Unsophisticated Art Review: Ravi Shankar

Ravi Shankar, his daugher Anoushka Shankar and a few supporting musicians performed at Memorial Hall on Tuesday night. There’s a decent review at IndyWeek for anyone wanting more sophistication. A local professor made introductions and explained the music as being romantic and added, “India is a very romantic country, as you can tell by the population.” The eight-year-old sitting next to me pondered that for a moment and then declared to her mother, “Oh, India is romantic so more people want to move there.”

The opening act was composed of four performers, with most of the action coming from a flutist and a drummer. I couldn’t see much movement from the other two, but they were apparently playing some kind of slow bass sitars. The wooden flute sounded a bit coarse at first as if resisting, but with lots of energy the flutist eventually won the battle and produced many flowing sequences of pure sounds. The most impressive thing about the drummer was the ability to produce so many sounds from a single drum. His hands each played at opposite ends of the drum simultaneously and with different beats.

Just like in this tame New York Times review from eight years ago, Ravi Shankar looked very frail coming out on stage and needed help getting set up, but after that he played energetically for the rest of the evening with his daughter playing at his side. Shankar was smiling, laughing, and playing very quickly toward the end. Both played sitars, with occasionally accompaniment from other musicians. They played only two long, continuous pieces. Though I wasn’t familiar with the music, I could recognize many sequences that are now embedded in Western guitar music. So maybe it’s true that Shankar is the “the godfather of world music,” as George Harrison called him.

For myself and others I talked to, the performance felt like it went by fast, but on checking the time afterwards, over two hours had elapsed. I wonder if the music had induced some kind of trance state that impaired our perception of time.

Memorial Hall did a great job at relaying the music to the audience. It was, however, annoying that they still haven’t convinced the audience not to keep checking cell phones or taking photos. I mean, how good a photo can you get anyway?

Posted in Art