Nine decades of Ravi

By Brianna Wellen

The Chicago Cultural Center’s Claudia Cassidy Theater, 78 E. Washington St., easily reached capacity during its showing of the documentary, “Ravi Shankar: Between Two Worlds”, directed by Mark Kidel on April 7. Latecomers trickled in the back once the theater’s 294 seats were filled and stood for the 89-minute run time, entranced by the world of sitar player Ravi Shankar. The evening continued at Preston Bradley Hall, where a trio of classical Indian musicians played a tribute to the maestro Shankar. The crowd expanded to fill the 500 seats, listening with eyes closed as if in their own personal meditation, only to explode with applause once the night ended.

The event, in its entirety, was hosted by the Chicago Cultural Center and supported by the Ravi Shankar Institute for Music and Performing Arts to celebrate Shankar’s 90th birthday. Along with the film screening and live performance of classical Indian music by Purbayan Chatterjee, Rakesh Chaurasia and Yogesh Samsi, exclusive items such as previously unreleased CDs and posters signed by Shankar were sold to benefit the Ravi Shankar Foundation, which dedicates itself to the cause of music education at the Centre in Delhi.

Maggy Fouché, director of marketing for the Chicago Cultural Center, said the success of the event is due to the interest in Shankar and his music from both the Indian community and the general public. The event was publicized in the usual way, but the international celebrity of Shankar may have had some pull, according

to Fouché.

“They’re having celebrations all over the world [for Shankar],” Fouché said.

Among the celebrations were two events in Bordeaux, France and a California celebration with Shankar himself, which the Chicago event’s planner, Brian Keigher, was invited to attend.

Throughout the night, Chicago’s young adults had an obvious presence. Michael Zielinski, 23, came to the event because of his interest and love for George Harrison, who was close with Shankar and was influenced by him, as well as Shankar’s influence on jazz music specific to musician John Coltrane. Zielinski said he believed the interest in Western life adopting this cultural difference brought in the younger members of the crowd.

“I think the youth are naturally drawn to cultural changes from the norm,” Zielinski said. “[The event] continues a move Chicago has made to progress the culture in the city.”

The trio’s performance reflected many similarities with contemporary jazz, proving Indian music’s influence. Chaurasia, who played the flute, pointed out the common improvisation factor. He said while performing classical Indian music, the musicians are constantly making eye contact, looking for hints as to what to do next.

“We have a combination of notes that we have to get out of the way,” Chaurasia said. “After that it’s completely improvised on the spot.”

Samsi, who played tabla, a type of Indian drum, for the performance, credits Shankar for exposing and popularizing Eastern culture in places like Chicago.

“He’s not only a legendary sitar player, he’s the greatest ambassador of Indian music to the western world,” Samsi said. “What we did today would not be possible if it weren’t for him.”

Fouché said she believed that in the end, producing events like this continues the Cultural Center’s mission to find reasons to celebrate all cultures with the entire community, regardless of age, race and even financial status.

According to Fouché, turning 90 is a big deal, and if celebrating Shankar’s birthday was a chance to introduce Indian music to a new group of people, then why not?