Robbie Basho was an American acoustic guitarist, pianist and singer born in Baltimore, Maryland. After playing the euphonium as a child and teenager, Robbie took up the acoustic guitar when he was studying at the University of Maryland, College Park. At this time he also became very interested in non-Western spirituality and music such as those from Japan, Iran and India as well as those from the Native American traditions. This led to Basho changing his name from his birthname Robinson to match the Japanese poet, Matsuo Basho, the master of the haiku poetry form.
After listening to Ravi Shankar, a very famous Sitar musician of Indian classical music a few years after buying his first guitar, Basho was greatly inspired to combine the musical traditions of Western acoustic guitar and the Indian classical Raga. The raga refers to a particular strand of Indian music. Rather than being a composed note-for-note piece of music, the raga provides a set of rules, a structure for improvisation. Various melodic guides are provided to the player who then responds and interprets them. This of course contrasts greatly with the Western classical tradition in which compositions are pre-determined.
Basho had the chance to train under Ali Akbar Khan, a virtuoso in the Sarod instrument from Bengal who helped to popularise the Raga in the USA. Basho played on a 12-string guitar in order to imitate the sonic possibilities of the Sarod and the other stringed instruments in Indian classical music. Along with John Fahey and others, Robbie Basho contributed to making the acoustic Western guitar a contender to be recognised as a classical instrument. At the same time, he also became known as the Godfather of American Raga.
‘I don’t try to follow the masters; I try to ask the same questions they asked.’
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- GRC4 #32
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