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Last Updated: Friday, 30 July, 2004, 07:18 GMT 08:18 UK
Sitar star: Ravi Shankar
Ravi Shankar
Shankar's calm music stems from his childhood in holy city Varanasi

Ravi Shankar is to perform as part of the London Symphony Orchestra's centenary celebrations in London on Friday.

BBC News Online looks at the life and career of the man George Harrison described as "the godfather of world music".

Born in Varanasi, northern India, on 7 April 1920, legendary sitar player and composer Ravi Shankar is arguably India's greatest musical ambassador.

Much of the calm spirituality evident in his music is rooted in his childhood in the holy city of Varanasi, on the banks of the River Ganges.

Growing reputation

"There used to be so much entertainment, singing, dancing, little dramas going on," he once said.

"You saw everything of life, from birth to death. It was really like magic."

Originally a dancer with his brother's troupe, he gave up dancing to study the sitar - a long-necked Indian lute - at the age of 18.

For seven years Shankar studied under Baba Allauddin Khan, founder of the Maihar Gharana style of Hindustani classical music, and become well-known in India for his virtuoso sitar playing.

George Harrison and Ravi Shankar
Inspired by Shankar, Harrison produced a number of his albums

Allaudin was a strict disciplinarian, expecting his pupils to renounce material comforts to avoid distraction from their music. Shankar went on to marry his daughter.

Despite his growing reputation as a composer and teacher, he was generally unknown outside of India until Beatles star George Harrison began experimenting with the sitar on the film set of Help in 1965.

After flirting with the instrument on the track Norwegian Wood, Harrison travelled to India to study with maestro Ravi Shankar.

It was a friendship that was to endure, despite Shankar's objection to the Beatles' experiments with drugs and the hippie generation's misrepresentation of India.

International touring

George Harrison went on to produce a number of Shankar albums, including Shankar Family and Friends and Festival of India.

In the mid-1950s Ravi Shankar became the first Indian instrumentalist to undertake an international tour in Europe, Canada and the US.

The sitar player went on to perform at such diverse venues as the Edinburgh International Festival, Woodstock and most memorably the Monterey Pop Festival in California in 1967.

His genius and his humanity can only be compared to that of Mozart
Yehudi Menuhin
In 1972, Shankar and Harrison inspired the Concert for Bangladesh - the first major rock charity fundraiser.

Since then, he has maintained a steady and acclaimed career as a musician and recording artist, collaborating with leading stars of the day.

As a composer, Ravi Shankar has written two concertos for sitar and orchestra, plus violin-sitar compositions for Yehudi Menuhin, who paid tribute to Shankar's unique talents.

"Through him I have added a new dimension to my experience of music. To me, his genius and his humanity can only be compared to that of Mozart," said Menuhin.

He has also composed a number of film scores - notably India's celebrated Apu trilogy (1951-55) and Richard Attenborough's Gandhi (1982) - and collaborated with US composer Philip Glass in Passages in 1990.

Norah Jones
Grammy award winner Norah Jones is Shankar's daughter
An honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Shankar has received a host of awards from around the globe, including two Grammys.

In 1999 he was awarded the highest civilian citation in India - the Bharat Ratna, or 'Jewel of India'.

Shankar was presented with the CBE for his services to music in 2001, and former culture secretary Chris Smith said his influence had enabled "bridges to be built between Indian music and Western classical and pop music".

Currently a professor of music at the University of California, San Diego, the 84-year-old musician now lives in Encinitas, California.

His daughters Anoushka Shankar and Grammy award winner Norah Jones are also acclaimed musicians.

Shankar plays for peace
12 Mar 02  |  Entertainment
Grammy for Indian sitar maestro
28 Feb 02  |  Entertainment
Shankar is presented with CBE
08 Feb 01  |  Entertainment


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