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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 27 June 2002
Raga Mala: The Autobiography of Ravi Shankar, Edited by George Harrison
The man (b. 1920), whose name has become synonymous in the West with the
classical music of India, sitar player Ravi Shankar, offers a detailed
memoir of his life, enhanced by added commentary from many notable
performers and close friends (most significantly Oliver Craske).
In eloquent, clear prose, Shankar reminisces about: his parents and his
childhood in Benares, India; his teenage years dancing in eldest brother
Uday Shankar's troupe when they toured Paris, Europe and New York in the
1930s; his commitment to music and the sitar and discipleship under guru of
Hindustani classical instrumentation Allaudin Khan; his early career at All
India Radio; his milestone moves to the West pioneering widespread
appreciation of Indian music in Europe and America in the 1950s and '60s;
his 1966 meeting with George Harrison which led to lasting friendship,
collaborations, a 1986 book, 'My Music, My Life' and pop superstardom.
Shankar recalls how, although he became an established international
musician, he managed to combine time in India with frequent trips abroad for
concerts, recordings and festivals.
In addition to relating details about his professional experiences, (most
vividly Woodstock, Monterey Pop, the Concert For Bangladesh, joint
performances with Harrison, Yehudi Menuhin, and the London Symphony plus
tours to every corner of the globe) and how this fame was criticized for
"commercializing" his heritage, Shankar asserts he always sought to
enlighten Western audiences about the principles of Indian music and to
inculcate in them respect for his sacred art. Shankar's profound spiritual
beliefs and philosophy of music and art in general get significant coverage
here in addition to discourses on the history and technique of his craft
which can get quite technical (a handy glossary can be found at the back of
the book).
Shankar, along with his accounts of his publicized presentations and
recordings, describes how he also composed film scores (especially for
Satyajit Ray), set up music schools in India and California, took on
disciples, wrote books and served in Parliament. Nor does this brilliant
polymath neglect to describe his personal life: his family, friends, his
health, his encounters with celebrities (besides the Beatles, Gene Kelly,
Richard Burton, Peter Sellers, Marlon Brando, etc.), saving the most lyrical
and introspective passages of his memoirs for the tragic, early death of his
son Subho, his relationships with wives Annapurna and later Sukanya, and his
daughter and musical heir Annoushka.
Accompanying the text printed in a charmingly distinct typeface (with a hint
of Sanskrit-like stylization), can be found an enormous number of
photographs depicting every aspect of Shankar's life plus letters and
musical transcriptions. The last mentioned functions to produce a survey of
Indian music in the 20th century for this man's career practically IS Indian
music in the 20th century. In conclusion, Shankar ruminates on the 50th
anniversary of Indian independence, speculates on the path Indian music may
take in the future and reveals his gradual adaptation to a more settled
daily life. Deliciously dense with fascinating detail, Ravi Shankar's life
story embodying East meets West in every possible sense, makes for a
remarkable reading experience. To this surprisingly frank account by one of
the 20th century's great talents, Shankar brings the same dynamic qualities
that makes him such a distinguished human being and musician: a blend of
charm and candor; dignity and humility; spiritual depth and sparkling sense
of humor; and a never-ending thirst for knowledge, exploration and growth.
Read this book with its helpful timeline and be enlightened while reaching
for those Shankar tapes and CDs.
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