Utpal Borpujari

March 22, 2009

The world is just beginning to discover the richness of Indian film music: Lavezzoli

Peter Lavezzoli is a man of many talents. An author, professional drummer and singer, US-based Lavezzoli is also a professional narrator for the US Library of Congress and has recorded a number of audio books for the blind. An honours graduate in religious studies specialising in Chinese Buddhist history, he spends his winter in India, studying the tabla and dhrupad singing, as well as writing about Hindustani classical music. Bhairavi — The Global Impact of Indian Music (Harper Collins) is the product of his labour of love, a compendium that chronicles the global journey of Indian classical music. Lavezzoli speaks to Utpal Borpujari of Deccan Herald about his book:

Your book is silent on Carnatic music and concentrates only on Hindustani classical music. Is there any particular reason?This is not entirely correct. There are selective instances where Carnatic music is mentioned, with specific musicians, most notably the two violinist brothers, L Shankar and L Subramaniam, both of whom achieved widespread recognition in the West from their collaborations with jazz artists. But every book must keep within its scope, and my book primarily deals with Hindustani musicians, because the truth is that it was mainly North Indian musicians who were most responsible for promoting Indian classical music around the world — notably Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Ustad Vilayat Khan, Ustad Alla Rakha, and Ustad Zakir Hussain.Since 1955, when Ali Akbar Khan released the first LP record of Indian classical music, what are the important phases that Indian music has gone through vis-à-vis the outside world?

The period between 1965 and 1968 is by far the most important, especially the year 1967. This was when Indian classical music entered the mainstream popular culture in the West in several ways described in detail in the book. 1971 is another important year for the ‘concert for Bangladesh,’ and the mid-1970s in general are also crucial in terms of the connection between Indian classical musicians and jazz artistes in the fusion realm, with Shakti and other related groups. Then, there is the more recent collaboration between Indian classical musicians and electronic artistes and producers.



Do you think Indian classical music has in any way been able to impact popular culture at large in the West in the last 50 years?Without question, the greatest impact of Indian classical music on the rest of the world, especially in the West, was in its ability to expose millions of people to Indian spiritual traditions such as yoga, meditation, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sufism. These traditions moved from the elite consciousness down into the popular consciousness of people on the street, because the sounds and moods of Indian music gave people a glimpse into India’s vast spiritual heritage. This is not surprising, because music has always been a universal language that breaks down cultural barriers. Today, yoga and meditation are mainstream in the West because Indian music touched millions of people in the 1960s and 70s.How do you see the emerging phenomenon of popular Indian music getting more audiences in the West, especially in the shape of A R Rahman and post ‘Slumdog Millionaire’?

I see Indian film music gaining the same kind of mainstream exposure in the West today — through artistes like Rahman — as Ravi Shankar did in the 1960s. People around the world are just beginning to discover the richness of Indian cinema and film music. The future looks bright in this realm.
Do you think Indian classical music could get its initial popularity in the West only because the Beatles became fans of Pandit Ravi Shankar?

There is no way to know what could have happened otherwise, but history tells us that the Beatles — who were the most popular music group in the world — exposed millions of people around the globe to Indian classical music, because of George Harrison’s relationship with Ravi Shankar, and also because of the Beatles travelling to India in 1968 to study meditation. Had this not happened, it is always possible to speculate that someone else would have made that connection. More accurately, Pt Ravi Shankar made this possible because he took it upon himself to become India’s foremost musical ambassador to the rest of the world.
When and how did you plan to write this book?

Shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York, I wanted to remind people of how Indian classical music brought the spiritual heritage of India to mainstream consciousness in the West, and I also wanted to discuss the unique nature of Hindu-Muslim unity that has existed in Hindustani music for centuries. With terrorism and religious fundamentalism on the rise today, I feel that any message of unity and peace is worth delivering. I proceeded from that basis, contacting musicians for interviews, and doing my own historic research. It was a four-year voyage of discovery and discipline to bring this book to completion.





(Published in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com, www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 21-03-2009)



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