'Nothing unites better than music': ancient cultures collide on Australian stages


A classical fusion of east and west is what Australian audiences are being treated to this month, as one of India’s finest sitar soloists tours the country.

The ancient sitar instrument originally crossed cultural boundaries when it was used by The Beatles during the 1960s.

Now, it’s hoped the instrument will again bring cultures and countries together, as part of an Indian exhibition featuring sitar soloist Shubhendra Rao.

For the past 35 years, Mr Rao has been sharing the traditional string instrument with the world.

He learned the craft from famed Indian musician, Ravi Shankar, who collaborated with many big names including The Beatles.

He is trying to bring new meaning to classical music and attract different audiences around the world.

“At the end of the day every musician wants to be portraying himself so it’s an expression," he said,

"Whatever I play is an expression of myself."

For the past two weeks Mr Rao has been teaching the Aboriginal community of Alice Springs the art of Indian classical music with the help of his wife Saskia Rao de Haas, who is a cellist.

“Nothing unites better than music, it's a language that anyone can understand and appreciate,” he said.

The event is part of the Desert Song Festival, as the country celebrates the Confluence Festival of India in Australia, a showcase of India’s artistic cultures and traditions.

Ms Rao de Haas, who invented the Indian cello, said the experience was incredible.

“We chanted Om with them and told them about the sacred meaning of it and they immediately immediately took to it," she said.

Ms Rao called her instrument the Indian cello because it had five playing stings and "beautiful sympathetic strings" that resonate whenever she played them.

“I think cultural diplomacy helps build relations that break barriers or any pre-conceived barriers so you know business I'm sure is going to get better,” Mr Rao said.

Confluence Festival of India will tour around the country until November 8.

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