Pandit Ravi Shankar left an indelible mark on both Indian and Western music.
But very few are aware that it was the Monterey Pop Festival that cemented his talent and legacy in the West, and would eventually lead to his title ‘Godfather of World Music’.
In July 1967, sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar played a mesmeric four-hour set at the Monterey International Pop Music Festival in California.
As Ravi Shankar recalled, “[The] Monterey Pop Festival was the real beginning. All the young people were so fresh and so passionate and so drawn to my music.”
“From the moment I started my first stroke on the instrument [sitar], I knew that we were connected.”
In the audience, that day, was the awe-inspiring guitarist and recording artist Jimi Hendrix, who was mesmerised by the complex ragas Shankar was churning out.
In the words of his biographer, Oliver Craske, Ravi Shankar had brought about a ‘Sitar Explosion’ in the West.
But at no point did he compromise on his cultural heritage or dilute the complexity of what he was bringing to the table or cater to “lazy notions” of Eastern culture held by Western audiences.
What he demanded from his audience was rigour and attention, and that they “get high” on his music.
He collaborated with the likes of Yehudi Menuhin, Philip Glass and Zubin Mehta, and continuously experimented, which gave him such a unique sound.
His daughter Anoushka Shankar, a sitar maestro in her own right, said it best in an interview with NPR, “There’s something really inspiring about being really rooted in order to find our freedom of who we are.”
“What really stays with me about my father is how deeply rooted his music was, and then from that rootedness, how expansive and free his creativity was.”
The performance at Monterey also cemented the title George Harrison once gave him, which was the ‘Godfather of World Music’.
As the Grammy Museum elaborates, “What he most likely meant by the title was that Shankar was one of the earliest and certainly most important non-Western music virtuosos to introduce non-Western music to Western pop and rock fans.”