By now you've probably heard of the passing of Indian sitar icon Ravi Shankar, who died on Tuesday in La Jolla at the age of 92. In an illustrious career that spanned many decades, he played a crucial role in bringing Indian classical music to a Western audience. In the process, he's influenced everyone from folk songwriters to noise artists. I reached out to a few locals who've come into contact with Ravi over the years, in one way or another, to get their reflections on the man and his music:
Alfred Howard, The Heavy Guilt / The Black Sands / The Midnight Pine, writing on Facebook: I never really knew Ravi Shankar, but I did drive him from LAX to Encinitas once when I had my limo van gig. At this point Ravi was up in years and down in health. I had to physically place him in the van seat and I nearly had a panic attack as I silently hummed the mantra "please don't drop Ravi, please don't drop Ravi." I drove that van through L.A. traffic like I was transporting faberge eggs and bay windows, the whole time thinking that the man responsible for Eastern sounds in Western music was sitting behind me and that I better not brake heard and cast the Alfred Howard name into infamy ("You don't know Alfred Howard, he was that dick who broke Ravi Shankar"). Though I had a million things I wanted to say, we didn't exchange a word. I could sense his desire for silence as much as I could sense the immensity of his spirit. His driveway was the worst and I clawed into the side of my van pretty good. We lost an amazing soul and an amazing contributor to the tone of our soundscape. Thanks for making pop music sound like this.
Tim McNally, In Motion Collective: I started studying Indian music about five or six years ago and my guru, Kartik Seshadri… I’ve been studying Indian music with him for the past five years and he’s a disciple of [Ravi Shankar]. By means of lineage, it’s almost like if Kartik were my father, [Ravi] would be my grandfather. I’m just totally honored and totally humbled by the whole tradition, every time I go and learn about it or really any time I listen to it. He was someone that brought this music to so many different people around the world and made it really possible so that I, someone born and raised in America, could learn in a very authentic way how this music is learned and played. I could actually study in the direct lineage of him.
George Varga, U-T San Diego pop critic: Ravi Shankar’s music dazzled me the first time I saw him in concert, when I was 18 and knew next to nothing about him or his work. His music dazzled me each time I saw him perform in the several decades since then, right up to his 2011 gig at California Center for the Arts, Escondido. There were moments at each concert where he literally levitated, artistically speaking, and took his audience with him. He embodied what true musical transcendence is all about. A more down-to-earth music legend than Ravi Shankar is hard to imagine, and his tireless passion for his art and culture are inspirational. There are a very few legends who evoke quiet awe among other music greats, but Shankar was one of them. Whenever I would ask an artist about him—from Bono to John McLaughlin to Phillip Glass—they spoke with a mix of admiration and the deepest respect.
Sam Lopez, Zsa Zsa Gabor: I had the pleasure of seeing Ravi Shankar play at the Sherwood Auditorium in La Jolla a few years ago. It was a packed house. I remember seeing Jackson Browne sitting a few rows ahead of me. Ravi's daughter Anoushka opened the show. When Ravi walked on to the stage for his set, the entire auditorium stood up and clapped. For the next hour, he delighted us with a magical performance, bending gorgeous notes that filled the room like wild horses. I've always admired Ravi not only as a performer but as a gentleman. He instilled in me the idea that an instrument is not inanimate. It is a living, breathing organism that demands to be respected. I was in India recently and came into contact with many musical artists. They held their instruments with grace and strength. I wonder if they too learned the responsibility of a true musician from the great master, Ravi Shankar. His spirit was everywhere.
Watch a video of Ravi Shankar play at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967:
And here's him playing with Anoushka in 1997: