Family and friends
Music legend Ravi Shankar brings his legacy to Laxson
Most people are musicians simply because they play a certain instrument; when they play that instrument, the music appears. But Ravi—to me, he is the music; it just happens to be that he plays the sitar. And it’s like that with Anoushka. She has that quality. … She is the music.
—George Harrison, 1997
For many of us music is the realm where the senses and the spirit mingle. The tangible vibrations of strings and drum heads and reeds and vocal cords somehow reach into the deepest layers of our consciousness, allowing a shimmering glimpse or an ephemeral touch of the timeless universal beauty that manifests itself in rhythmic and harmonic convergences.
We tap our toes. We nod our heads or sway our hips, often willfully unconscious of the combination of physical discipline and mathematical precision that is necessary to produce the sounds stimulating such pleasant and uninhibited reactions in our somatic and psychic bodies.
Musicians—sonic scientists, sonic shamans—figured this out centuries, if not millennia, ago. And in India, where musical history extends at least 2,000 years into the past, the evolution of music as an expression of the soul has an unbroken path of evolution that currently culminates, at least for those of us in the West, with the sitar master Ravi Shankar and his gift and legacy to the world of Indian classical music, his daughter Anoushka.
This year marks Shankar’s 85th cycle around the sun, and it’s an indication of his lifetime commitment to musical expression that, rather than resting on the laurels of his considerable musical accomplishments and basking in a shady bower, he is still touring the world and giving concerts that receive, as far as I can ascertain by touring the commentary available in cyberspace, universal acclaim.Thus:
“Anoushka sent her fingers dancing over the arched frets with admirable ease, displaying a subtlety and dignity way beyond her almost impossibly tender 15 years. … If indeed the torch was being passed to a younger generation, there was none more proud in Carnegie Hall than the father and guru of 20th-century Indian music.”
—New York News, November 1996
“The Sitar King and Princess—The only problem with living legends is their mortality. … The contemporary musical world has grown so accustomed to associating Shankar with the sitar that it is hard to imagine who will carry the torch when he is gone. On Friday night at Carnegie Hall, Shankar himself offered an answer, presenting for the first time in this city his frighteningly precocious daughter, Anoushka.”
—Newsday, Nov. 11, 1996
My own experience with seeing Shankar perform live was at a concert he gave while on tour with George Harrison in 1974 in Oakland. Harrison was touring behind his album Dark Horse, which was a minor effort at best compared to the former Beatle’s previous body of work. But as a support act for his tour Harrison brought his old friend Ravi Shankar, for whom he had recently produced the stunningly gorgeous album Shankar Family and Friends, which in this writer’s mind is one of the greatest records to fall from the Beatles family tree.
Shankar had a 14-piece orchestra of Indian musicians and vocalists to project his music to the Beatles-missing masses, and he took the opportunity to transport those of us who were there to musical realms where Krishna himself would be overwhelmed by the beauty of the moment.
The high point of the concert was when all of the musicians except Shankar, his tabla player and his sarodh player left the stage and the master delivered a raga that spanned and illuminated every human emotion, culminating in an ecstatic acknowledgment of bliss. You don’t get that very often.