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Sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar dies at 92

Ravi Shankar (right) with George Harrison, circa 1975. Picture: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Ravi Shankar (right) with George Harrison, circa 1975. Picture: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

RAVI Shankar, sitar star and friend of the Beatles, has died at the age of 92.

The Indian prime minister’s office called him a “national treasure”.

Shankar helped millions of classical, jazz and rock lovers in the West discover the centuries-old traditions of Indian music over an eight-decade career.

He was a hippie musical icon of the 1960s, who played Woodstock and rubbed shoulders with the Beatles. George Harrison labelled him “the godfather of world music”.

He also pioneered the concept of the rock benefit with the 1971 Concert For Bangladesh.

To later generations, he was known as the estranged father of popular American singer Norah Jones.

Shankar collaborated with Harrison, violinist Yehudi Menuhin and jazz saxophonist John Coltrane as he bridged the gap between West and East. Describing an early tour in 1957, Time magazine said “US audiences were receptive but occasionally puzzled”.

His close relationship with Harrison shot Shankar to global stardom in the 1960s. The Beatle had grown fascinated with the sitar, a long-necked string instrument that has a bulbous gourd and resembles a giant lute.

He played the instrument, with a western tuning, on the song Norwegian Wood, but sought out Shankar to teach him to play it properly.

The pair spent weeks together, starting the lessons at Harrison’s house in England and then moving to a houseboat in Kashmir and later to California.

Gaining confidence with the complex instrument, Harrison recorded the Indian-inspired song Within You Without You on Beatles’ album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

 

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