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George Harrison-Ravi Shankar Concert for Bangladesh: Where history was made in music
By the time the concert took place, it is estimated that millions of Bangladeshi refugees had fled the country and crossed over into India.
Before there was Live Aid or any other benefit/charity concert, former Beatles guitarist George Harrison and friends took over the Madison Square in New York for Bangladesh. The country had just come out fresh from the Liberation War, and was reeling under a refugee crisis, poverty and mass hunger among others.
As Bangladesh marks 50 years of independence after the 1971 war, we take a look at what can easily be called the first-of-its kind charity concert that paved the way for a model that is well-known today in the world of music.
In August 1971, former Beatles’ guitarist George Harrison, his good friend Pandit Ravi Shankar from India and other well-known musicians took to stage in New York for The Concert for Bangladesh.
That musical event is remembered even today as a path-breaker as it not only raised international awareness but organised a relief fund for refugees from East Pakistan, following the Bangladesh Liberation War. By the time the concert took place, it is estimated that millions of Bangladeshi refugees had fled the country and crossed over into India.
The magnanimous first-ever benefit concert featured performers like George Harrison, fellow ex-Beatle Ringo Starr, as well as Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, Leon Russell and the band Badfinger. It also featured Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan – both of whom had ancestral roots in Bangladesh. In fact, it was the Indian musician Ravi Shankar who had highlighted the issue of displacement, hunger and misery among the people of the newly independent nation to George Harrison, who then took it upon himself to use his platform and popularity to raise awareness about the plight of the people of Bangladesh.
Harrison performed a special song he wrote for the occasion, also titled ‘Bangla Desh’ which interestingly featured Ravi Shankar’s plea to him for assistance, as the lyrics go "My friend came to me with sadness in his eyes / Told me that he wanted help before his country dies".
Years later, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan recognised the basic human aspect behind the cause.
The concert, with gigs that experimented with a fusion of Western music and Indian classical music, was attended by a total of 40,000 people, under the auspices of UNICEF. It managed to raise over $250,000.
The event is known as George Harrison’s first live appearance before a paying audience since the Beatles quit touring in August 1966.