Nine Decades Vol. I (1967-68)
East Meets West Music
Distributed by Harmonia Mundi
On the second track of Nine Decades, Vol. I, a reporter interviews American concert goers about the Pandit Ravi Shankar performance they witnessed. The interviews took place in 1967 and many of the responses appeared astute, especially by the third person interviewed, a man who reflected about exposure to music from other countries, leading to exposure to global art and cultures. And indeed, traditional musicians such as Ravi Shankar certainly paved the way for global cultural exchange. I doubt there is a household in the US or any European countries that has not heard of Ravi Shankar. They might not have heard his ragas, but the name has grown synonymous with classical Indian music and for some folks, the master sitarist comes up in conjunction with The Beatles, especially George Harrison.
I’m excited about East Meets West Records, spearheaded by Ravi and Anoushka Shankar. The label has archival recordings, film footage, etc and some of this will be released in this 9 volume series of hand selected ragas, interviews and other material. Volume 1 provides listeners with a 48 minute raga Pandit Ravi Shankar and Pandit Allah Rakha (tabla) performed live and outdoors near the Ganges River in 1968. Though the recording devices of that time seem primitive by today’s standards, the musicians rise beyond the occasion.
Raga Gangeshwari (morning raga), starts out slow and dreamy then rapidly increases in speed, dexterity and grace. The sitar and tabla join in oneness, separate, go their own way, and then reunite. Shankar, in 1968, a mid-career musician was already enjoying international recognition, but even had I not known what year the raga was recorded, I would still experience the bliss and exhilaration of the musicians. I felt breathless by the final notes of the raga. And while 50 minutes might seem like a long time to listen to one piece of music (unless you listen to classical music), my response was to play-it-again Sam. I rolled out a yoga and meditation mat in honor of the raga.
Track 2 features 12 minutes of a reporter interviewing concert goers. It sounds like a mini-radio documentary with people from various walks of life discussing a new type of music that had arrived in the US, though by Indian standards, ragas go back thousands of years. Prior to the 1960s though, many Americans would not have been exposed to much global music, unless they traveled or they were immigrants that brought their music traditions with them. It’s hard for me to imagine the musical environment in the US in the 1960s. But I think including the interview segment on the recording gives off a nice nostalgic touch and also acts as a testament to Shankar’s talent as a musician and cultural bridge builder.
Track 3, a Vedic chant running just over 4 minutes, (Durga Suktam & Mahishasura Mardini Stotram), was also recorded live, this time at a temple in Allahabad, India. The 1968 recording predates the Kirtan chant craze of the new age and yoga markets in the US. It sounds more authentic to me hailing from India and performed by actual Indian temple priests, than the new age musician du jour. It also offers a spiritual closing to the recording. Shankar also provides insightful liner notes about East Meets West Records and his decision to release his historical recordings in this format.
Happy birthday Pandit Ravi Shankar! And thank you for the peace, the music and the bliss.
Visit the East Meets West Music site and check out Ravi Shankar’s April Dates in the US.