We’re taking a look back at an iconic moment in pop music history, the time that Ravi Shankar, the legendary Indian musician, taught The Beatles member George Harrison how to play the traditional Indian instrument, the sitar.
It may seem just another moment in a long and illustrious career for Harrison but what transpired was a rich and fruitful partnership between the pair which would not only see Harrison promote both Shankar and Indian music through his various channels with The Beatles. But it would also see Shankar become a deeply respected musician in the Western world on his own merit.
Shankar, the father of folk singer Norah Jones, became widely known for his collaborations with The Beatles, among other western musicians, and brought the intricacy and beauty of classical Indian music to the masses in doing so. While Shankar’s own efforts cannot be underestimated, Harrison’s connection with the sitar player undoubtedly opened doors for him.
During the 1950s, Shankar was on the road trying to enlighten those he met with his soulful and smoky sounds of the sitar. He didn’t just keep to his own comfortable surroundings either, Shankar was determined to open up India to the world through music. It meant he visited countries such as the Soviet Union, Western Europe and even over to the US — one can only imagine the reception his traditional dress and sound could have received during the decade. In 1966 things would change.
Shankar would cross paths with one of the world’s biggest rock stars and likely one of the most well-known faces on the planet during that time —the late, great George Harrison. As a member of The Beatles, Harrison had reached the height of fame and fortune and it was at this height in 1966 that he turned his attention inwards and went to India in search of spiritual balancing.
A fan of the sitar already, when Harrison met Shankar he seized his opportunity to learn the instrument from a master and realising himself at the same time.