Master sitar instrumentalist and composer, Ravi Shankar is by far the most well known Hindustani classical musician to ever live. Becoming an internationally acclaimed artist in the 60’s and attaching his name to The Beatles as George Harrison’s mentor; releasing a slew of Hindustani classical albums that were awarded Grammys and other high honor awards, Ravi Shankar became a global world music icon. His influence is regularly observed in numerous forms of music ranging from pop, rock, metal and even hip/hop in some instances. Even after his death in December 2012 his prestige is still impactful.
Ravi Shankar’s ‘The Sounds of India’ is feasibly his most well known release. Consisting of five tracks, four of which exceed the ten minute mark, this musical exploration of Indian cultural music is held in unquestionably high regards. Serenely levitating through intense improvisational recordings based around sacred Ragas, Shankar is accompanied by esteemed tabla and tambura players Chatur Lal and N.C. Mullick respectably. Chatur Lal’s tabla skill is especially notable as the performance on this record is positively outstanding. Matching Shankar’s technical ability rhythmically is no easy task and his quick responses to the intensity of the improvisations are easily recognizable as innovative. Mullick’s use of the tambura is equally matched as the dynamics flow well with Shankar’s improvisations and the drone notes match the rhythmic stylizations superfluously.
Undoubtedly however, Shankar’s performance is the glistening gem in this collection of works. This master of the Ragas nimbly works his way across the neck of his sitar in the smoothest of fashions. While slowly grooving to the drone notes Mullick resonates the music is not only heard; it is felt. Even when high speed tabla rhythms are pulled into play his smooth fluidity allows for even the most highly difficult segments to come across as entirely effortless. The quick wit and natural feel of the improvisations allows for the human element of the music to be connected with regardless of musical and personal background. Each and every time a sitar string is bent and picked notes resonate in a brilliant way. Shankar’s phrasing, note selection and natural feel make each track feel entirely unique no matter how many minutes have passed by. Ideas presented never even seem to be recycled, the work is simply masterful.
‘The Sounds of India’ is a classic album and an appreciation of Indian classical music is not even necessary to understand that. Ravi Shankar’s music is deeply ingrained into a culture of music and the fact that it transcends that culture entirely is a testament to its status. Not only did Shankar perform an iconic series of difficult Ragas improvisations but he allowed for those not of the Indian culture to piece together a mild understanding of what goes into this delicate art form. He takes time before each track to explain the Ragas and the rhythms that will be demonstrated and then he makes excellent use of them. Ravi Shankar’s ‘The Sounds of India’ has broken through a cultural barrier and carried tradition to those who may have never experienced it. In doing this Shankar did not simply create a masterful album; he strengthened the ties of humanity across the world.
Rest in Peace Pandit, Ravi Shankar
April 7, 1920 – December 11, 2012