Singer: Lata Mangeshkar, Film: Anuradha
When you think about two biggest names in making Indian Culture and Art familiar and popular in the western world, two names are in the lead: Vivekanand and Ravi Shankar. It is one talent to be a Sitar Maestro, a different talent to be a composer and totally different talent to be able to take it to a large audience, especially the audience that is not familiar with the music. When it was difficult to find even Indians who could understand and enjoy Indian classical music, Ravi Shankar made his name and Sitar known to many people in the USA, and Europe. Not only them, but also the most popular music group Beatles and others made Ravi Shankar their Guru, learned Sitar and Indian classical music, and blended in their compositions. The pop music of 60’s and 70’s was highly influenced by Indiana classical music. Besides Beatles, many groups like Moody Blues, Santana etc made man fusion song very popular. Thanks to Ravi Shankar. Ravi Shankar also played lead instrumental performer in world known western classical symphonies like London Philharmonic and others. When westerners think of Indian music, they only think of Indian classical music. Even in Inida, only a minority of people understands and enjoy our own classical music!
During early 70’s, I went to live in Texas, USA. At the time people there barely knew anything about India, in the absence of cable TV and internet. While New York and other north eastern states, and California was mildly international and cosmopolitan, Texas was all Country & Western, so far as music and culture was concerned.
People had only three questions about India
- Why ladies have red dot on their forehead?
- Are cows sacred in India?
- Do you listen to Ravi Shankar’s music?
Ravi Shankar’s music was synonymous with Indian music! A lady working in my office, when I worked for NASA in 70’s listened to nothing but Country and Western music. She invited me to meet with her boyfriend who was impressed by Indian culture. He had a large collection of Ravi Shankar’s albums. At the time, I had none! He said that Ravi Shankar’s Sitar music gave him peace, and touched his soul. Something about Indian Raga’s and the instrument’s sound itself creates such effect to even people totally unfamiliar with Indian music. Like bugle sound is appropriate for military, sitar tone is totally spiritual.
During 90’s when a new generation of electronic synthesizer keyboards came to age, many top names had over 300 great sounding instrument and rhythmic sounds. Many acoustical instrument sounds, like violin and flute were just like real acoustical instrument sounds. I looked for one that had best Sitar and Shehnai sound. Well, I did find one with best Sitar sound, but did not have luck for Shehnai sound. I worked for thousands of hours to program Shehnai sound on my synthesizer.
In the links above, I have played on Sitar [synth] my own version of the great tune Vaishnavjan To, from film Gandhi. The song was written by ancient poet Narsinh Mehata, and was favorite song of Gandhi. I have written sort of my own Raga on my Keyboard-Sitar.
Ravi Shankar was not only Sitar Maestro. He also was a great composer of classical-pop of Indian film culture. He composed music for another great name famous in western world, Satyjit Ray. A Bangali film director He also composed music for mainstream Hindi films. In 1960 he composed music for film Anuradha that has become immortal. [See above link]
He has been awarded the greatest civilian honor, Bharat Ratna’ and will receive a ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ by Grammy soon.