I had this DVD in my player when I read the news on the BBC that Ravi Shankar had died. The acknowledged godfather of World Music, Ravi looked set to make it to 100, but he did have a great life, and had three musical children. His son Shubho (who died in 1992) was also a sitar player but more introverted than the famous daughters, Anoushka and Norah. Ravi was due to receive a lifetime Grammy which will be awarded posthumously. He is also up against his daughter Anoushka in the Best World Music CD category.

Here we have a film of one of his last performances, recorded October 2011. Ever the teacher, he explains the movements in English: Alap, Jod, though this time the tabla player, Samir Chatterjee, is not letting on what rhythm he will be using! --Teental, insists Ravi. The concert has familiar ragas and also some virtuoso playing where Ravi plays one number with damped frets: he changed the tone of his instrument with a towel over the strings. It was an experiment and I felt it failed, but even at 91 he was experimenting and that's a tribute to his genius. Fans may get this for sentimental reasons but will enjoy it for its music. The first number is a warm-up evening raga, but the second one (also an evening raga) starts to blaze. Then there is a trade-off between his regular tabla player Tanmoy Bose and guest Samir Chatterjee. It's pretty wild, though I felt Chaterjee's kit was overamplified. The final number will also knock your socks off.

The most famous Indian after Gandhi, Ravi was fully engaged with the West. He met Yehudi Menuhin in 1952, and the duo recorded three albums together in the 60s. In addition to being one of the greatest violinists of the 20th century, Menuhin was also a yogi. The two friends had no problem bringing their different disciplines together to jam. While in London Ravi recorded the score for Jonathan Miller's Alice in Wonderland, starring the "Beyond the Fringe" crew along with John Gielgud, Wilfrid Brambell and co. The DVD (which finally came out in 2010) has a featurette with Shankar working in the playback studio. It was by no means Shankar's first soundtrack. The 1955 Pather Panchali suite is well-known and was a logical place to go for memorial clips when he died. However, his 1957 score for Kabuliwala (from a Rabindranath Tagore story) won the Silver Bear in Berlin, for "Extraordinary Film Music." It's also a delightful film (there were two remakes).

Shankar's influence was profound. He criticized jazz musicians for not properly learning Hindustani musical structures. One who did listen was John Coltrane who named his son after Ravi and, had he lived, planned to collaborate with him. Though his pupil George Harrison plays sitar badly on several Beatles songs, Shankar gave permission for long improvised solos to Western bands from which we can extrapolate the hours of acid jams we heard from the Fillmore and so on. Shankar was not pleased by the drug-taking he saw at the big rock festivals of the 60s. He was appalled at Monterey Pop in 1967 when The Who and Hendrix destroyed their instruments. This was sacrilegious. (Pennebaker's video of Ravi's morning raga is a bit like "Dark Passage" with Humphrey Bogart -- you are more than a third of the way into it before you see Alla Rakha & Ravi!) He was bemused by the applause for his 3-minute tuning up at the Concert for Bangladesh (Madison Square Garden, 1971), but he was extremely tolerant (after all the gig ultimately raised $12m for the refugees) and thanks to his kind indulgence we have come around to finally understanding him.

Old Town School, Chicago, 14 October 2012

Master of the Calcutta slide guitar Debashish Bhattacharya performed at the Old Town School in an intimate concert, featuring his brother Subhasis on tabla. He has been coming to the US for 20 years (this was news to me) and was glad to be among friends, he said, as he showed off his instrument, a 22-string guitar which, he explained, was made of Indian hardwood used for making sitars, but the face was Canadian maple and the strings came from Pennsylvania. He introduced his 15-year-old daughter Sukanya on vocals. She seemed a bit nervous at first. But he launched into an evening raga, very much in the style of a traditional sitar raga and soon his brother kicked in on the tablas and proved to be a fierce and rock-solid accompanist. An hour flew by before he paused and said he was so lost in the music he didn't know whether he'd been playing for ten minutes or an hour. He has a magical touch with his instrument and after the break he talked about its construction and his life story, starting with him as a baby finding a Hawaiian guitar and touching it. The sound of the string so scared him he ran away and hid in the garden. But then he plucked up courage to return and try again, and again he frightened himself and ran off. His father had told him this story recently and he said his lifelong passion for the guitar began then. He started another traditional raga, this one not an evening raga, he said, because it was later now, and would therefore be a night raga. Like Ravi Shankar, and other pandits, he has a habit of explaining everything. His daughter started singing and he interrupted her to explain, in English, what the song was about. That seemed unnecessary to me, but she got back into it and became quite impassioned. The second set truly soared and brother Subhasis took a long tabla solo which was really melodic, before the guitar joined in. For the encore Debashish played on a simple 4-string toy instrument, like a ukelele. The amazing thing was he made it sing like the more complex 22-string instrument he had been playing and made me wonder if he really needed all that extra apparatus.

Paramount Theatre, Oakland, 1 October 2011 (SF Jazz Festival)

Asha Bhosle's father was a classical singer. He raised his daughters (Lata Mangeshkar is the eldest) as classical singers. Asha was the wild one and ran away from home to get married. Later she married the composer RD Burman who wrote many of her most famous songs. Now in her 80s she has recorded an album of classical song and that was probably what the SF Jazz Festival was expecting from her when they booked her into the elegant Art Deco masterpiece Paramount theatre in Oakland, on Friday October first. The Desi crowd was excited, even when the band played an introductory number and something seemed out of place. There were four musicians on stage: a tabla player and a sarod player from the Ali Akhbar College of Music in San Rafael, a kit drummer with a vast array of percussion instruments and a synthesizer/keyboardist. The pianist obviously took the "Jazz festival" notion seriously because he launched into a Weather Report-like riff and continued to noodle away like Keith Jarrett or indeed hammer like Jan Hammer for the rest of the evening. The grand Asha (whose career began in 1943) came out to a standing ovation in her white sari with diamond accoutrements. She greeted the audience and launched into "Chura liya hai tum ne," a song made famous by the film Yaadon ki baaraat, and covered innumerable times since then. The audience was ecstatic. However it soon became clear that classical music was not on the agenda, and furthermore Asha had a cold. She left the stage for "ek minute" and came back with a vial which she swallowed and then went into several jokes and gradually one realized the extended banter (in Hindi) was a stalling tactic. Her voice wasn't up to it, but she didn't want to disappoint the smartly turned-out crowd. The band was a shambles, it seemed they had not rehearsed, in fact when she introduced them she walked over and asked the tabla player his name. He did a couple of solos but was mostly overpowered by the fool on the kit who only had a sense of rhythm when he played with his hands, otherwise he just thrashed brash opposition to the keyboard player who also drowned out the singer. On the high notes Asha simply held the microphone away from her mouth so they tailed off and were heard in the imagination. I recalled how magical the night with Kronos Quartet backing her had been in contrast to this. The audience started yelling requests. Now this is patently absurd: As is well-known, Asha is in the Guinness Book of World Records for recording over 100,000 songs. She can't know all the lyrics, but she did sing a few on demand as she rambled on, occasionally saying (in Hindi), This is a jazz festival, after all, and giggling. After an intermission her sore throat seemed to be worse, but she launched into "Dum maro dum," another crowd pleaser, then gave in to the barracking balcony and started in on "Pia tu ab to aaja (a.k.a. Monica)" as the band struggled to comp along. She even mimed some of the go-go dancer moves of Helen from the 1971 film Caravan, and added the male part in a deep voice. She was cute and cheeky, and deserved the standing ovation.

Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco, 28 April 2010

Her dad just turned 90 and now Anoushka has taken over the band and hit the road. Last time she was in town (that I knew about) she sprained her wrist so Dad, one of the greatest living musicians on the planet, took over. This time she had no fall-back and her fingers flew over the frets showing she is worthy of all those Grammys and other awards. Remarkably she is still only 28 and already has developed into a brilliant interpreter of her father's music. Calcutta's finest, Tanmoy Bose (his name sounds so much like a sound system), was the stalwart on tablas, as he has been with her father for a long time. In addition Ravichandra Kulur played bamboo flutes and kanjira (a kind of tambourine). The tanpura drone part was played by a young Geordie lad who had given up rock and roll to go to India and study with Ravi Shankar.

Before the show the Duchess had wanted to check out a new Neapolitan pizza joint in the Marina. Who would have thought you could spend $100 on pizza? Well, we did have wine, and prosciutto appetizer, but the desert -- crème-fraiche walnut gelato -- was smaller than the spoon! Around the block, Bernard Maybeck's Palace of Fine Arts is one of the finest buildings in San Francisco. It was built of plaster a century ago for the World's Fair and meant to fall apart, but has been restored at massive expense and is once again undergoing reconstruction. The auditorium is superb -- there isn't a bad seat in the house -- and the acoustics are great, so much so that a whispered joke to the Duchess had the guy next to her leaning over and asking me to repeat it.

The show started with a mellow evening raga. Like her dad, Anoushka explained the rhythmic cycle: "alap, jor," etc, and proved the indulgent didactic artist offering insight to the uninitiated. If you were in doubt as to the number of beats, she would count it out by flapping her metacarpals while the others were soloing. But it would be pointless to compare her playing to her father's. When you listen to his records you don't ask, "Where is he going with this?" because you can never guess. Even if you listen a hundred times, his music is full of surprises. Which makes it easy to play on repeat. Having listened to Ravi's Golden Jubilee Concert innumerable times I recognized some of the riffs Anoushka brought to her opening piece. Bose held back until the right moment to bring some fire to the proceedings. A short sprightly piece called "Variant Moods" followed. Anoushka said she had recorded it with Joshua Bell on violin but had now rewritten the violin part for flute. (Ravi Shankar did a famous album called East meets West with his friend, San Francisco yogi Yehudi Menuhin.) It worked very well. The fast and furious back and forth and intensity reminded me of Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck tearing up the Mayfair clubs, back in the days when George Harrison and Donovan were off in India learning from the master, and I wondered how far the raga format had influenced the half-hour jams of bands like Cream and the Yardbirds.

After an intermission the curtain rose on the darkened stage (illuminated only by a huge "Om" projected on the backdrop) with the whole band ripping into "buleria," a flamenco piece from Anoushka's last album. They raged on this. In the second half Bose was paired with Pirashanna Thevarajah, from London, who played a larger hand drum, like a dhol, called a mrdingam (part of the Carnatic sound they were showcasing), and pushed things to a frenzied pitch when necessary. In addition to her father's pieces, Anoushka played a South Indian raga and one of her own compositions. Though the concert was two hours it seemed to fly by and I look forward to further adventures of the Shankar Project.

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts San Francisco, 22 September 05

I've never been a fan of Kronos Quartet. They seem to be a rudderless ship grasping onto whatever world music trend is in the air & trying to cash in. But they finally reached out to Bollywood, added instruments beyond four fiddles, and most importantly, hired the world's greatest lead singer! The audience, many of them South Asians in their finery, arrived promptly to discover that the first half of the program was a new piece by Terry Riley for quartet, squeaky toys and tape loops, so we dozed fitfully through an interminable suite with special effects that alternated between vapidity (quotes from the "Sugar plum fairy" and "Siberian sleigh ride") and profound dysharmonic sawing. After a brief intermission it was time for the main attraction. The tiny resplendent Asha walked out to the appreciate crowd of about 1000. Asha was dressed in sparkling white: a sari with spangles woven into it, white beads at her wrist, white pearls tying back her black hair and only a large coral pendant to set it all off.

She said, "I've been performing for 63 years and for the first time I am really nervous." You could see why: she usually sings with a slick 150-piece orchestra and here were four Americans, a Chinese woman, and a tabla player attempting to do "R.D. Burman's most difficult songs," (as she said). But after she relaxed and the group warmed up, it was bliss. There were a few logical problems with sound effects so they did resort to a rhythm track on one or two numbers, but Wu Man on the pipa (a 4-string Chinese lute), who was outstanding, doubled for various plangent strings and even a psychedelic sitar. Hank Dutt, the viola player, also doubled on keyboard, mostly a Farfisa whirr in the background. Asha blew her nose as she explained how sad some of the songs were and then complained of the cold SF weather! She had a great degree of comic timing for one so nervous. She also joked with the audience in Hindi, then explained that she would only talk English -- although she didn't really know how! Gradually she warmed to the crowd, and the sextet. They got over their nerves and tackled a complex array of Bollywood favourites from Asha's repertoire of 15,000 songs. They even performed the hauntingly lovely "Mera Kuchh Samaan" with its high floritura -- the story of her life, as she said in introducing it.

She left while the ensemble worked out on "Mehbooba Mehbooba," the wild gypsy number from SHOLAY (the Indian version of a spaghetti Western), with Wu Man jamming on the pipa. This was followed by another song originally sung in Bengali by her late husband, R.D. Burman, "Nodir pare utthchhe dhnoa" -- a song about a person seeing smoke across the river and realizing it is their lover being cremated. Lead violinist David Harrington introduced it by saying he imagined it could only be a cello solo and this was a great way to introduce the newest member of the quartet, Jeffrey Zeigler, who was making his debut tonight (in addition it was the premiere of their four-stop tour with Asha -- UC Los Angeles, Carnegie Hall, New York, and Barbican, London, are the other venues). The ambient sounds (elephants, lightning, birds) were again on a tape. It might have been better to skip the attempt to slavishly recreate the originals and work with what they had, and allow a wider latitude for improvisation. On the originals Asha sings to a polished orchestral track so wasn't quite ready for the ad hoc-ness of some of it. There was a jerky start to "Chura Liya" (with which they opened): I was afraid their lack of rhythmic fluidity would ruin it, but they got into it by the second number, thanks to the metrical foundation of tabla player Debopriyo Sarkar (Zakir Hussain's understudy, who was sadly undermiked).

The sound was miked for "classical" so you couldn't hear the bass distinctly (the cellist plucked his strings: he should have used a double bass) and the bottom end was weak for most of it, but finally Asha started belting it out like a rocker, her stamping foot causing tidal ripples to billow up her gown. The years melted as she piled it on like a teenager for the 1971 "Hippies-come-to-Katmandu" classic "Dum Maro Dum (Have another toke)," and Hu Man sang the "Hare Krishna Hare Ram" chorus (or seemed to -- it may have been on tape, because she also pretended to lipsynch the deep male voice singing "Monica, oh my darling!" on the encore). "Koi aaya aane bhi de" was the most complex piece and one which she had never sung publicly before, she said, because of the difficult arrangement. (The chorus is a nursery rhyme sing-song which contrasts with the varied attacks of the instrumentation.) Wu Man was the most spirited player though each of the Kronos got to solo at least once (all of them reading from sheet music). Sarkar also doubled on congas for "Mehbooba" which was in a sense his solo, though John Sherba got to play the "out" violin part.

For Asha, you could see it was also a real challenge, having to adapt to this small combo of quirky talented foreigners, but she put all her youthful zest into "Piya tu ab to aaja (Love come to me now)", the encore, with its excited panting contrasting with her girlish innocence. It's said that Asha got her start in playback singing when the producers needed a natural laugh and the singer they had hired couldn't deliver. Asha, hanging around the studio, was able to laugh properly on cue and got the gig. Appropriately she ended the show with a girlish laugh. Was it nervous relief?

IN CONCERT at the Scottish Rite Temple, Oakland, 6 June 1992

Nusrat's first North American tour came about after his successfully appearance at WOMAD in England and the release of his MUSST MUSST album from Peter Gabriel's RealWorld label, featuring a deadly remix of the title cut by Massive Attack, in 1990. The tickets were pricey: starting at $35, they went up to an astronomical $200 for sponsor circle seats. I was trying to figure out how to come up with the funds to buy a ticket when I got a call from Cheb I Sabbah, the deejay and promoter. How would you like to be an usher for the Nusrat show? he asked. You'll get in free that way. -- You bet, I replied. All I had to do was wear a white shirt, black tie, black pants and black shoes. I got to the event early with some of my fellow ushers (deejays and music buddies). We took tickets and showed people to their seats: simple. There was a hush as the lights went down. We all lined up expectantly at the back of the room. Cheb I Sabbah appeared and pushed us toward the front, Quick, he said, take those front row seats! No one had bought the $200 tickets and he didn't want it to look like a failure on his part, so suddenly we were promoted from "ushers" to "sponsors". (Needless to add we were the only non-Asians present.) From the moment Nusrat appeared the place went nuts. I didn't know that simple music -- harmonium and voice with handclaps -- could generate such fervour. Everyone was dressed in their finery right down to shoes that curl up at the toe, like some kind of Arabian Nights fantasy. A succession of large men in blue gowns danced onto the stage to shower handfuls of dollar bills over the heads of the band. It was intoxicating. They did "Allah Hoo" and all my favourites. We sang along to "Musst Musst" hearing the dub in our heads, blessed to be present.

IN CONCERT Zellerbach Auditorium, UC Berkeley 19 September 2003

Forget Manu Chao, forget Salif Keita. At 83, the single most recognizable world music artist is a modest soft-spoken genius with a twinkle in his eye and magic in his fingers. His life has been spent in music. In 1930 at the age of ten he went on a world tour with his brother's dance troupe. There is a Pathé Marconi newsreel that shows what was then truly exotic music and dance hitting Paris. The young Ravi with a shock of black hair is about half the size of his sitar. They lived near Segovia and the virtuoso guitarist dandled the youngster on his lap. The troupe next took America by storm and in Hollywood some famous actress (Mabel Normand?) wanted to adopt him. After being exposed to so much at such an early age, young Shankar became an ascetic and withdrew into serious study with his guru, multi-instrumentalist Ustad Allaudin Khan. After years of isolated study he re-emerged and established the National Chamber Orchestra as musical director of All India Radio. He was already in his forties when the Beatles discovered him in the mid-sixties and soon after he embarked on his career as India's ambassador of the sitar, appearing at Monterey Pop and Woodstock. He wrote scores for the Apu trilogy of Satyajit Ray and the Oscar-winning epic GHANDI. He has recorded more than sixty albums, been knighted by the Queen of England, and served six years in India's upper chamber of Parliament. With advancing age he tours less frequently, but continues to teach.

In the last five years his now-22-year-old daughter Anoushka Shankar has emerged as his brightest pupil. She has won many awards and now tours with her father, opening the show and dueting with him. This show at Zellerbach Auditorium was different. While it was a homecoming for Anoushka, who grew up in California, she had injured her wrist and couldn't play. But the show must go on and baba did the honours. With Tanmoy Bose on tabla and two of his students sitting at the back of the stage playing tenor and bass tamboura, he started into an evening raga, his traditional opening number. During the alap he had trouble with his tuning (his sitar had been tuned by Anoushka who sat beside him) and seemed out of sorts. Anoushka fiddled with his bridge and moved the mike away from him when it started feeding back. It didn't bode well, but the second number, translated as "The Ardent Bachelor" turned up the heat and soon Ravi was off in cloud nine, bending and plucking the strings and showing there was no trace of arthritis in his octagenarian hands. Anoushka counted out the beat with her right hand on her knee and, as it was a complex (to Western ears) ten-beat raga (3-2-3-2), this aided my understanding of where the "one" was, which helped me grasp what was going on. At the end of the first hour he said apologetically to the packed house, "If you are still here after the break I'll do something special."

The second half of the show was dubbed "Rangeela Pelau" or "A Colourful Mix" by Shankar who brought out a second tabla player, Arup Chattopadhyay. The two tabla players traded licks to the delight of all while Shankar invented musical ideas and quoted snatches of folk tunes. He forgot that Anoushka wasn't playing to back him up and it was really a thrill to hear him unaccompanied with two exceptional tabla players, each with a unique style, taking turns prodding him onward. In India, he explained, concerts last for hours. He didn't realize we would gladly have sat there all night.