The opening lines of George Harrison’s “Bangladesh” song from 1971 are: “My friend came to me with sadness in his eyes, he told me that he wanted help, before his country dies…..”.
That friend was Ravi Shankar – Indian sitar virtuoso and legendary musician who has died today – aged 92.
A statement on the musician’s website says he passed away in San Diego, near his Southern California home. His foundation issued a statement saying that he suffered upper respiratory and heart problems and had undergone heart-valve replacement surgery last week.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also confirmed his death and called Shankar a “national treasure”.
Labelled “the godfather of world music” by George Harrison, Shankar helped millions of classical, jazz and rock lovers (including me) discover the centuries-old traditions of Indian music. He became a teacher, mentor and father figure to Harrison and greatly influenced the Beatles music, from composition through to their fascination with India and it’s culture.
His discography is understandably extensive, spanning a recording career of well over 55 years. Ravi Shankar was briefly signed to the Beatles Apple Records label and released two albums. The first was a soundtrack album to a film about his music and life called Raga (1971), with the album of music from the film produced by George Harrison:
And then in 1973 came a double LP called In Concert 1972, with sarod player extraordinaire Ali Akbar Khan:
George Harrison of course famously called upon his friend Shankar in 1971 to open the fundraising Concert for Bangladesh in 1971, and then released a live film and a triple LP called The Concert for Bangladesh with the whole of the first side of Disc One dedicated to a performance by Ravi Shankar. This was also released on Apple Records:
Following the demise of Apple in the seventies, George Harrison continued his association with Shankar, releasing two LP’s on his Dark Horse label. The first was Shankar Family and Friends (1974):
Shankar Family and Friends was followed on Dark Horse Records in 1976 by Ravi Shankar’s Music Festival From India:
George Harrison also compiled and produced a 1996 box set called Ravi – In Celebration (for the EMI subsidiary label, Angel Records). A single CD of highlights was also released:
And in 1997 (also on the Angle label) came Chants of India, which was again produced by George Harrison:
It was no surprise then, when in 2002 a tribute concert was held in honour of the late Beatle, that the music of Ravi Shankar would feature prominently. He was present for the show and a Shankar composition “Arpan” (Sanskrit for ‘to give’), was specially written for the occasion:
All the Dark Horse Harrison/Shankar collaborations, plus Chants of India, came out in a lavish box set simply called Collaborations in November 2010:
In recent years Ravi Shankar’s own record label EastMeetsWest Music has been steadily working through his back-catalogue and re-releasing his life’s work on CD, DVD, and digitally.
Been listening to “Chants of India” ever since I heard the news. He always seemed like such a sweet man, not to mention an amazing musician who dedicated his life to the spirituality of music. His talent and his spirit will be missed.
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