The album to start with
Eternally pictured sitting cross-legged and barefoot, clutching his enormous sitar, wreathed in incense smoke with his head tilted askew as if in reverence to his own improvisations, Ravi Shankar has done more than perhaps any other modern musician to personify the deeply complex and meditative intricacies of Indian classical music in the western world over the past century. With a catalogue of more than 75 albums and 15 film scores, his is a daunting discography.
The soundtrack to his 1971 autobiographical film Raga is the perfect place to start. Since Indian classical is a live and largely improvised music, these live recordings – including some from 1967’s Monterey Pop festival – are an invigorating, condensed introduction to the crescendos of the raga song structure. With performances that in India might have lasted five hours or more, here Shankar provides his own highlights, with snatches of ragas lasting closer to three minutes than 30.
Opening with the rhythmic foundations of the genre on East/West Introductions, Shankar counts the 13-beat ardha jaital cycle while virtuoso tabla player Alla Rakha fires out polyrhythms with the force of a man with at least four hands. Other highlights come on the Medley of Raga Parameshwari and Raga Rangeshwari where we skip straight into some of Shankar’s most intricate harmonic phrasings before segueing into the calm meditations of Banaras Ghat.
Read the feature in the Guardian.
[This piece was published on 01/04/20]