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‘Godfather of world music’, sitar star Ravi Shankar, dies aged 92

  • by Mark Casci
 

Indian musical virtuoso Ravi Shankar, famed for introducing millions of westerners to his country’s music, has died at the age of 92.

The world-famous sitar player’s death was confirmed in the early hours of yesterday morning.

He had been admitted to the Scripps Memorial Hospital in San Diego last week, but had failed to recover fully from surgery.

Shankar was widely-credited with having helped millions of classical, jazz and rock lovers in the West discover the centuries-old traditions of Indian music, with one of his most celebrated fans, Beatles guitarist George Harrison, labelling him “the godfather of world music”.

During an career spanning eight decades he collaborated with Harrison, as well as violinist Yehudi Menuhin and jazz saxophonist John Coltrane, as he worked to bridge the musical gap between West and East.

He became a hippie-icon of the 1960s, even playing the legendary Woodstock festival, and pioneered the concept of the rock benefit with the 1971 Concert For Bangladesh.

To later generations, he was known as the estranged father of popular American singer Norah Jones.

Shankar was hailed by the Indian prime minister’s office as a “national treasure”.

Born Ravindra Shankar Chowdhury on April 7, 1920, in Varanasi, India he moved to Paris at the age of 10 to join the world famous dance troupe of his brother Uday.

Over the next eight years, Shankar travelled with the troupe across the world and later credited his early immersion in foreign cultures for making him such an effective ambassador for Indian music.

During one tour renowned musician Baba Allaudin Khan took Shankar under his wing and eventually became his teacher through seven years of isolated, rigorous study of the sitar.

“Khan told me you have to leave everything else and do one thing properly,” Shankar said.

Despite his fame, numerous albums and decades of world tours, Shankar’s music remained a riddle to many Western ears.

After he and colleague Ustad Ali Akbar Khan were greeted with applause when they opened the Concert for Bangladesh by twanging their sitar and sarod for a minute and a half, he quipped “If you like our tuning so much, I hope you will enjoy the playing more” before launching into his set.

 

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