I always tend to look back in time and ask myself , "when did this begin?" "when was the first time it happened" "who was the first person to achieve this?". Do you do that too? Okay No, I dont live in the past all the time. But I think my fascination with history keeps a part of me alive. With that said, everytime I am at an indian classical or world music concert in new york city or san francisco, I am extremely curious about how indian classical music has gotten so popular in the west. Post 1950's western musicians were being open to the indian music concept of horizontal, melodic improvisation methods and the spiritual beliefs that music brought.
In the 1960's, the Beatles made history with their album "Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart club band" which had Ravi Shankar influences, Grateful Head drummer Mickey Hart was studying rhythm techniques under tabla maestro Ustad Allah Rakha. In the 70's Mclaughin's Mahavishnu orchestra and Shakti stunned the west with fresh, cross cultural music. In the 90's - 2000's Talvin Singh, Cheb i Sabbah continue to use indian music for western audiences; but, when exactly did this all begin?
I decided to find out. Recently, during my research on this, I stumbled upon a book titled "The Dawn of Indian Music in the West" by Peter Lavezzoli. On a personal note, it is by far the most interesting and informative material on this topic. I tried to gather some information from the book to share with you.
The most popular notion is that the first recording of indian music is of sarod maestro Ali Akbar Khan back in 1955 for the album "Morning and Evening Ragas". However it was back in 1910 when Hazrat Inayat Khan, a sufi music veena player, performed at Columbia University. There is no record of what his performance consisted of, but apparently that was one of the first formal performances of indian classical music in the west. For some reason it did not make an impact until Ali Akbar Khan's "Bhairavi" recording in 1955. Hazrat Inayat Khan was a descendant of warrior Tippu Sultan's uncle. His family was traditionally muslim, but he also believed in the Vedanta philosophy of Hinduism. Apparently, he did not create the impact he was hoping for in the west and had artistic frustrations. But he practised sufism to a great extent and spread sufi music and eventually died in 1927. I wish I were a part of the 1910 audience to have witnessed the very first formal performance of indian music here in the west. Sigh. Alright, let me not live in the past.