(London Telegraph) My first encounter with Ravi Shankar came decades ago, through a much-played LP in my parent’s record collection. It had a ring of flowers pictured on the sleeve, like the sort placed round the necks of dignitaries when they visit India, and the smiling faces of Ravi Shankar and Yehudi Menuhin. On the LP, which I soon wore smooth, the two great musicians duetted together, though when I think back now I can’t remember Menuhin’s contribution at all. It’s that wonderful ecstatic line of Shankar’s that’s stayed in my mind, darting and bobbing like a hummingbird and sighing like a disembodied voice. I especially liked the moment when the tabla entered, because this signalled the closing section of a composition that would get faster and faster, ending in a dizzying whirl of virtuosity.
It was encountering Shankar’s recordings which brought me to love Indian classical music, an experience had by millions in the West over a period of more than sixty years. In the long history of the West’s encounter with Eastern music, there’s never been another proselytiser like Shankar. His collaborations with Menuhin brought him a new audience, but it was his encounter with John Coltrane and George Harrison that really made him a superstar, and his appearances at pop festivals like Monterey and Woodstock.