To most people, "India's greatest musician" means Pandit Ravi Shankar, whose ragas briefly pacified the world in the tumultuous 1960s. And there are those who say Ravi's wife was better than he. But it was Ravi's nephew Ananda who became the voice of modern India in all its contrasting elements. In ways never previously imagined --much less executed even by other master musicians-- he alone merged Indian and western, classical and rock, lyrical and funky, exotic and commercial, traditional and progressive. Given the enormity of the task and the sharp contrast between his success and the failures of so many "raga rock" practitioners, Ananda Shankar can be seen as one of the greatest musical figures of the twentieth century.
The son of famous arranger-choreographer Uday Shankar & dancer Amala, Ananda had all of the expertise, talent, and perfectionists' dedication of the previous generation. He studied five years under Dr. Lalmani Misra, head of the Department of Music at Benaras Hindu University; following his intense tutelage, he spent two years abroad, where he studied western classical and pop as well as multi-media. While his ability to perform and compose rivalled that of his famous father and uncle, he identified more with his own generation.
His 1970 debut album on Reprise featured covers of tunes by the Rolling Stones and the Doors as well as his own (better) music. The album's success led to an expansion of his orchestra including dancers and multi-media effects. His wife Tanusree choreographed. After his first Indian LP was released, Ananda's music became a fixture on radio, television, and in theatre. Airlines, fashion shows, and the film industry recognized his as the modern sound of India. Even years after his death, his music can be heard at least on U.S. radio and in fashion shows, thanks largely to a reissue and a compilation.
Ananda was the great modernizer of Indian music, as influential as Mighty Sparrow and Kui Lee were in updating and promoting their respective traditions. He won the Indian equivalent of a Grammy Award for the score of "Chorus" in 1974. Other soundtracks featuring his work may have been released in India. Throughout his career, his sound remained fairly consistent, and his vision never flagged until his untimely death. Yet India and the world still have not completely caught on to his talent and significance.
Ananda Shankar & his Music became legendary in the 1990s simply because Capitol picked "Streets of Calcutta" and "Dancing Drums" for a Blue Note break-beat compilation. But there is plenty more material of the same caliber, even on that album. Later, rarer albums yield even more impressive music, and there are plenty of tracks waiting to be discovered and played by adventurous DJs. Sa-Re-Ga Machan, a funky, strange, and exotic madhouse ("Jungle King" even reprises "Streets of Calcutta" a bit), may be the true masterpiece.
The beat of the tabla is as vital to Indian music as the conga to African and Latin. While the Moog, sitar, and Western themes distinguish Shankar's music as fresh and original, the cacaphony of tabla beats grounds the music in simmering Bombay, timeless ragas, and the splendor of Shankar musical royalty. In other places, such as the Missing You tribute to Uday, Ananda uses vibes and flute to great effect. And still elsewhere the elements of Indian soundtracks, such as occasional female voice and strings, add power and excitement.
Call it futuristic exoticism or Indian soul music. Like other examples of the best revolutionary music, the wonders of Ananda Shankar will sound forever ahead of their time: definitely far out, and yet as familiar and comforting as Mom's cooking.
Buying: All original Ananda Shankar records should be highly prized.
|8||Ananda Shankar; Reprise RS-6398; 1970/1969 (U.S.; w/Paul Lewinson, Moog)|
|Chorus ST; 1974 (at least the score for Mrinal Sen's film)|
|9||Ananda Shankar & his Music; EMI Gramophone India ECSD-2528; 1976/1975|
|7||Lonesong Street--Poems by Pritish Nandy; EMI SEMGE-12354; 1977 (spoken w/music)|
|9||Sa-Re-Ga Machan; EMI ECSD-2636; 1981 (exotic, strings; reprises "Streets of Calcutta"; "Monkeys Tea Party" is great)|
|8||I Remember; EMI ECSD-41532; 1983 (reissues "Missing You" EP & adds 4 cuts)|
|8||2001; EMI ECSD-41539; 1984 (space theme; "Alien" is great)|
|4||The Ananda Shankar Experience w/State of Bengal: Walking On; RealWorld RWLP-83; 1999 (2-LP w/DJ's disco backing)|
|8||Jumpin' Jack Flash/Light My Fire; Reprise 3455; 1970/1969 (7" picture sleeve)|
|8||Missing You; EMI S-45NLP-2001; 1977 (7-cut 12" tribute to Uday Shankar)|
|8||A Musical Discovery of India; EMI Gramophone India S-45NLP-2002; 1978 (7-cut 12" for India Tourism Development Corp.)|
|8||Ananda Shankar & his Orchestra: India Remembers Elvis; EMI S-7EPE.3201; 1978 (4-cut 7")|
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