Indian music in the west: Ravi Shankar
Indian Express article on India in the west, including the “disastrous” Woodstock.
The disastrous “non performance” was at Woodstock, the greatest pop jamboree ever. But, alas, it was too noisy for classical music. Worse, the flower children closest to the stage took their clothes off and proceeded to make love in the spirit of hippie freedom, even as Allah Rakha closed his eyes and covered them with his hands.
On this, the 25th anniversary of John Lennon’s death, it is worth our while to remember the distinction between cultural “fusion” and cultural “confusion”. Ravi Shankar at Woodstock represented the latter.
Ravi Shankar has been critical of some facets of the Western reception of Indian music. On a trip to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district after performing in Monterey, Shankar wrote, “I felt offended and shocked to see India being regarded so superficially and its great culture being exploited. Yoga, Tantra, mantra, kundalini, ganja, hashish, Kama Sutra? They all became part of a cocktail that everyone seemed to be lapping up!”
What did you think of “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)”?
To tell you the truth, I had to keep my mouth shut. It was introduced to me by my nieces and nephews, who were just gaga over it. I couldn’t believe it, because to me, it sounded so terrible.
Did you like the Monterey Pop festival?
I was shocked to see people dressing so flamboyantly. They were all stoned. […] Then I saw Jimi Hendrix. I saw how wonderful he was at the guitar, and I was really admiring him, and then he started his antics. Making love to the guitar. And then, as if that was not enough, he burned the guitar. That was too much for me. In our culture we have such respect for musical instruments, they are like part of God.
Do you miss the big audiences you had in the ’60s?
When George became my student, I got a new audience: the younger generation. And, of course, they came like a flood because the whole thing happened together with the hippie movement and this interest in Indian culture. Unfortunately, it got all mixed up with drugs and Kamasutra and hash and all that. I was like a rock star. The superficial people who just came because everyone else was going dropped out. Those who stayed are still there. They’re in middle age, and they don’t have beads or long hair, and they’re free from drugs. I never said one shouldn’t take drugs or drink alcohol, but associating drugs with our music and culture, that’s something I always fought. I was telling them to come without being high on drugs. I said, “Give me the chance to make you high through our music,” which it does, really. I think it’s good I made that stand, and that’s why I’m still here today.