Amongst the treasure George left behind were three Shankar/Harrison musical ventures. Naturally, working with the music of two people so revered makes this painstaking process a privilege and formidable responsibility, and I am fortified by Ravi's trust in me.
Around 1973, Ravi had composed music for a ballet. With the help of George, he was able to assemble a group of Indian classical musicians to record it at A&M Records in Los Angeles. George provided the Western band, and 'Shankar Family and Friends' became one of the first two albums released on George's newly formed Dark Horse Records label. That was my first exposure to the group of people who would become lifetime friends. None of us knew we would be working together for the next two years. The process was full of youthful enthusiasm and venerable creativity.
'Ravi Shankar's Music Festival From India' was a recording that George wanted to put together after hearing a concerto Ravi had composed and performed for All India Radio in 1964. This orchestral piece was called 'Nava Rasa Ranga.' It was the first big influence that Indian music had on George and became the seed for the Music Festival From India.
Recorded in 1996, 'Chants of India' is the most vivid in my mind. It was fascinating to witness the creation of that album. Ravi was very specific about the chants he wanted to record. The priority was to maintain the integrity of the mantras and verses, while setting them to music as timeless as the words. The importance of correct meter and pronunciation of the mantras cannot be overemphasized.
Vedic scholar and priest Dr. Nandakumara was consulted to ensure the translations included in the package were precise so the listener could engage completely with each chant.
Again, the musicians were gathered and brought to George's studio where Ravi, his daughter Anoushka and George began teaching the musicians, working out the arrangements and recording basic parts.
Then George and Ravi went to India. They recorded certain parts in South India, then came back to England where they brought in additional Western string players. George also overdubbed a few parts and one or two vocals. As always, Ravi was generous with Western players, opening their minds and ability to this new world of Indian music. He is very patient this way; so was George. They were both very proud of the final outcome. George valued it as a true antidote to the noise and stress of life and the purpose of each track is to help promote the well-being of the individual as well as mankind.
Of course Ravi never tires. This is his 90th birthday year. He is just about to head out on a short tour with Anoushka in October. I try to see as many of his shows as I can, wherever I am, whether in New Delhi, Los Angeles, New York or London.
I know Ravi misses George a lot. They had so much fun together. Whenever we have a laugh, he will always say, "I miss George." They spent amazing times together in India and all over the world. A friendship, a musical collaboration like theirs, so long-lasting, is rare.
Dark Horse Records