Indian Music as it Relates to Popular American Music

Ravi Shankar

For my Myth and Culture class, we watched a film called “Dor.” The film is Indian, and following the film, my professor treated the class to this Ravi Shankar performance from the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival in Monterey, California. The festival, which included artists such as The Who, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and Janis Joplin, is seen as the first “real” rock music festival (Hendrix makes an appearance in the audience of the link above). This was in 1967, and it inspired me to think a bit about the influence of Indian music on American music.

The most obvious band to point to for Indian music is The Beatles. Gerogre Harrison, their guitarist, took lessons from Shankar on the sitar, which is the stringed instrument he plays in the video from Monterey Pop. The instrument made appearances in “Norwegian Wood,” from their 1965 album Rubber Soul, and in “Within You Without You” off of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The instrument also makes an appearance on the Rolling Stones song “Paint it Black.”

Indian instrumentation is not the only thin American music has borrowed; The scales upon which most Indian music is based on can pop up in unusual places. For example, in the song “Funeral Thirst” by American technical death metal band The Black Dahlia Murder, the guitarist’s solo is in such a scale.

Indian music borrows from American popular music as well: the Bollywood genre of films pulls heavily from American musicals of the 1950’s, and in the 21st century has started to emulate the music that plays on American top-40 radio. The film Slumdog Millionaire had a sequence for a song called “Jai Ho” that included both the original artist A.R. Rahman, but also American group the Pussycat Dolls.

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