The Continual Dawn

22 08 2007

By Derek Beres

Nearly finished with Peter Lavezolli’s intense and exhaustive study, The Dawn of Indian Music in the West (Continuum), I’ve been revisiting much of my Ravi Shankar collection, as well as picking up titles that I’ve overlooked in my years of collecting. It is difficult to separate the entire genre of Indian music from this innovator’s name, though, like many “gateway” musicians, an entire crew emerges the deeper you enter. And there’s good reason Shankar is the first point of contact: he’s simply a legend, in every facet of his music, from what he plays and how he plays it, to what he presents and what he represents. Music has never been anything but the first and foremost connection to the perpetuality and beauty of the universe. You hear it in all his songs: music is divine.

Reading the many lucid interviews in this book, I’m continually reminded of the importance of understanding the depths of which the yoga practice entails. One of the topics many musicians discuss – Nada Brahma – is the Yoga of Sound, or that Sound is God. As a yoga instructor, I’m constantly aware of the importance of what music is played in my classes, and very often base the sequencing of postures and opening of nadis and muscle groups from the soundtrack I create each week. This form of “sound yoga” is based on two ideas: Bhakti yoga, which is the art of devotion, and Mantra yoga, the repetitious chanting of names and gods. These are two aspects of one practice, just as all facets of undergoing the arduous path of yoga entails.

The book, as is the case with musicians like Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan, John Coltrane and numerous others discussed in detail, is a reminder that the physical yoga we usually associate the term with – Hatha yoga, or the practice of postures – is merely skimming the surface of what is actually yet another form of meditation. (This holds true in every aspect of yoga: Hatha is a meditation of movement; Bhakti, of devotion; Karma, a meditation of selfless giving; Jnana, one of knowledge, and so on.) Whatever mode of yoga you are engaged in, it is a continual fine-tuning of focus and discipline. To hear the fluidity of sound rise from Shankar’s finger, or the water of his longtime tabla accompanist, Alla Rakha, is not to hear the result of practice alone. There is faith in their fingertips, which each syllable and note.

Below is a clip from one of the performances that really helped to launch Shankar’s name to international acclaim, from the Monterey International Pop Music Festival in  1967. It helps capture the merging of two seemingly disparate and separate worlds, and – again, as the book goes into detail to highlight – how these worlds were never apart to begin with.

This performance is also captured live on an excellent sounding recording on Angel Records, Live: Ravi Shankar At The Monterey International Pop Festival. For fans of Shankar, I highly recommend the two-CD Vision of Peace set, which includes the painstakingly beautiful Toward The Rising Sun and The Spirit of India-Ravi Shankar Plays Ragas, as well as his groundbreaking effort with classical violinist Yehudi Menuhin, West Meets East: The Historic Shankar/Menuhin Sessions.

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