Rare And Glorious

Ravi Shankar

Saregama India / Times Square Records, 2009


REVIEW BY: Vish Iyer


Ravi Shankar is a widely known personality around the Western hemisphere as an Indian classical musician. And although his music (or the kind of music he plays) – Hindustani classical – is widely known, too, it is so fundamentally different from the Western scale of music that its appreciation is difficult for an average music fan, who would almost not know how to even approach it.

From its liner notes, the Rare And Glorious compilation makes clear right off the bat that it is a collection that is meant to be an introduction to Ravi Shankar for the uninitiated but inquisitive fan. Even though Ravi Shankar is a celebrated composer, this group of songs focuses primarily on his musical instrument, the sitar (along with other accompaniments).

This CD set is hardcore Hindustani classical music, and as with the case with Western classical, demands at least a cursory understanding of the technicalities of its building blocks to derive something out of it. It is easy for a Western listener to understand (if not value) Western classical, but Hindustani classical is a completely different ballgame, since one is likely not attuned to its song-structure (or “Raga”) to begin with.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

This two-disc anthology tries to incorporate a balance of Ragas of varying lengths, from the atypical duration of just over six minutes long to the typical over 20-minute long, of which there are plenty; so, this stuff isn’t supposed to be for casual consumption. For the intelligently curious music fan, this record can be meditative, with the mellow and delicate sounds of the sitar. “Raga Shudh Kalyan” is totally and utterly a 22-minute sitar solo, displaying the depth of this instrument in all its purity. For the most part, the sitar music is accompanied by the tabla (amongst other instruments), an Indian percussion instrument, played by another well-renowned musician, the late Alla Rakha (the father of tabla player Zakir Hussain, who is a popular figure in world-music circles). The tabla, with its intricate, agile rhythms and its at times maniacal speeds adds another interesting avenue to be explored in the gamut of Hindustani classical music.

Rare And Glorious is released by Saregama (established in 1901 as the first overseas branch of EMI London), which is the oldest record company in India, and is well-reputed for its vast catalog of Indian classical music. Great care has been taken to include a glossary of terms used in Hindustani classical music and also to accommodate each track on the tracklist with a brief explanation of the Raga. The booklet also has an introductory biography essay of Ravi Shankar and his family by Ken Hunt, who has been a contributor to The Rough Guide To World Music series on chapters about India, and co-hosts the world-music website http://en.world.freemusic.cz/. However, there is nothing on the insert that could not be found on the Internet without difficulty, but the information does offer a good footing to start from.

If one were to ever wish to explore Ravi Shankar’s works (or even Indian classical music in general), the best place would be an experimental collaboration with a western composer like Passages (Ravi Shankar with Philip Glass) to ease into this kind of music. But if one were to dive straight into Hindustani classical music of Ravi Shankar, Rare And Glorious is not much different a place to start than his other many releases.

Rating: A

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© 2010 Vish Iyer and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Saregama India / Times Square Records, and is used for informational purposes only.