Biography 'Indian Sun' Celebrates Ravi Shankar's Centennial And Musical Legacy Ravi Shankar took Indian classical music to world stages and introduced the sitar to Western audiences. His influence can still be felt today, 100 years after his birth.
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The Enduring Afterglow Of Ravi Shankar's Life In Music

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The Enduring Afterglow Of Ravi Shankar's Life In Music

The Enduring Afterglow Of Ravi Shankar's Life In Music

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In the 1960s, Indian musician Ravi Shankar changed the course of music history. He introduced Western audiences to his instrument, the sitar, and opened the borders of Indian classical music. Today would have been Ravi Shankar's 100th birthday. NPR's Bilal Qureshi has this appreciation.

BILAL QURESHI, BYLINE: The year was 1967, America's Summer of Love.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "MONTEREY POP")

RAVI SHANKAR: Now you will hear the concluding item.

QURESHI: When Ravi Shankar took the afternoon stage at the Monterey Pop Festival, filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker's cameras were rolling.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OLIVER CRASKE: It just builds to this sort of ecstatic climax, and the crowd goes wild. I mean, it's an amazing scene. Even now, you feel the hairs on the back of your neck rising.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

QURESHI: Shankar biographer Oliver Craske says the Monterey performance came at the peak of a psychedelic sunburst.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

QURESHI: In the late '60s, pop music was in love with the Far East and the far out. The Doors, The Rolling Stones and most famously, of course, The Beatles were Ravi Shankar devotees.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WITHIN YOU WITHOUT YOU")

THE BEATLES: (Singing) We were talking about the space between us all.

QURESHI: But Shankar rejected the lazy association of Indian music with ecstasy, as he explained in the documentary "Raga."

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "RAGA")

R SHANKAR: I had to make them understand again and again that it has been passed down to us almost like a religion itself, and this has nothing to do with influence of any drugs.

QURESHI: His stardom was the product of a long journey, says Oliver Craske, whose biography "Indian Sun" is published today. Shankar began performing as a child with his brother's dance troupe. It took him to Paris, pre-war Germany and the Cotton Club in New York.

CRASKE: It was a kind of education that no other Indian classical musician had. It made him completely comfortable with presenting Indian music to a global audience.

QURESHI: Shankar eventually turned away from pop festivals and took his music into concert halls.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAVI SHANKAR AND YEHUDI MENUHIN'S "RAGA PILOO")

QURESHI: He recorded with violinist Yehudi Menuhin and composed with Philip Glass and Zubin Mehta.

NITIN SAWHNEY: He definitely was somebody who really was always thinking about possibility.

QURESHI: Nitin Sawhney is an acclaimed British Indian composer who knew Ravi Shankar and says he was a trailblazer in the art of cultural crossings.

SAWHNEY: Pandit ji always recognized that every tradition is still dynamic to keep its relevance in contemporary society. And a lot of people interpret tradition as dogma, and that's very different to how he thought.

QURESHI: Shankar composed for films, orchestras and the opera.

CRASKE: He kept going right till the end. He was still performing at 92.

QURESHI: Biographer Oliver Craske says in those last concerts, he was joined on stage by his daughter and student Anoushka Shankar.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAVI SHANKAR AND ANOUSHKA SHANKAR'S "BANGALORE TILAK SHYAM")

ANOUSHKA SHANKAR: It was just an incredible teaching because he would be improvising, and then you never knew when he was going to let go of a line. And he'd also do this on purpose to challenge me as well. So he would literally sometimes play half the line, and I would need to be able to catch it and play something that made sense authentically.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAVI SHANKAR AND ANOUSHKA SHANKAR'S "BANGALORE TILAK SHYAM")

QURESHI: Ravi Shankar had a complicated personal life, but he eventually settled down into a happy second marriage and reconciled with his other daughter, Norah Jones.

CRASKE: He had these two daughters by different mothers on different continents. And, OK, he maybe he had a messy private life, but what a wonderful result that is to create two such wonderful musicians.

QURESHI: After their father died in 2012, Norah Jones and Anoushka Shankar released a duet called "The Sun Won't Set."

A SHANKAR: My dad's name, Ravi, translates to sun in Sanskrit. And so it was in those months where he wasn't well, and I didn't quite feel ready to let go of him, you know, so I was just speaking about not wanting the sun to set yet. And it was beyond perfect to have Norah sing the words because as sisters, we're speaking about the same person.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE SUN WON'T SET")

NORAH JONES: (Singing) The sun won't set - not now, not yet.

QURESHI: Writer Oliver Craske says the song captures how Ravi Shankar's legacy lives on.

CRASKE: This sort of iconography of the sun was actually used quite a lot during his lifetime, and I fully feel this - that the sun hasn't set yet. We still feel his influence. We're still drawn to his music. And that's something that I can cling on to with hope at a troubled time like this.

QURESHI: Bilal Qureshi, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANOUSHKA SHANKAR AND NORAH JONES SONG, "THE SUN WON'T SET")

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