Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, the greatest living master of the north Indian bamboo flute (bansuri), is to perform at Islington Assembly Hall on 17th June.
Unlike many Indian Classical musicians, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia was not born into a musical family. It wasn’t until he was fifteen that he began to pursue his passion and a lifelong journey to master the Indian bamboo flute called a bansuri. His early life was beset by constant challenges which would have driven most away from any ideas of pursuing such an ideal. His mother died when he was 6 and he had to learn music without his father’s knowledge, as his father wanted him to become a wrestler.
These challenges are depicted in a 2013 documentary about his life which was released in India and called ‘Bansuri Guru’, two words that sum up a life’s journey in the quest for excellence, mastering a passion and preparing to leave a legacy for future generations. It is a story of a man’s triumph against odds to achieve that one thing closest to him, his perseverance to excel and his destiny to master his passion.
He was an All India Radio musician (in his 20s) from 1958 to 1961 and then in his 30s he became involved in the Hindi film industry up to 1968. He has composed music for many Indian films, probably the most famous being the 1981 film “Silsila” which he collaborated on with Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma (they became known as Shiv-Hari duo) which went on to become a platinum-selling disc in India. There was a turning point after his time in the film industry when he fully concentrated on classical music and began his search for a Guru. By the 1970s Chaurasia was already a much sought after soloist on the world stage.
In 1973, George Harrison was producing Ravi Shankar’s Shankar Family and Friends which would be released on his own Dark Horse Records label in 1974. Chaurasia travelled to the A&M studios in LA to play flute on the album. He would shortly after travel to England for another Harrison produced Shankar album – Music Festival from India (1974). In Ravi Shakar’s autobiography Raga Mala, George Harrison recalls how he had put up all the musicians in the Imperial Hotel in Henley and he had them picked up in an ex-John and Yoko Mercedes Benz 600 stretch limo to be brought to his house. “It was funny: the big white car with blacked-out windows would pull up, the doors would open, and all these amazing Indians would get out! It was great!”
Ravi Shankar’s Music Festival from India then went on a world tour, Chaurasia was among the sixteen musicians who travelled in a Boeing 707 which Harrison had arranged, which Shankar recalls that it was ‘complete with a big Aum painted on the outside, and the inside rearranged so that the front first class area was a floor with carpets and throw cushions, like a Maharajah’s lounge’.
Chaurasia also dabbled in experimentation. His platinum disc Eternity (1985) incorporated many western elements fusing classical tabla and bansuri playing with synths and drum machines.
He has also has jammed with many western artists (especially in jazz circles) such as English guitarist, bandleader and composer John McLaughlin, Norwegian jazz saxophonist Jan Garbarek, American jazz guitarist Larry Coryell, Brazilian composer, guitarist and pianist Egberto Gismonti and many others.
Today, he continues to surge forward and while he still maintains globetrotting schedules he balances his time to fulfil his dream of passing on a legacy to the next generation, through his Vrindaban Gurukul one of which is in Mumbai and the other in Bhubaneswar in Odisha.