On Friday morning, the George Harrison Estate announced the creation of a new label, HariSongs. Created in partnership with Craft Recordings, HariSongs is set to release content from the Harrison family archive of Indian classical and world music, as well as Harrison’s own collaborations with premier musicians of Indian classical music.
As fervent Beatles fans know, Harrison fell in love with the the sitar and Indian classical music in general during one of the guitarist’s spiritual journeys into the Asian continent. In the mid ‘60s, Harrison met up with sitar maestro Ravi Shankar, who taught the young Beatle how to play the illustrious Indian instrument. An article from the Washington Post recalls Shankar’s thoughts on the legacy he created alongside Harrison:
“It is strange to see pop musicians with sitars. I was confused at first. It had so little to do with our classical music. When George Harrison came to me, I didn’t know what to think,” recalled Shankar. “But I found he really wanted to learn. I never thought our meeting would cause such an explosion, that Indian music would suddenly appear on the pop scene,” he added.
Here’s a look at one of Harrison and Shankar’s sitar lessons.
Shankar and Harrison experienced an instant connection that would extend into a lifelong friendship. In Shankar’s autobiography, Raga Mala, Harrison recalls what it was like studying under such a prolific master. Harrison says:
The moment we started, the feelings I got were of his patience, compassion and humility. The fact that he could do one of his five-hour concerts, but at the same time he could sit down and teach somebody from scratch the very basics: how to hold the sitar, how to sit in the correct position, how to wear the pick on your finger, how to begin playing. We did that and he started me going on the scales. And he enjoyed it—he wasn’t grudging at all, and he wasn’t flash about it either.
The legacy of these two late musicians carries on. In honor of Shankar’s birthday month, HariSongs is launching two reissues of classic Shankar albums. Both of these recently out-of-print albums, Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan In Concert 1972 and Harrison and Shankar’s last collaboration, Chants of India, were made available to stream or download for the very first time on Friday (April 27).
Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan In Concert 1972 was originally released via Apple Records in 1973, alongside a statement that read: “Within the small community of Brilliantly Gifted Musicians there exists an even smaller world of Masters. Two of these masters recently joined together in concert … ” The album highlights the talents of two great Indian classical musicians, Shankar and sarod master Ali Akbar Khan, who joined together to perform at New York City’s Philharmonic Hall on October 8, 1972. The concert film was produced by Harrison with help from Zakir Hussain and Phil McDonald.
Chants of India was the final studio collaboration between Harrison and Shankar. The album, initially released in 1997 via Angel Records, features the two musicians in a sitar duet, drawing upon the sacred Sanskrit texts of the Vedas, Upanishads and other scriptures. Shankar addresses this album in a statement, saying, “The repetitive use of mantras invoke a special power within oneself and I have tried to imbibe this age-old tradition in this recording … into which I have poured my heart and soul.” This reissue was sourced from the original digital master tapes and remastered by Paul Hicks, Gavin Lurssen and Reuben Cohen.
Stream or download Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan In Concert 1972 and Chants of India here and here, respectively. You can find out more about the label itself right here.
Listen to an interview with Harrison circa 1975 via the Paste Cloud below. Then, for some more Harrison-inspired content, revisit our list of the top 20 Harrison songs right here.