In 1965 when George Harrison strummed the sitar in The Beatles’ number Norwegian Wood for their album Rubber Soul, nobody could have thought that in the coming days he was going to have the most beautiful, both personal and musical, friendship with the maestro of the instrument, Pandit Ravi Shankar. Earlier George was introduced to the sitar during the filming of the 1965 movie Help! in the Bahamas, where some Indian musicians were featured in a scene.
“I went and bought a sitar from a little shop in Oxford Street – it stocked little carvings, and incense. It was a real crummy-quality one, but I bought it and mucked about with it a bit. Anyway, we were at the point where we’d recorded the Norwegian Wood backing track and it needed something. We would usually start looking through the cupboard to see if we could come up with something, a new sound, and I picked the sitar up – it was just lying around, I hadn’t really figured out what to do with it. It was quite spontaneous, I found the notes, it fitted and it worked.”
~ George Harrison
George Harrison plays the sitar in Norwegian Wood (30 sec clip) 1965 :
George met Ravi Shankar through a friend from a society called Asian Music Circle. And what an encounter it was. Ravi Shankar, the older of the two, had a complete command of the Indian musical tradition, both ancient and ageless. The other younger man, George Harrison, was a founding member of the Beatles, without question, the most influential and universally loved creators of today’s popular music. It was inevitable that this match would make waves, which it did on a tremendous scale and for a passionate worldwide audience.
“In 1966, through the grace of God my life was blessed and enhanced from the sudden desire to investigate the classical music of India. Although intellectually, I could not comprehend it, the music (which happened to be Ravi Shankar and the sitar) made more sense to me than anything I had heard in my life. When I read Ravi saying he felt he had only started, I was overwhelmed, humbled and encouraged to try and understand the music and the man much more.”
~ George Harrison
“The friendship with George started in 1966 and that’s when I met him along with the other three, but George was something very special from the very beginning. Something clicked between us and he was so interested in wanting to know about Indian music.”
~ Ravi Shankar
This is how the interesting, unique and lifelong friendship began between George Harrison and Ravi Shankar. In 1973, George Harrison signed Ravi Shankar to his Dark Horses Records label. In 1974, their first project, Shankar Family & Friends brought together renowned Indian classical musicians like Ustad Alla Rakha, Lakshmi Shankar, Shivkumar Sharma, Hariprasad Chaurasia alongside Western jazz and rock musicians including George himself, Ringo Starr, Tom Scott, Klaus Voormann, Jim Keltner and Billy Preston.
Ravi Shankar’s Music Festival From India (live from the Royal Albert Hall) in 1976 was the first artistic event organized and sponsored by George Harrison, bringing together, perhaps for the first time outside India, a 17-piece Indian classical music ensemble.
In 1997 George Harrison and Ravi Shankar again collaborated on an album. This time Ravi Shankar created music for ancient Sanskrit chants with the challenge of maintaining the authencity of the ancient verses, along with the original compositions. Released in 1997, Chants Of India are timeless, Vedic verses chanted for the well being of man and mankind.
Collaborations is a celebration of these two musical geniuses and how their friendship and deep mutual respect for each other created opportunities to push musical boundaries. It includes all the above mentioned performances and more. Collaborations is a 3 CD/1 DVD limited edition box set. The DVD is a rare, previously unreleased live concert performance of Ravi Shankar’s Music Festival From India. It also includes the rare and preserved parts of the concert film and a surprise bonus feature.
View an excellent video clip (Naderdani) from Music Festival From India at Amazon.com.