Tuesday, March 21, 2023

10 compositions by Pt Ravi Shankar, the “Godfather of world music”

Besides Hindustani classical recordings, sitar maestro and composer Pt Ravi Shankar had a wide repertoire that encompassed film music, spiritual tunes and collaborations with western artistes.

To mark his 102nd birth anniversary on April 7, we choose 10 tunes that reflect his versatility. The effort has been to use shorter videos – only one is around eight minutes long. Thus we have not taken any elaborate classical recordings.

This is a random selection, listed in no particular order, though we have tried to maintain a thematic connect.


1 Prabhati – with Yehudi Menuhin

This was the opening track of the historic 1967 album ‘West Meets East’, recorded in collaboration with violinist Yehudi Menuhin. Based on the morning raag Gunkali, it began with a meditative portion by Menuhin, after which Shankar played a plucked part. Tabla maestro Ustad Allarakha joined mid-way. The piece was composed by Shankar.


2 Bairagi: Moderato – with Zubin Mehta & London Symphony Orchestra

In 1982, Shankar released his ‘Sitar Concerto No 2’ with the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Mumbai-born Zubin Mehta. The piece was sub-titled ‘Raga Mala’. The second movement, the moderato, was based on the morning raag Bairagi, and blended Shankar’s sitar passages with western classical arrangements.


3 Discovery Of India – from ‘Gandhi’

An uptempo piece which brought out the mood of a train journey, this was one of the highlights of the soundtrack of Richard Attenborough’s ‘Gandhi’. The tune was composed and conducted by Shankar and George Fenton. The sitar matched the persistent rhythm and the sarangi by Ustad Sultan Khan was marvellous.


4 Tana Mana – with Frank Serafine

In the 1980s, Shankar did his bit to use the new synthesiser and sampling technology. Electronic artiste Frank Serafine collaborated on this project, which also had George Harrison on harp and synthesisers, Al Kooper on guitar, Ashish Khan on sarod, and Shubho Shankar and Lakshmi Shankar on backing vocals. The album was released in 1987.


5 I Am Missing You – with Lakshmi Shankar

Classical vocalist Lakshmi Shankar sang this devotional song in English. The lyrics were, “I am missing you, o Krishna where are you? Though I can’t see you, I hear your flute all the while”. Pandit Harprasad Chaurasia played bansuri on this song, which also featured many western musicians. It was used in the 1974 album ‘Shankar Family & Friends’, and was popular among the Hare Krishna community.


6 Eri Main To Prem Deewani – from ‘Meera’

In 1979, Gulzar directed the film ‘Meera’ with Hema Malini and Vinod Khanna in the lead roles. The film was based on the life of poet saint Meerabai and thus the songs were based on her poetry written for Lord Krishna. Ravi Shankar composed the music, with Vani Jairam singing for Meera. This popular song had the lyrics, “Eri main to prem deewani, mera dard na jaane koi”. It was in raag Todi.


7 Jaane Kaise Sapnon Mein – from ‘Anuradha’

One of Shankar’s Hindi film songs, this was composed by him in raag Tilak Shyam, and sung by Lata Mangeshkar. It was filmed in a garden on Leela Naidu and Balraj Sahni. Lyricist Shailendra wrote, “Jaane kaise sapnon mein kho gayee akhiyan, main toh hoon jaagi, mori so gayee akhiyan”. The film also had Lata’s ‘Saanware Saanware’ in Bhairavi.


8 Pancham Se Gara – with Ustad Allarakha

Many people would recognise this piece from Shankar’s 1967 performance at the Monterey Pop Festival. Here, the sitar maestro once again teamed up with tabla legend Ustad Allarakha for this recording at the BBC Studio. The late evening raag was also recorded by Anoushka Shankar in her 1999 album ‘Anourag’.


9 Raag Kirwani – with Pt Chatur Lal

One of Shankar’s most popular recordings, it featured tabla maestro Pt Chatur Lal who accompanied him at many early concerts. Lal passed away prematurely in 1965 at the age of 40. A more elaborate recording of this night raag is found on the album ‘Concert For Peace’ with tabla maestro Ustad Zakir Hussain and sarod exponent Partho Sarathy.


10 Sarve Shaam – with George Harrison

In 1997, Shankar released the album ‘Chants Of India’, containing Vedic and other Hindu writings. It was produced by ex-Beatle George Harrison, and also featured sitar player Anoushka Shankar and flautist Ronu Majumdar. ‘Sarve Shaam’ was the last track on the album, and called for peace and happiness. The chant is appropriate in today’s times.


These are of course only 10 tracks and one finds many other gems like Satyajit Ray’s Bengali film ‘Pather Panchali’, the Hindi film ‘Godaan’, the album ‘Passages’ with American composer Philip Glass, and the records ‘Jazzmine’ and ‘Inside The Kremlin’. With such versatility, Shankar was often described as the Godfather Of World Music.

Narendra Kusnur
Narendra Kusnur is one of India’s best known music journalists. Born with a musical spoon, so to speak, Naren, who dubs himself Kaansen, is a late bloomer in music criticism. He was (is!) an aficionado first, and then strayed into writing on music. But in the last two decades, he has made up for most of what he didn’t do earlier.

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