Posts Tagged ‘Raga’

Anoushka Shankar’s Family Affair

August 17, 2013

The Daughter of an Icon Looks Back and Looks Forward.

Traces of YouJust got a peak at the forthcoming Anoushka Shankar album, Traces of You.  Just to judge from the EPK, it could be her best album yet.  Produced by Nitin Sawhney and featuring vocals from Shankar’s sister, Norah Jones, it appears to be a blend of traditional music with a modernist sensibility and a reflection on her father, Indian sitar icon, Ravi Shankar, who passed away last year.  Anoushka studied literally at the feet of her father and brings not only his impeccable technique to her music, but his raging musical curiosity and eclecticism.  Expect to hear this album a lot on Echoes this fall.

John Diliberto (((echoes))

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Ravi Shankar’s Last Raga Ride

December 12, 2012

or I Dropped My Microphone on Ravi Shankar’s Sitar.

121212054903-ravi-shankar-horizontal-galleryThe word “icon” is tossed around pretty freely these days, and I probably fling it out there more than most.  But put the name Ravi Shankar next to “icon” and you reset that bar to stratospheric heights. There are only a few musicians who stand out as icons when you think of a particular music or instrument. For Be-Bop it’s Charlie Parker; for the electric guitar, Jimi Hendrix; for classical music, Beethoven.  Add to that list Ravi Shankar, the first name you think of when Indian music and the sitar come up. And now, like those musicians, Ravi Shankar is gone.

When Ravi Shankar plays an alap, the slow, improvised introduction to a raga, he closes his eyes as if lost to the world.“Somehow I don’t know my eyes become closed especially those parts which are slow and serene,” said Shankar during one of my two interviews with the artist.  “That’s when I cannot keep my eyes open and watch my listener or watch everything like one can do later on when one plays faster pieces. And that’s one place where I completely lose contact with the outside world.”

Ravi Shankar didn’t start out playing sitar.  Born on April 7, 1920 in Varanasi, India, he began as a dancer in an international performance troupe led by his brother, Uday. Shankar traveled the world in his teenage years living a cosmopolitan life.  Opening up the booklet of his 75th anniversary CD, In Celebration, I pointed out a photo of a young handsome man, his long black hair is slick backed and strings of beads crisscross his bare chest as he strikes a seductive pose that wouldn’t be out of place in a Prince video.

John Diliberto & Ravi Shankar, New York 1996

John Diliberto & Ravi Shankar, New York 1996

“Who is that young man?” I asked facetiously

“That’s me dancing,” laughed Shankar, looking at a picture of his teenage self.  “This is my solo I choreographed myself.”

“How is this person different from the person sitting in front of me right now?” I probed.

“Well this person about 16 to 17 going 17, 19,” he answered. “And now I am going 76 almost. So there has to be a lot of difference, but I still have him inside me. I cannot get rid of him.

“What parts of him do you like?” I asked.

“Well that sometime I really feel like very young and very childish, especially after the sensation of coming to New York,” he said wistfully.  “All my memories become so alive. My first sensation is the San Moritz Hotel in front of Central Park. That’s where we stayed. And New York was my first love, it’s very special. The whole Times Square, seeing 3 films a day, going to the Cotton Club, hearing Cab Calloway and all the famous people, seeing them on stage, Ed Wynn, Will Rogers, Eddie Cantor.”

That’s not the frame of reference that comes to mind when you think of Ravi Shankar.  Even 16 years ago, Shankar was a frail man with a cloudy yellow ring around the irises of his eyes.  But as he embraced his sitar, you couldn’t  forget his stature as a master musician who seduced the world with an ancient sound and spirit.  But before he attained a status of musical sainthood, he had to leave the world behind.  In the midst of traveling the globe with his brother’s troupe, he decided to return to India with Master Baba Allaudin Khan and studied the sitar.

1313275438_ravi-shankar-yehudi-menuhin-west-meets-east“I covered my eyes to all my near past and went to a very distant past,” reflected Shankar. “So it was a difficult job to do but I so wanted to acquire and learn music from this great man that I tried to live exactly the way he wanted: Old fashioned the old guru-disciple system. You become a celibate, you give up everything, you live a very simple life and nothing else but just work, you know.”

In fact, Shankar experienced the chilla, a forty day period of isolation and virtually non-stop playing.  “That sort of thing is not possible today,” he conceded. He emerged from this stark period with formidable technique and a music whose spirit would suffuse several generations.

Almost from the beginning, Ravi Shankar reached out to other musicians, finding a common ground between Indian music and the jazz, rock and classical worlds.

“Imagine my background of those 8 years in Europe and America, listening to so much of world music at that time” he asked.  “So it was very natural for me when I matured as a performing artist, that apart from keeping all the pure things there was something in my head going on to do new things, new expressions.”

One of the first western musicians to embrace Shankar was classical violinist Yehudi Menuhin.  They began paying together in the 1950s and in the late 60s recorded West Meets East.

And then came the 60s revolution when Indian music was embraced by psychedelic rock.  It was this movement and Shankar’s association with George Harrison of The Beatles that really launched the sitarist towards global renown.  But he has always been disparaging of the times even though he made notorious appearances at the Woodstock and  Monterey Festivals as well as The Concert For Bangladesh, where the audience mistook his tuning for an actual piece music.

“And many times I had to walk off with my sitar really because I couldn’t take it anymore,” he ruefully recalled, “because our music is so sacred to us. But they took it for granted because George happened to be my student.  So they took it for granted they come with the same spirit to hear our music, whistling and shrieking and doing all sort of things.”

Jazz saxophonist John Coltrane dialed into Indian modalities in the mid-60s through Shankar..

“I taught him the rudiments of our ragas and the way we improvise,” remembered Shankar. “He was so interested to know how we can create such peace, the feeling of tranquility in music. I used to tell him, ‘John, I’m amazed.’ Because when I saw him he had become a vegetarian, he had left drugs, drink, everything. He was studying Rama Krishna. So I asked him ‘Why do I find so much disturbance in your discordant in your music?’ So he said, ‘That’s what I want to find out, if you can help me, Ravi.’

Philip Glass tuned up his minimalist concepts while arranging Ravi Shankar compositions for orchestra.  Space music bands like Popol Vuh dialed in to Shankar’s raga excursions and countless guitarists like Terje Rypdal and John McLaughlin brought Indian phrasing into their playing.  World fusion was born in Shankar-influenced groups like Oregon, Shakti, and Ancient Future, all of whom ingested Indian music through Shankar.

Ravi Shankar & George Harrison

Ravi Shankar & George Harrison

Despite his misgivings, the 1960s and early 70s were times of feverish collaborations by Shankar, especially working with George Harrison. It’s something he picked up on again in the late 1980s when he made three albums for the Private Music label, including collaboration with Philip Glass, the minimalist who has cited Shankar as a primary influence.  But no matter what the combination, Shankar says he’s still bringing the same spirit to the music which he learned from his guru, Baba Alaudin Khan.

“We always had oral tradition,” reflected Shankar.  So the guru taught the disciple and along with the music it was not just the technique of some of the compositions but it was the whole spirit the whole way of life the whole religious aspect. The deep introspective feeling brought tears to the eyes, made you feel like you were near the god. That still exists in our music. And that’s something which I have been trying in many of my compositions.  If you hear pieces like “Shanti Mantra,” you’ll see I have utilized western musicians, western choir and also things I tried to bring that feeling.”

He taught that oral tradition to his daughter, sitarist Anoushka Shankar.  I first met Anoushka at her father’s home in Southern California.  She was 19 then and just on the precipice of her own musical career.  Sitting in their practice room, Ravi Shankar sang melodies and Anoushka played them back.  As he played improvised lines on his sitar, fresh in the moment, Anoushka shook her head from side to side, acknowledging the mastery of his melodies even as she replicated them herself.

Ravi & Anoushka Shankar

Ravi & Anoushka Shankar

“It’s very much a call and response type of situation,” she explained. “When he is teaching me, he’s either playing a composition that he is teaching me or he’s improvising.  I watch him and listen and repeat, and it’s that sort of repetitive process of just playing it over and over again.  It sinks in after a while.”

“We always had oral tradition,” her father concurred. “But it was also the whole spirit, the whole way of life, the religious aspect, to make you feel being near the god. That still exists in our music.”

For all his spiritualism, Shankar was a man of the world.  He laughed easily and I can still remember him opening his fortune cookie in a Chinese restaurant.  “You will have a happy life,” read the fortune, to which Shankar added, laughing hysterically, “in bed.”

And he was gracious.  In our first interview in 1996, Shankar had demonstrated his sitar for me and was still holding it in his lap as we talked.  For some reason, my microphone slipped out of my hand and crashed into his sitar.  I stood frozen, as did his entourage around me.  Before I could utter an apology, Shankar reached out and said, “It’s okay.  It’s only a practice sitar.”

Ravi Shankar Towards the End

Ravi Shankar Towards the End

It didn’t matter what kind of sitar Shankar played, the logic and invention of his solos was extraordinary and his quicksilver interplay with tabla players like Alla Rahka is the stuff that would inspire jazz and rock musicians for decades.    The concerts that I  saw him play were always transporting experiences as Shankar wove entire worlds with his ragas.

Shankar was the last of an Indian music triumvirate that including sarod master Ali Akbar Khan and tabla master Alla Rahka.  Ravi Shankar passed away last night, December 11, 2012 at the age of 92.  It truly is the end of an era, but his influence resonates like the sympathetic strings of the sitar.

You’ll find of a list of Five Essential Ravi Shankar CDs that I compiled for his 90th birthday.

~© 2012 John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

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Eastern Moods for Echoes October CD of the Month

September 27, 2012

You can trace many movements in modern music back to The Beatles, and they are at the roots of Hans Christian and Harry Manx.  Not The Beatles of “She Loves You,” but the eastern-influenced Beatles of “Tomorrow Never Knows” and especially “Within You Without You.” Musicians like the German-born Christian and English-born Manx were inspired by those sounds to head east, although each approached it from a different perspective.

HANS CHRISTIAN is a classically trained cellist whose 1990s albums, Phantoms and Surrender, took his instrument into electronic and ambient terrain.  But it was his work with Rasa where he found his true voice, partly inspired by George Harrison’s recording of devotional chants from the Radha Krsna TempleHe’d become expert on the Indian sarangi, the Swedish nyckelharpe and the sitara, and he curved the sounds of these instruments into yearning melodies, wrapped them up in electronica atmospheres, and caressed the voice of his partner, singer Kim Waters.  Rasa broke up, but Christian contines that sound, sans Hindu chants, on You Are the Music of My Silence.

HARRY MANX joins Christian, singing, playing guitars and the Indian lap guitar called the Mohan Vina.  He went east through the The Beatles and the blues, and he has several solo albums out as a singer-songwriter that fuse those worlds.  On his own, he has a lighter, more pop and punny approach as evidenced by some of his album titles: Bread and Buddha, Mantras for Madmen and West Eats Meet.  He goes a bit deeper with Christian, forging an album that seduces you with gentle, folk-like melodies and lifts you with an exotic instrumental array: they’re global mystic minstrels jacked into the net.

Every song on this album is a journey.  Sometimes it’s a slow river ride like “Harmonious Convergence,” which lazes along on the laziest, haziest summer day.  But more often, it takes off on the melodic flights like those on “Apparently an Apparition,” mixing electronic grooves, string sections and solos on Mohan Vina, in an exhilarating swirl.
Some songs are gently lulling, like “I Saw It In Your Eyes” while others, like “Shorthand Prophecy,” propel you through an imaginary bazaar at the crossroads of Ibiza and Mumbai, with Manx singing the rhythmic syllables of Indian bols.  In the midst of this Indian drive, Christian drops in a startling jazz fusion electric bass solo that makes you realize what a supreme instrumentalist he is.

Like George Harrison and The Beatles, Hans Christian and Harry Manx aren’t attempting to make traditional Indian music.  Instead of straight ragas, they channel that spirit into a new sound, one full of ear-catching melody, propulsive rhythms and serenely enticing atmospheres that beckon you into their temple.  You Are the Music of My Silence is the sound you might hear in your deepest, quietest space.

Hans Christian & Harry Manx’s You Are the Music of My Silence will be featured on Echoes Monday, October 1 and the weekend of October 5.

~© 2012 John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

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5 Essential Ravi Shankar CDs for 90th Birthday

April 7, 2010

Celebrate Ravi Shankar’s 90th Birthday with 5 CDs

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Ravi Shankar turns 90 today.  He was born  April 7, 1920 in Benares, India.   Tonight, April 7, we’ll feature an interview with the sitar master on Echoes.   His impact on Indian music is undeniable.  His impact on world music is still being calculated, but may be even more significant.  Since the 1950s he’s released dozens of albums so pairing them down to any number is difficult.  But for the novice and the aficionado here’s a selection from across Shankar’s career.

In Concert 1972
This is really a threefer in that you get Shankar, and the other two icons of Indian music, sarod master Ali Akbar Khan, who passed away last year at 87, and tabla player Alla Rakha, who passed in 2000.  This super trio was in high form for this 1972 live recording, playing on a three extended ragas that span 2 CDs.

West Meets East
The meeting of Shankar with classical violinist Yehudi Menuhin was monumental in the career of Ravi Shankar.  Although the raga is high art in India, it was still folk art in the west until Menuhin engaged in this set of extended duets, trading licks with Shankar like a jazz cutting session, but also reaching some beautiful, Paganini dipped in patchouli  heights.

Full Circle
This 2000 live performance from Carnegie Hall was something of a passing of the torch as Shankar was joined by his then teen aged daughter Anoushka who has gone on to stake her own claim as the premier sitarist of this generation.  Virtuosity a given, the two artists trade licks and create that serene mood and mad rush to edge that characterizes the best ragas.

This is one of several collaborations between Philip Glass and Ravi Shankar.  Glass cites his work with Shankar in the 1960s as being a seminal influence on his music.  On this album, Glass and Shankar each takes themes from the other and orchestrates and arranges them for sitar, orchestra and voices.  A beautiful and under-rated album.

Vision of Peace
This is a collection released by Deutsche Grammophon culled from recordings made in the late-1970s and early-1980s.  Unlike Columbia Records’ fragmented Essential Ravi Shankar, this features extended ragas as well as a few bitesize tracks including collaborations with Japanese koto and shakuhachi players.  Shankar was always the consummate world music traveler.

John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

Jack Rose Remembered

February 9, 2010

Jack Rose @ Echoes

There’s a good article called Remembering an Acoustic Artist by Joel Rose (no relation) about Jack Rose, the iconoclastic acoustic guitarist who passed away December 5, 2009.

The article is online at the Philadelphia Inquirer

It also points to a set of memorial concerts with some really great guitarists including Glenn Jones and Thurston Moore.  There’s a show at the Latvian Center in Philly this weekend, another in NYC and a third in London.

Thrill Jockey just released a new album by Jack Rose, Luck in the Valley.  It’s got the rootsy, old-timey sound that Joel Rose writes about.    I prefer the extended modal journeys heard on albums like,  Apocalyps. X

We were fortunate to have Jack Rose play on Echoes and he gave us a great interview a while back.  You can hear a podcast of it.

John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

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Urban Nature’s World Fusion: Echo Location

October 21, 2009

The Perils of  Growing Up Echoes with Urban Nature

Ramesh and I both grew up listening to Echoes and I remember being a teenager and listening to Echoes as I’d fall asleep at night.  And so being exposed to Windham Hill and I’d go into the record store and get their Best of Windham Hill and it would be Will Ackerman and De Grassi and Michael Hedges and George Winston and all these different players on there.  And I really loved that instrumental music that  was very ambient and it was different than what I was used to listening to.  And I feel that the show Echoes and all those different artists really inspired and influenced my approach to music over time.  -Todd Boston

urbannatureTodd Boston is one half of the duo, Urban Nature.  We’ll be hearing an interview with them on Tuesday and in December there will be a Living Room Concert.  But right now, in this Echo Location, find out what happens when you grow up listening to Echoes.  You can hear an audio version of this blog, with Urban Nature’s music, here.


More than 40 years after it’s release, George Harrison‘s raga derived hymn, “Within You With Out You”  is still influencing musicians like guitarist Todd Boston.

Todd Boston:  I think it was the Beatles who brought me to Indian music.  I did a college paper on the song Within You Without You And I think that was one of the first pieces of music that really grabbed me that had some traces of Indian music and then I kept just going deeper and deeper into it.

Todd Boston wasn’t even born when The Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers came out.  The guitarist grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs, as did percussionist Ramesh Kannan.  His parents were born in Mumbai And Madras and he has even deeper roots in Indian music.

Ramesh Kannan:  My mom is an amazing Carnatic vocalist and she’s been doing that her whole life and she’s the one that influenced me to learn tabla when I was 8-years old and my musical path kind of got dictated in that way from her.

The two musicians met in San Francisco, where they formed their east-west duo called Urban Nature.  Todd Boston has studied Indian music extensively, including a couple of years at the feet of the late Indian sarod master, Ali Akbar Khan.

Todd Boston:  What appealed to me was something that I had a harder time finding in Western music and in popular music in the United States which was, you know, what somebody might call a spirituality to it or a depth.  You know, I’ll just define it as a depth to the music.  There’s a saying from India that says “Nada Brahma” which means “Sound is God.”

Urban Nature is influenced by jazz guitarist John McLaughlin‘s iconic band Shakti, as well as Windham Hill guitarists like the late Michael Hedges.  They play acoustic based music, but whip out electric guitars and digital loops, and they think of their album, Coming Home,  as somewhere between a meditation CD and a Pink Floyd concept album.

Ramesh Kannan: You know, we talked back and forth about like where does it fit, where does fit and is it meditation music?  Is it world fusion music?  What is it?  And that way of thinking wasn’t getting us anywhere.  We’re like, “let’s just make a record, a creative album that can explore everything that we are right now with this.

Urban Nature’s latest CD is called Coming Home.  I’ll have a more extensive interview with the duo next Tuesday 10/27/09.  This has been an Echo Location, Soundings for New Music.

John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

Ali Akbar Khan Plucks His Last String

June 19, 2009

Echoes remembers Ali Akbar Khan (April 14,1922-June 19, 2009)

Signature Series, Vol. 4 Ali Akbar Khan is one of the only Indian musicians whose name is spoken in the same breathe as Ravi Shankar.  He plays the Indian stringed instrument called the sarod and since his American debut in 1955 playing duets with classical violinist Yehudi Menuhin, he’s been a leading proponent of Indian classical music in the west.  If you were on the west coast and beat a tabla or plucked a sitar, you probably passed through the Ali Akbar College of Music.

We talked with Khansab in 1994 when he’d just released an album of Westernized raga melodies called Journey.

Ragas I remember Khansab seated in the music room of his tiny Marin County bungalow. The walls were covered with Indian murals, tanpuras and icons.  A stack of shelves held several of his sarods, a stringed Indian instrument that sounds like a sitar with resonant strings but with a fretless fingerboard.  On one wall hung his first miniature sarod, which his father made from an old violin. He was a short, portly man, whose speech was barely intelligible beneath his gruff, rumbling tone and Indian accent.  He said he learned many of his ragas from his father.

“There are 25,000 ragas, melodies,” grumbled Khansab.  “You have to listen to learn in each other, you must learn at least 500 for your completion.  And by practicing, by thinking this, then you know it, you can feel it and it’s like a love.  When a child talks to its mother, mother talks to her child.  This comes out from their heart.  They never compose beforehand.  So that kind of attitude you need for real music.”

Whether playing with classical violinists or cross-over music, Ali Akbar Khan insisted that he never sacrificed the depth and meaning of Indian music.

“That meaning is very difficult to explain,” he revealed.  “I only know that through music you can reach to God.  And it’s such a wonderful thing which can bring peace to all of the place.  The people listen, the people they perform and it’s a very, very wonderful things.  But I am telling you each note can explain many things you can’t speak or write.”

Ali Akbar Khan passed today, June 19, 2009 at the age of 87.  With Ali Akbar Khan joining tabla master Alla Rahka, that leaves Ravi Shankar as the last of the triumvirate that brought Indian music to the west.  From Morgan Doctor to Jai Uttal, Matthew Montfort to Ravi Shankar, there is rarely a musician I’ve spoken to who hasn’t been touched by his music.

John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

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