retrospective of Ravi Shankar exhibited at the South Asia Institute | Chicago News


The Beatles, the great jazzman John Coltrane, composer Philip Glass – all these musical giants and many more have felt the influence of Ravi Shankar.

“Chicago Tonight” visited a pandemic-delayed exhibit about the sitar virtuoso. We met a person who knew Shankar in Chicago, and a musician who studied with him in India.


(Photo by Alan Kozlowski / Credit the South Asia Institute and the Ravi Shankar Foundation)

Marc Vitali: A highlight of the 1967 Monterrey Pop Festival was the performance of a 47-year-old veteran musician from India. Sitarist Ravi Shankar thrilled an audience that included other festival artists, including Jimi Hendrix.

Ravi Shankar also tutored George Harrison of The Beatles, who performed the sitar on “Norwegian Wood” and other songs.

A new exhibit makes it clear that Ravi Shankar had a long career before and after his jump to stardom in the psychedelic ’60s. We met a former student.

Gaurav Mazumdar, sitarist: I come from a very small town called Allahabad in India. I met him in person in the 1980s, and in the mid 1980s he accepted me as his disciple.

And I stayed with him for seven years, at his home, learning from him, and then my association with him lasted until the very end of his life.

Vitali: The exhibition was scheduled for the centenary of Ravi Shankar’s birth – last year. But the newly opened South Asian Institute in the 19th and Michigan had closed for the pandemic.

We met the founders of the Institute, a husband and wife team – collectors who have retired from their long medical careers.

(Credit Keeney / South Asia Institute and the Ravi Shankar Foundation)(Credit Keeney / South Asia Institute and the Ravi Shankar Foundation)

Shireen Ahmad from the South Asia Institute: South Asians in this country are now in the millions, but there is very little about our culture and heritage that we have communicated to the general public on a larger scale.

Vitali: Much of the show comes from the collection of one person, a music promoter who got to know Shankar.

Brian Keigher, Music Promoter and Friend of Shankar: Whenever I spoke to Ravi about Chicago, he had a very close connection to Chicago. It was one of the first places he played in the United States. He performed at the Chicago Symphony Center when he was 13 in 1933 with his older brother’s dance troupe, and performed there his entire life until his death in 2012.

Vitali: Yes, this master of rhythm and improvisation started out as a dancer.

An exhibition on the sitarist Ravi Shankar is presented at the Institute of South Asia.  (WTTW News)An exhibition on the sitarist Ravi Shankar is presented at the Institute of South Asia. (WTTW News)

Mazumdar: If you listen to his music, without knowing any background, you will realize that his music moves you. His music tells you a story. His music gives you visions. Basically you can imagine things, and many times during teaching or after playing he would talk to us and he would say he was imagining a choreography of his music in himself because of his dancing days.

Vitali: This choreography was expressed in the traditions of Indian classical music. And Ravi Shankar has become a 20th century influencer.

Keigher: The influences are unmatched: rock, jazz, classical, even new age music and ambient music.

Ahmad: We are very committed to building bridges within the community but also with the humanity in general that surrounds us, and we find that he did it decades ago through his music. There is much more to this man than we felt it necessary to communicate.

More on this story:

Ravi Shankar was also friendly with Studs Terkel. Check it out 1961 interview with Studs Terkel Radio Archive from WFMT.

The exhibition runs until March 5, 2022. For more information, visit the website South Asian Institute website.

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