jargon, a few introductory strokes of aalaap, a random use of main strings and chikari in the name of jor and absolutely chaotic and often crude gat- todas were the order of the day. no wonder sitar and sarod players had to concede the place of honour to vocalists in that generation. “Uttamgaana-maddham bajana-neecha naachna” went the popular hindi adage. Translated, it means: “vocal music is the highest form of art, instrument playing is medium and the lowest is dance.” it was only with the coming of ravi shankar that the situation was finally democratised if not completely reversed.”