A&E // 1993 // 92 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // March 28th, 2008
What's the name of that album? Is it "My sitar wants to kill your mama"?
My knowledge of the music and life of Ravi Shankar are cursory to say the least. I know that George Harrison thought an awful lot of him, and I also remember seeing his performance at the end of the Monterey Pop Festival, the same festival where Hendrix, Joplin and The Who announced themselves with compelling performances of varying degrees and styles. For those who haven't seen it, on a sleepy Sunday morning with many of those same performers in attendance, Shankar entranced the crowd with his playing of the sitar, an Indian instrument that looks an awful lot like a Western guitar (in case you've never seen it), and by playing ragas, which are the Indian equivalent of songs or musical jams, if you will, provided a different perspective to much of the American audience.
Upon further review though of Shankar's life and work, shortly after Monterey he and Harrison helped organize the concert for Bangladesh that was held in 1971 to raise money for those who were displaced from weather and other extenuating circumstances in said country, and continued to tour throughout the world both before and after the show, but also has contributed to several cinematic scores, most notably earning an Oscar nomination for Gandhi. Shankar continues to perform occasionally for crowds all over the world, even as he's about to celebrate his 88th year of life.
The Concert for World Peace was performed way back in 1993 at London's Royal Albert Concert Hall. Lasting about an hour and a half, the piece serves as part "recital," as Shankar indicates during a break between ragas, and part performance. For the uninitiated like myself (and from Shankar's website), Indian music "is principally based on melody and rhythm, not on harmony, counterpoint, chords, modulation and the other basics of Western classical music." The rhythms do not hold to normal time measures like conventional Western music, and the rhythms help to give the sitarist, along with the Tabla (an Eastern percussion or bongo) and Sarod (a bass sitar, for lack of a better explanation) a chance to improvise and express themselves as much as possible. The music that Shankar and collaborators Zakir Hussain and Partho Sarathy perform changes and varies in mood, beat and tone throughout the 90-minute performance. As opposed to Shankar's Monterey performance, which is the only other footage I've watched him in, this concert is more musically involving. It speeds up, slows down, the tabla gets involved in the action with a solo here and there, along with the sarod. There are no vocals during this performance; it's all based on the three instruments mentioned earlier, and it's a worthy spiritual experience.
Now, I'm not too sure if A&E originally broadcast this concert when it first aired, but what is immediately surprising about this concert is that it has two separate audio options on the disc, both a PCM and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track. While I had the Dolby Digital track on for most of the performance, I checked out the PCM track for a little bit too, as there's not a lot of immersion sonically to really warrant use of the rear speakers. The picture hasn't really been touched up for that matter either; it looks like a disc that was burned from an old videotape, so the video quality is pretty "meh," in a word. The only supplement to speak of is a 20-minute piece on Shankar and on Indian music in general, featuring interviews with Shankar and his family, along with some historians on Indian music. The piece is a nice primer on the music and the man.
Overall, the Concert for World Peace provides an excellent introduction to Ravi Shankar and to Indian music in general if you're not too familiar with it. The feature is effective enough, and for the open minded, the music is better than expected. It's definitely worth exploring if you like music, Western, Eastern or otherwise.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* PCM 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 1993
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Interview Footage
* Official Ravi Shankar Site