At 10:20pm on August 15th, 1969, Ravi Shankar — then, and still, the most famous practitioner of the sitar and Indian classical music — takes the stage at Woodstock. It’s arguably the zenith of Indian music’s popularity in the West, with musicians like the Beatles, the Byrds and Led Zeppelin embracing elements of Indian music. But this was merely the middle-point of Shankar’s artistic development, nor was it a personal highlight in a long and storied career. For many musicians in several different genres, both in and outside of India, Shankar is the most important messenger for the ideas and concepts of Indian music.
Indian Sun: The Life and Music of Ravi Shankar (Faber & Faber / Hachette: 2020) by Oliver Craske is the first full biography on Shankar’s life, charting Shankar’s musical journey — from accompanying his older brother, the dancer Uday Shankar, on world tours at a young age, through the height of his worldwide acclaim in the late Sixties, to the end of his life as the most respected performer of Indian classical music. More details about Indian Sun can be found on the book’s official website.
In this interview, Oliver and I talk about the life of Ravi Shankar, and the many ways his music was important both in and outside of India throughout the Twentieth Century. We talk about the fundamentals of Indian classical music, and whether India’s music plays an important role in the country’s “cultural soft power.”
Those interested in experiencing Ravi Shankar’s music for themselves can access this Spotify playlist, curated by Oliver Craske.
Oliver Craske is a writer and editor, with a longstanding interest in Indian music. He first met Ravi Shankar in 1994, and worked with Shankar on his autobiography. Craske is also the author of Rock Faces: The World's Top Rock'n'Roll Photographers and Their Greatest Images (RotoVision: 2004), a survey of leading music photographers.
Nicholas Gordon is a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. In his day job, he’s a researcher and writer for a think tank in economic and sustainable development. He is also a print and broadcast commentator on local and regional politics. He can be found on Twitter at @nickrigordon.
Nicholas Gordon is an associate editor for a global magazine, and a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. He can be found on Twitter at @nickrigordon.