Remembering Ravi Shankar With 10 of His Greatest Recordings


We were saddened to get the news overnight that Pandit Ravi Shankar has died at the age of 92. The great sitar virtuoso was perhaps best known in the West for his work with The Beatles during the 1960s, but he was a true giant of Indian classical music and culture in general, and his loss will no doubt be mourned all over the subcontinent. Shankar’s career spanned some 70 years, from his earliest days as a composer for (and later director of) All India Radio during the 1940s and ’50s through his work popularizing Hindustani music around the world in the 1960s and ’70s, his short career as a politician in the 1980s, and his later years as a treasured elder statesman of Indian culture. After the jump we’ve shared 10 of our favorite recordings of the great man. If you’re looking for a primer on his work, we hope it’s a good place to start, although considering he was responsible for a genuinely innumerable number of recordings over his career, it’s really only skimming the surface of a deep, deep ocean. Let us know if you have any to add!

Ravi Shankar — Sounds of India: Music

This recording dates from 1957, and finds Shankar explaining the basic concepts behind Indian classical music — raga, tala, improvisation, and the stories behind the music he performs on the CD. The first track, appropriately titled “An Introduction to Indian Music,” also opens the excellent 2005 compilation The Essential Ravi Shankar , and is a fine introduction to the world of Hindustani classical music.

Ravi Shankar — Three Ragas

Also from the very earliest days of Shankar’s career — this is, in fact, his first recording (as far as we know, anyway, although we’ll happily stand corrected.) There’s an argument to be made that the performances here remain among his best, and this disc is certainly a fine addition to the collection of anyone interested in sitar and/or Indian classical music in general.

Ravi Shankar — “Theme to Pather Panchali

As well as a virtuoso performer, Shankar was a prolific composer, especially in his early years. This piece served as the theme to the classic 1955 Bengali film Pather Panchali, and would later be revisited on Shankar’s 1962 LP Improvisations. It’s actually rather fascinating to compare the original with the later reinterpretation, which you can hear here.

Ravi Shankar and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan — “Raga Palas Kafi”

Honestly, we’re not sure where or when this recording dates from — it doesn’t seem to be included on any of the CDs whose covers are shown in the YouTube video — but it’s a lovely recording of Shankar and late sarod virtuoso Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, and we like it a great deal.

Ravi Shankar and Ustad Zakir Hussain

Shankar and tabla maestro Ustad Zakir Hussain didn’t always get along famously — Hussain threw a legendary tantrum during a concert in 2006 when he felt that his instrument was too low in the mix, knocking over Shankar’s microphone and storming off stage — but they made some wonderful recordings together, and in any case, Hussain spoke glowingly of Shankar in his later years. Perhaps their most memorable collaboration came at the Concert for Peace at the Royal Albert Hall in London to celebrate Shankar’s 75th birthday. Sadly, we can’t find that on YouTube, but this short clip makes a pretty fine substitute.

Ravi Shankar — Live at Monterey

Perhaps Shankar’s most famous performance — in the West, at least — this set at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival served as his introduction to a generation of hippies who’d probably only heard of him because George Harrison had studied under him the year before. He certainly turned on a hell of a show for the psychedelic throng, particularly the blistering “Dhun (Dadra and Fast Teental)” that closes the disc.

Ravi Shankar and George Harrison — “Prabhujee”

And speaking of Harrison, he and Shankar would enjoy a long and fruitful relationship after Harrison traveled to India in 1966 and spent six weeks under Panditji’s tutelage. The two musicians’ friendship was instrumental in introducing Indian music to Western audiences, and also made for some pretty memorable recordings, including this one from 1997, a song of love and devotion to one’s master.

Ravi Shankar and Yehudi Menuhin — West Meets East

Harrison wasn’t the only Western musician with whom Shankar collaborated, of course. His work with the late violin maestro Yehudi Menuhin during the 1960s and 1970s was particularly memorable, and was captured on this beautiful recording (which was later remastered during the 1990s.) The combination of sitar and violin works remarkably well, demonstrating just how much common ground can be found between fundamentally different musical traditions.

Ravi Shankar and Philip Glass — Passages

We’re also very partial to this collaboration between giants of East and West, which dates from 1989 (some 25 years after Glass was first introduced to Shankar’s work, apparently.) It’s fascinating listening to how influences of the two musical traditions ebb and flow between tracks, creating a variety of moods and musical ideas. The disc is rather difficult to track down these days, but it’s totally worth the investment if you can find it.

Ravi Shankar and Anoushka Shankar — “Raag Khamaj”

And finally, we’ll leave you with a collaboration between the great man and his daughter Anoushka, with whom he played regularly over the last 15 years or so — she gave her first public performance in 1994, at the age of 13, and within a year she was his regular accompanist. This recording comes from India and Pakistan’s golden jubilee celebrations in 1997, and is particularly poignant as far as we’re concerned, a testament to unity and friendship in a part of the world with such a tumultuous history.