By Lachman Balani
TORONTO: I was jumping with joy as I watched Norah Jones and Anoushka receive the Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award for their late father Ravi Shankar who died in December.
How pleasant to see his two daughters – whose music is different and who live worlds part – come together and accept the award. And this Grammy is a befitting tribute to the maestro who took Indian music to the world.
How true when Anoushka said in her acceptance speech, “”When I watched him play, he could take people to this incredible meditative state where they’d close their eyes and just cry and get in touch with something more important.”
And Norah said, “He knew about it and was very happy, and also that he and my sister, Anoushka, were both nominated in the same category for a Grammy (this year) was a special thing as well. We all miss him and are very proud of him. I will forever be discovering and re-discovering his music from all walks of his long and amazing life.”
Immediately, my mind went back in time. Way back in the 60s I had read that George Harrison of The Beatles, who had heard Ravi Shankar through The Byrds band member Roger McGuinn, had come to India to learn how to play the sitar from ‘Ustad Ravi Shankar’.
Soon after, the sitar made its debut in western music in nothing less than The Beatles’ Norwegian Wood on their album Rubber Soul.
Using that as a cue, many rock bands, including The Rolling Stones, started incorporating the sitar in their songs. Great as Ravi Shankar was, the fact that he had been embraced by The Beatles and his instrument by western musicians raised him to the Almighty status, not only in the eyes of the West where he played regularly but also in the eyes of his fellow Indians.
It was the first time that people could remember that a fellow Indian musician playing his ragas had been so well embraced by Europe and the US.
Panditji, as Ravi Shankar was fondly called, went on to become a highly revered personality in musical circles all around the world. His music would transport the listeners to another realm altogether. In 1967, he performed at the first of its kind grand Monterey Pop Festival in California. In 1969, he performed at the fabled Woodstock festival where half a million people attended.
In 1971, I attended the legendary Concert for Bangladesh at the Madison Square Garden in New York City – the first huge US charitable concert ever to raise money for a cause to help the nascent nation that had just separated from Pakistan.
George Harrison, Ringo Starr (ex-Beatles), Eric Clapton, Leon Russell, Billy Preston, Klaus Voorman and a host of other rock musicians opened up the concert. After this amazing performance, on stage came Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Alla Rakha (tabla) along with several other musicians and just at the tuning of their instruments got thunderous applause.
You can well imagine what the crowd’s response was once they actually started playing. It was magical! The 50,000-strong audience just swayed and moved their heads in a total trance!
The last I saw this sitar virtuoso was in Toronto a few years ago. Though he wasn’t as vibrant as in the 70s he still played extremely powerfully sending me more into a ‘dhun’ than ever before. It was as if I had left earth and was on cloud no. 9!
Panditji had already won many awards in his early life in Germany and India before landing three Grammy Awards and Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan and Bharat Ratna awards. In 1974, he met US President Gerald Ford along with George Harrison.
Last night, The Grammys awarded him posthumously another award for lifetime achievement – a decision they had made before he expired.
At the acceptance award, his daughter Anoushka talked about how his music had made a lasting impression on everybody getting them into a meditative state, for fun and (ready for this?!?!) to get laid!
For whatever reason people enjoyed his music, this Ustadon ke Ustad (king of kings) has definitely left an indelible mark on the world music scene and last night’s Grammy is very well deserved. I am sure even his sitar is gently weeping with joy!