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Lockdown Read Ravi Shankar


Ravi Shankar AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY. Welcome Rain Publishers
Edited and Introduced by George Harrison

When I first met Ravi, I saw in him a quality that I’d always aspired to. I’ve never practised, never come anywhere near to what he does. In fact there isn’t anyone I’ve ever heard of, in the West at least, who has got such brilliant musicianship.

Ravi became the bridge between my Western and my Eastern sides. In many ways I’ve felt just like a patch board: I like to plug one person into another, one type of idea into something else. Ravi was special to me, because without him I wouldn’t have been able to get into the Indian experiences so easily. By having him as a friend, I could experience the best of India, and I was able to find it straight away. I said in an interview recently that without Ravi I would have ended up an old fart, but at least my life was enhanced and given much more depth through the ancient Indian culture, and Ravi was my contact with it.


Right from the start another thing I like about Ravi was that, although on one side he was a great classical musician, at the same time he was fun…Even if he was travelling in a car, he would make up a tune and get everybody to sing it, or teach us an old song or diffeent time signatures and how to count them. With Ravi there’s always something of interest going on, and a lot of happiness and laughing. Indian music has its very serious side, and then it also has a light side and a kind of comedy too. He shows that in his gestures, and from what he learnt as a dancer, and his very interesting facial expressions. He has always been like a guru and a father figure, but at teh same time I think mainly of him just as a friend, because we joke around most of the time. Sometimes I’m like his dad. He can be so childlike…

Ravi laid down the groundwork for other Indian musicians who were later able to perform all around the world because of him. The world is now permeated with the acceptance of Indian music. But for him to go and study for seven years, eighteen hours a day, and became a master of an instrument which was obscure in most of the world, and for which nobody was particularly craving outside of India, and then spend the rest of his life trying to hip everybody to it-what a thing to do!


Music is his life. He’s spent so many years in his life practising and playing. He is music and the music is him. Having toured for over fifty years, it’s hard to stop. It drives him on, so he’ll just keep on going, I’m sure…

Once when I was driving Ravi into London I put a cassette on, and it crossed my mind: ‘He probably thinks this is really strange music.’ When he asked, ‘Who’s that?’ ‘Oh, it’s Cab Calloway, you won’t know him.’ And he said, ‘Oh yes, I saw him at the Cotton Club around 1933!’  George Harrison

When my wife Diana and I arrived in India in 1952 we discovered a new world. It is very difficult for people living in the West with its advanced technology to imagine that there are other ways of being, otehr civilisations. What Ravi and India gave me on that first trip, through music, was the revelation of human thought and inspiration, discipline and abandonment through the ages of history.


…The Indians thought thought through everything, even the erotic. The same thing happened in music, which is based on a very high authority of organisation and tradition, where the passion, the excitement, the abandonment and the improvisation are guided through training which has named every particular note, scale, ornament, approach, length. And there again in dance, which ispure movement, but everything is controlled, down to the movement of the eyebrows and the eyes. Certainly in the field of culture, of arts, of thought, of philosophy, the Indians have achieved what the West has achieved in science.

Ravi is the most wonderful teacher and guide, because he knows the technique. Today most of us in the West have lost that acute organisation. Without a craft, without a command of your fingers, your eyes and all your senses, you cannot evolve in art. But nor are the means alone sufficient. In India everything follows an aesthetic which is totally missing in our world. Western people go about their work, but they don’t consider anything as sacred any longer. The human being by nature must be a religious animal. But I think that if we can survive long enough, we will learn from the Indians and their traditions, and go along a totally different road.


Ravi represents enlightenment, organisation, discipline - and yet such freedom. Freedom that is won through a great deal of thought, work, practice and experience. He is always living the creative existence in his mind and his heart; he isn’t just a tool in the system. He has meant a great deal in my life. In many ways he is the greatest musician I have known. If you are going to compare West and East on one footing, then perhaps he would come after Enesco, my teacher, and Bartok - but a close third… Lord Menuhin

“My music has a very spiritual background, a sanctity that is almost like worship. In the U.K., classical music is composed by individuals and written down. Indian music is based on certain sequences called ragas. When I perform live, 95% of the music is improvised: it never sounds the same twice.”

Ravi Shankar


Ravi Shankar Biography


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