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Ravi Shankar's legacy, and the 12.12.12 benefit concert

You probably heard about that big benefit concert at New York's Madison Square Garden, featuring an ex-Beatle, Eric Clapton, and other famous musicians, coming together to raise awareness and fund relief efforts.

Ravi Shankar

The event was the Concert For Bangladesh, which took place on August 1, 1971. It was the blueprint for all subsequent benefit concerts, from Live Aid to the post 9/11 Concert For New York to Wednesday's 12.12.12 benefit for the victims of Hurricane Sandy.

While former Beatle George Harrison was the focal point of the event, it began with a simple request from Ravi Shankar. India's legendary sitar player originally planned to organize a small benefit concert, hopefully with the aid of a celebrity master of ceremonies. After Shankar asked Harrison for some help, the guitarist decided to invite his musician friends and put on a large scale benefit in New York City. The two shows were filmed and recorded, and eventually released as a motion picture and a 3 LP set.

It's difficult to explain how foreign and exotic Shankar's music sounded to Western ears in the mid-1960s. When Harrison added his primitive sitar playing to the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood" in 1965, it started a chain of events that is often credited as the beginning of "World Music." It broke down boundaries in more ways than one.

Shankar's music was misunderstood by many, and often mistakenly associated with drug use. He was a serious musician, and soon turned his back on hippie culture. In Timothy White's liner notes for the Harrison-compiled "In Celebration" box set, Shankar's regimen was described as beginning "at 4 a.m. with two hours of practice, followed by a prayer session, a breakfast of two hard boiled eggs and a piece of bread, then more practice and instruction until sundown."

Ravi Shankar died on December 11, the day before the 12.12.12 show. While Paul McCartney did not acknowledge the death of Shankar at the concert, one could draw the line from the experimental influence of Shankar's style on popular music to the former Beatle's slide playing on the "Cut Me Some Slack" collaboration with surviving members of Nirvana.

The Concert For Bangladesh had many financial and legal troubles along the way, but the entire benefit concert business has learned so much from problems of the original event. Things are so efficient now that the Sandy Relief show was broadcast live on television, the "album" will be released through iTunes in a few days, and the money will, hopefully, get to where it needs to be much quicker than it did in the early 1970s.

The legacy of Pandit Ravi Shankar lives on.

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