Thursday, March 5, 2009

Ragas and Talas

If it weren’t for the late George Harrison, I (like any other suburban numbskull living in Western Civilization) would have no clue who Ravi Shankar is. A few years ago, my friend JB gave me the live CD of George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh as a gift.

The whole thing is pretty spectacular but for me the highlight is when Harrison comes out at the beginning and tells a rowdy (and undeniably stoned) NYC crowd that the evening will start with some traditional Indian music, “…so settle down!”

The voice of Ravi Shankar soon follows and (unbelievably) asks an audience in 1971 to extinguish their cigarettes. Incredible.

His band then do an extended version of the raga, ‘Bangla Dhun’, a beautiful building and arching song. Dhun is also featured on this Ravi Shankar album Ragas and Talas.

I don’t want to portray myself as being even marginally knowledgeable as to the subtle meanings seeped in this music. And I certainly know that my featuring this work aligns me with pretentious venti-drinking yuppie dickheads who stock up on ‘world music’ to fit upcoming cocktail parties.

But to me when these sitars and sanods dialogue amonst each other amid these works, they create three pillars that I seek in music: melancholic beauty, meditation and indigenous expression.

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