ta-ka-ta, TA-ka-tah!

“Welcome to Dartmouth.”

That was the gracious opening remark from a man who, himself, was actually the visitor on Tuesday night. But only in the most formal sense. As a performer on the world stage for over five decades, in truth Ravi Shankar’s name and music are as well known as even the most frequent visitors at the Hopkins Center’s Spaulding Auditorium.

He continued, “I will miss Anoushka tonight as much as you will miss her. We will do our best to make up for it as much as we can.”

It had just been announced that his daughter Anoushka had taken ill and would not be joining him on the stage that evening. That could have been a disappointment, but instead it turned instead into a very intriguing prospect: her absence allowed for his first live performance without her, in fifteen years.

The first half of the concert had been filled with a single raga, plaintive and rhythmic with Ravichandra Kulur’s  soulful solo flute taking the lead. Typical of North Indian classical music the textures were layered and transparent, the structure was patient to develop, gaining volume and speed even as each of the three instruments folded in to the mix. The first half ended in a breathless punctuation of synchronized voices.  Exciting!

After what seemed to be an extraordinarily long intermission (I didn’t time it, but it felt like a half hour or so) Ravi Shankar and the original three musicians took the stage: Kulur on flute, with percussionists Tanmoy Bose and Pirashanna Thevarajah, along with two younger players identified as Kenji (Shankar’s student) and Benjamin.

They played a long set of several ragas, and throughout the whole performance the one thing that struck me was what a bluesy sound Shankar  was able to make with his sitar. I’ve heard the instrument played in many different ways, in live settings and on recordings in all kinds of music. And I’ve heard a lot of Indian slide guitar, much like the lap steel of American blues music in both construction and sound. But I’ve never heard the sitar sound like a blues voice before Shankar’s performance.

So is that his legacy to the art? It’s certainly one of them, but with a professional and personal history so closely associated with the Beatles, the Indian music infusion of the ’60s, and a long past of humanitarian work – it’s only one of many.

One final thought – the Spaulding stage sits low, and the auditorium seating is at a very moderate incline. Since Indian musicians traditionally sit right on the  stage the situation made for difficult viewing at best.

Maybe a raised platform on the stage can be arranged for the next Indian concert?

Which reminds me, the next show: April 1st, 7pm, again at the Spaulding. One of the best Indian percussionists in the world, Zakir Hussain. Must see (hear!)

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