Ravi Shankar spent much of his long career promoting Indian music around the globe, and is generally considered to be the person responsible for introducing Indian music to the West.
Shankar was born in April 1920 at Varnasi near Benares which is in West Bengal. His family - of the Brahmin caste -- was well off, and his father was employed as a minister by the Maharajah of Jhalawar. At age 13, Shankar was playing the sitar in his older brother's Indian music and dance company. A year later, Shankar met the multi-instrumentalist Allauddin Khan, who became Shankar's mentor and guru.
Shankar finished his musical training in 1944 at which point he began to play concerts all over India, keeping Bombay as his home base. While touring and giving public concerts, Shankar also wrote the musical scores for movies and the ballet. Shankar's popularity led to an appointment as the music director of All India Radio from 1949 until 1956. Shankar consequently set a goal of increasing the exposure of Hindustani music to the world outside of India. Shankar's goal was set in motion in 1954 when he performed a concert in the Soviet Union and in 1956 when he performed his first solo concert in Western Europe. In 1962 he formed the Kinnara Music School in Bombay.
In addition to the Indian music he became so well known for, Shankar experimented outside of the classical Hindustani realm as well. He is largely remembered for his work with the Beatles, he even performed at the hippie pop festivals in Monterey and Woodstock . Shankar and George Harrison jointly formed the Concert for Bangladesh in 1971, as well as several other world-recognized musical events.
Shankar's work was recognized in America as evidenced by the multiple Grammys he won. Countless other awards have been bestowed upon Shankar such as the Padma Vibhushan (India's highest civilian award, 1981) and the Grand Prize at the Fukuoka Asian Cultural Prizes (1991). His fame, prestige and musical influence around the globe continued to grow so much so that his 1969 autobiography "My Music, My Life" is still considered one of the best introductions to Indian music.
The 600 year old sitar – this glorified pumpkin has a history as ancient as the vedas, where it manifested as the divine instrument – the veena. It has a simple constitution – a dried out pumpkin for the body, tun or rosewood for the neck, and a dried out gourd for the resonator at the top of the neck. In addition, it boasts seven strings on its upper surface along with eleven or thirteen sympathetic strings under the arch shaped frets. These arched frets enable a greater adaptability in using the instrument as compared to a guitar, and the fuzzy reverb sound is produced by the bridge, which touches the vibrating strings. To the sitar, are credited sound and electronic effects as diverse as echo and reverb, and chorus and sustain. An ancient axiom reveals that a student of the sitar must spend twenty years learning, twenty years performing, and twenty years teaching the instrument to truly appreciate its finest aspects.
Hommage to Mahatma Gandhi Raga Gara · Tala Farodast
No matter what distinction he might attain during his own lifetime the Indian musician is ever conscious of the influences that have moulded his life and his music. The legendary Tansen (1508-1589), favourite of the emperor Akbar, always sought his teacher Swami Haridas when his soul was troubled and it is this guru-sishya-parampara, the sacred relationship between master and pupil, which is the hallmark of all Indian art. This positive connection with the past is a source of constant nourishment and is the essential factor that makes the music of India at once traditional and modern, classical and contemporary.
Ravi Shankar, a great musician by any standards, derives his musical lineage from Tansen himself. He composed the raga Mohan Kauns in honour of Mahatma Gandhi. In February 1948, a few days after the world was stunned by the brutal assassination of the man of peace, Shankar was tuning his instrument before a live broadcast from a Bombay studio when an All India Radio producer asked him whether he could play something in honour of the Mahatma. In feverish inspiration Shankar produced Mohan Kauns which somewhat resembles the night raga Malkauns.Mohan, an epithet of the god Krishna, was the Mahatma's first name and his surname provided the note sequence Ga Ni Dha which forms part of the Indian solfčge, and is repeated frequently as the motif of this work.
Ravi Shankar begins with the ălăp, a slow and spiritual movement devoid of rhythmic elements. The notes on the bass strings have a particularly haunting quality - a lament in the truest sense. Rhythm is introduced as the ălăp develops to the jorh.The music then progresses to the jhala and at this point the chikaris,side strings, are brought into play to produce a rapid tempo. With the entry of the tabla, played by Alla Rakha, the maestro of the Punjab gharana (school), we hear the gath which is the final section of the raga. The rhythmic cycle for this gath is rupak tala consisting of 7 beats divided 3 + 2 + 2. After impromptu question-answer passages between sitar and tabla the music rises in a powerful crescendo symbolizing the triumph of the Mahatma's spirit over the forces of evil.
“Ragas" and “talas" are happycombinations of fixed musical rules and the performers' skill at improvisation. A raga might be defined most aptly as a prescribed melody consisting of certain fixed material, different for every example, plus the melodic embellishments which give the raga its individual character. Ragas are also associated with such extra-musical circumstances as seasons of the year and times of the day, as well as emotions such as joy, grief, high spirits or melancholy. A tala is a rhythmic cycle or structure with a series of beats which is different for each tala. Even if this remains constant during a piece, a tala is often difficult to detect because the drummer, too, improvises.
Ravi Shankarperforms here on a beautiful handmade sitar, a large, lute-like instrument with a long-necked fingerboard, more than 20 movable steel frets over which lie four strings, and two side strings, which are used for keeping rhythm and also as drone. Thirteen sympathetic strings run close to the neck and beneath the frets, contributing decisively to the instrument's luxuriant overtones and resonance. The sitar is joined by the tabla, a pair of small drums. The right-hand drum is usually tuned to the tonic with a hammer. The left-hand drum is the bass drum on which variations of pitch areproduced by pressing with the base of the palm and wrist. The classical Indian ensemble is completed by the tanpura, usually a long-necked fretless stringed instrument, which, for recording of the raga Gara, has been replaced by two smaller ones of the same type.
In the tala Farodast, Alla Rakha displayshisimmense talent for improvisation within the already complicated 7-unit scheme (2 2 3), whose basic sequence of beats some musicians like to double, thus expanding it into a 14-unit rhythm. The beating of the tabla, interrupted by Alla Rakha with a rapid, exclamatory declamation of the main syllables in the customary manner, i.e. artistically differentiated, is based on a famous tradition - the Punjab Gharana.
The short introduction (Aochar Alăp) of the raga Gara slowly encircles the lower note, performed as a sitar solo and concluding with the soft glissando characteristic of this artist. This is followed by three gaths accompanied on the tabla andplayed in three different tempi (vilambit = slow; madhya = medium fast; drut = fast).This is nota very old raga and is sung and played mostly in Thumri style, which is very lyrical and romantic. Gara is said to be a composite of six ragas: Piloo, Khamaj, Kafi, Jaijawanti, Zila and Barwa.