Ravi Shankar, the great Indian musician, passed away yesterday, 12th of December 2012. A sad news for all people respecting and loving culture, appreciating also India's contribution.
Ravi Shankar had as guru Baba Allauddin Khan (1862-1972), one of the greatest artist of Indian classical music, who had as bedside books both the Quran and the Bhagavad-Gita, living in the mixed traditions that enriched India.
Therefore, Ravi Shankar moved to Allauddin Khan in 1938, to learn 7 years in a remote village, leaving a life that was already international, not to say cosmopolitan, through the artistic career of his parents, from Paris to London and Hollywood, meeting artists like Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Cole Porter. So, he became the great musician the world soon knew about, with a career speaking for itself.
One one side, Ravi Shankar's activities came in convergence with the semi-colonial state, in its national aspect: he worked as a music director for All India Radio in New Delhi from February 1949 to January 1956; he even founded the Indian National Orchestra there.
On the other side, Ravi Shankar moved during a period to Mumbai, to join the famous Indian People's Theatre Association, which had such a progressive influence in Indian culture ; he wrote the music for the famous Apu Trilogy by Satyajit Ray, giving contribution to a great progressive work.
Ravi Shankar then proved that his work was tending to the universal movement of history. He incorporated ragas from the South Indian Carnatic music in his performances, showing he was not a north Indian chauvinist; he worked also, without any ethnic prejudice that could come from his brahmanic background, with the great jazz artist John Coltrane, who was really influenced by him.
He collaborated with violonist Yehudi Menuhin ; he influenced some European artists, like George Harrison of The Beatles, a deep lover of Indian culture, who organized in August 1971 the historical Concert for Bangladesh, where Ravi Shankar attended. This influence can be seen also in works from The Byrds, Brian Jones (in the Rolling Stones) or Robbie Krieger (in the Doors).
Ravi Shankar participated in 1958 the celebrations of the tenth anniversary of the United Nations and UNESCO music festival in Paris, at Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and to the Woodstock Festival in August 1969 ; he was internationally renown already in the 1960's.
Ravi Shankar wanted to leave the Woodstock festival, as Hendrix burnt his guitar; he recounted: “And then he would do that thing with his instrument when he would open up a can of gasoline and burn his guitar. People went gaga for it; they loved it. But for me, the burning of the guitar was the greatest sacrilege possible. I just ran out of there. I told them that even if I had to pay some kind of compensation to get out of playing the festival, I just couldn’t do it.”
Ravi Shankar expressed also his disappointment about the American and West European perception of India: “I was extremely unhappy about the superficiality of it all [in Woodstock], especially the wrong information that Dr Timothy Leary and others were propagating — that everyone in India takes drugs. It was a hodgepodge of Kama Sutra, Tantra, yoga, hash and LSD, while the true spiritual quality of our music was almost completely lost.”
Indeed, superficiality is still alive nowadays. At the Conference of solidarity with the People's War in India that was held in Hamburg, the slogan “Lal Salaam” was written on a banner, in... Hindi! Whereas the People's War is present in a vast area historically invaded by Aryan forces in the past, where the languages are far from Hindi, which is the official language of the central state... Without forgetting that putting the letters in the Hindi alphabet is without doubt an insult to the cultural moslem community from north India, which language is quite the same like Hindi but in the Arabic alphabet (i.e. Urdu, the word “salaam” coming of course from this culture).
India's complexity was well known by Ravi Shankar, that is why his work is full of mixing, crossing, experimenting, notably in the question of rhythm. He accorded an important part to percussion, to the mood of a work.
Ravi Shankar is in fact the great representative of India in the great meeting of European Classical Music, Anglo-american Pop, Afro-american Jazz and Indian music. In Indian music, he played a great role too, presenting a meeting of the more improvised style of North India and the more rigid approach of South India.
Ravi Shankar means culture beyond borders, it is a symbol of the international confluence of national cultures, their synthesis. His works should be studied at school in France, to make understand the universal value of culture, to elevate the cultural level.
But of course this can happen only in a socialist France, as for the bourgeois Ravi Shankar was only an exotic Genius that was integrated in Western entertainment. Ravi Shankar, certainly, betrayed here the Indian culture in following the bourgeois calls, in particular those from the USA. He became a man member of the Indian elite and the bourgeois entertainment in capitalist societies.
Fortunately, he means more than that, and this aspect must be understood; Ravi Shankar is essential.