Today was a day to spend indoors. New York City is in the process of getting hit with about two feet of snow. I count my blessings that I am warm and conformable in my apartment looking out from my window as the snow falls outside. There are others who are not so lucky.
Strangely, as I watched the wind whip the snow into intricate swirling patterns, I was reminded of the music of Ravi Shankar and the tradition of North Indian classical music. Maybe it was the mandala like patterns I was seeing before me. Maybe it was my pain medication. I played the music from the clip below and it provided a wonderful soundtrack for the visual show Mother Nature put on today.
The film clip below, from the movie Monterey Pop which documents, shows only a brief excerpt from Shankar’s four hour performance.
For the better part of the first 6 minutes, the music is providing a background for surveying the “scene” at the festival. At the 6:30 mark, you can catch a glimpse of Jimi Hendrix and Mike Bloomfield listening intently to the music before the camera shows us the beaming face of Shankar’s tabla player, Alla Rakha and then finally Ravi Shankar himself (you can also catch glimpses of people like Michelle Phillips from the Mama & Papas and Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees).
Alla Rakha, in many ways, steals the show from Ravi. The way he nonchalantly looks at Ravi while his finger seem to effortlessly play these amazingly intricate rhythms that mirror the flurries of notes from the sitar. Then there’s the extended exchanges between the sitar and tabla that can only be described as blistering that begins at the 11:35 mark. They finally join together for the big rave up ending that brings the western audience (many of whom were hearing Indian music for the first time) to their feet. Also, if you are wondering what the third musician who appears to be randomly plucking strings is doing, she is playing the Tambura, the instrument that supports the other instruments by providing a continuous harmonic drone.
Ravi Shankar – Monterey Pop Festival 1967