Ravi Shankar, Father of World Music

Ravi Shankar, 1988
By Alephalpha (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Have you heard sitar music, from India? Joshua Leo and Liz Waid look at the man who made this traditional music popular around the world.

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Voice 1

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Joshua Leo.

Voice 2 

And I’m Liz Waid. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

This beautiful music is made with a sitar. This is a traditional musical instrument from India. It looks a bit like another popular instrument called a guitar. On one end of the sitar is a round empty gourd. This deep rounded base makes the sound louder and more complex. From this base comes a long flat stick called the “neck.” Almost 30 strings, like thin ropes, go up and down the neck. The sitar player plays seven of these strings. He pulls on them with his fingers. The remaining strings make noise as the musician plays the other strings above them.

Voice 2 

This instrument is very complex and beautiful. It is one of the major instruments in the traditional music of India. But people all around the world know and love sitar music. How did this instrument become popular in countries far from India? There is one musician who helped encourage people’s love of sitar music more than anyone else. Some people call him the father, or founder, of world music. Today’s Spotlight is on the famous Indian musician Ravi Shankar.

Voice 1 

Ravi Shankar was born in India in 1920. When he was 10 years old he moved to Europe. His brother led a dance group that performed traditional Indian music and dancing. Shankar learned to dance and joined his brother’s group. Shankar also learned about many cultures and customs. He learned many kinds of music. But he loved music from India the best. Shankar noticed that people from other cultures also loved Indian music. He told the writer Thakur Paramjit:

Voice 3 

"I listened carefully to our music. I observed the reaction of audiences on hearing it. This watching and judging helped me. I decided what we should give to Western audiences to make them respect and enjoy Indian music."

Voice 2 

When he turned 18 Ravi Shankar moved back to India. He went to live with a famous musician named Allauddin Khan. Khan became Shankar’s teacher and spiritual guide. Shankar spent six years living and studying with Khan. He learned classical Indian music styles and instruments. But the instrument Shankar loved most was the sitar.

Voice 1 

Shankar soon became a well-known musician and composer in India. He wrote music for the National Theatre. He worked as the director for All India Radio for many years. Shankar established the Indian national orchestra in the mid-1950s. People in India loved Ravi Shankar’s music. He performed in many live concerts. Shankar also wrote and performed music for some of the most popular Indian films at the time.

Voice 2 

Ravi Shankar’s fame began to spread beyond India too. Many people in other countries began to enjoy sitar music. Western musicians became interested in learning to play Indian traditional music. They even played western and eastern music together. They made music that mixed the traditions from different countries and cultures. This style of music is sometimes called world music.

Voice 1 

Ravi Shankar became friends with many famous people. One of the most famous was the British musician George Harrison. Harrison was a member of the rock band The Beatles. He first met Shankar in London. Then Harrison visited Shankar in India. Shankar taught Harrison to play the sitar. Soon, millions of people heard sitar music in songs by The Beatles. Ravi Shankar told Shashi Vyas in an interview:

Voice 3 

“I was one of the first when I first started to experiment with western instruments and western musicians. George Harrison came to me because he was so interested in our music. And he became my student. He did not do it only because it was popular at the time. He loved it until the end and became very very dear to me.”

Voice 2

 Ravi Shankar played his sitar in many concerts all over the world. The largest event that Shankar organized was a concert for Bangladesh. At that time, there were many problems in Bangladesh. Ravi Shankar wanted to help. He asked George Harrison to help him organize a concert for Bangladesh. It became a huge music event. Shankar, Harrison and others gathered 250,000 US dollars for the people of Bangladesh.

Voice 1 

Because Ravi Shankar had a great influence on music all over the world, some people criticised him for not being traditional enough. But Shankar always kept an Indian approach to music. He said:

Voice 3 

“I have experimented with non-Indian instruments, even electronic ones. But all my experiences were based on traditional Indian songs. When people discuss tradition, they do not know what they are talking about. Over centuries, classical music has had elements added to it. It has had changes and improvements. But it has always held to its traditional base. Today, the difference is that the changes are faster."

Voice 2 

Ravi Shankar often played with musicians who used other styles of music. But he always kept the important parts of Indian folk music. For example, he was always free to change the music while playing. Even when playing with many other musicians Shankar would not always follow the music exactly as it was written. He would play what he felt sounded good. He did not always follow the set rules that some western music uses. Shankar told Sashi Vyas:

Voice 3 

“Music rises above all languages and barriers. It is the most beautiful communication skill one can have. Music makes us all experience different emotions. Different kinds of music, whether it is by voice or instrument, Eastern or Western, Classical or Pop or folk from any part of the world, can all be spiritual. Music has the power to move the spirit of a person as if there is no time.”

Voice 1 

This power to move people’s spirits was Ravi Shankar’s gift through music. He died in 2012 at the age of 92. Ravi Shankar was more than a sitar player. He was also a teacher and example for many people.  His two daughters, Norah Jones and Anoushka Shankar, are also both successful musicians. Musician Lalgudi Jayaraman explains exactly why people will never forget Ravi Shankar:

Voice 4 

“His connection with music was driven by reason all through. The high quality of his music shows that spirit. Ravi Shankar loved and enjoyed good music. He came to it with child-like excitement even after becoming a world-known master. Only such an attitude to art can bring out influential music like his.”

Voice 2 

The writers of this program were Shelagh Godwin and Rena Dam. The producer was Rena Dam. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted and voiced by Spotlight. You can find our programs on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called ‘Ravi Shankar, Father of World Music’.

Voice 1 

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

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The sitar music in this program is from Ravi Shankar and Anoushka Shankar.


How does music make you feel? Does it change you in any way?


Avatar Spotlight
said on December 02, 2013

It show us music has no country or a owner, It show us music can be heard by someone who believes in freedom and piece, cause music makes a beeter world for all people.
Music can changes a bad time, violence and makes your spirit be free.
Thanks for this god of music

Learning Everything's avatar
Learning Everything
said on February 22, 2015

When I was young, every time I watched a India film I often hear that musical. This melody let me feel happy in romantic film.  That is very impression.

Avatar Spotlight
said on April 13, 2016

Music takes me far to another world, makes me feel living in new planet (I swear) .
Music is the universal language of our wirld.
I would like to shout high, throw spotlight, calling all authors of music all over our world , to create the music of love and lasing peace !!!
We spent too much on wars , let spend pennies on peace !
    Thank you ( crying )

Avatar Spotlight
Johanna Castillo
said on April 13, 2016

I like this kind of music ,  actually what I enjoy is the art and the essence of music , when I feelde pressed and discouraged I almost always I listen music and it makes me feel relaxing ,  and different kind of emotions , furthermore I also play my acustic guitar when I have free time ,so to sum the music is my loyal mate.

And finally from the other day I wanna to thank for the program is so benefical for me .

Avatar Spotlight
said on April 15, 2016

In the life each of us tries much to live our lives well. We have dreams. We may not be very rich or may be poor. Living our lives in beautiful good years and months brings us happiness. We live our lives in years and months of tender, young and old age. Each period has advantages and difficulties. We wish peace. We wish true happiness. We wish peace in lives of each of us. We wish peace for everyone and all places. We build for peace together. We build for peace together so that everyone can dream of beautiful good things.

Magdy's avatar
said on April 17, 2016

I like music which is mix between different traditions too much, it has its own seance, yanni do this some times. although i enjoy it as a pure art work, but it could considered as a way to express that we are all human sharing this small planet, although we are different, but we can share a global human culture.

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on April 17, 2016

From: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (Severino Ramos)
To: spotlight
Subject: answer to the question above
Date: Sunday 17, April 2016
São Paulo SP Brazil

Dear Liz Waid, Rena Dam, Shelagh Godwin, and Joshua Leo:

Music makes me feel with a pleasant sensation in my heart and mind. Yes, It does. For example: when I am very sad, I listen to a pleasant music so I feel good. Music is excellent for our heart and mind.

Yours regards,
Severino Ramos

Avatar Spotlight
said on April 02, 2019

I have already said that I consider music a medicine for the soul. Music is the best form of communication between people from the most distant places in the world. I am excited to finish this comment to look for a song by Ravi Shankar.
God bless all the musicians in the world !!!