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Aditya Prakash: Music is critical

Photo courtesy of Soumya Bhattacharjee

I think music is critical in these times. Not just music for entertainment, but music to help us become more introspective- Aditya Prakash

Recently, The Park Hotels presented its ninth edition of The Park’s New Festival, Curated by Prakriti Foundation, this contemporary festival brings together a melting pot of talent for an unforgettable cultural medley. One of the major attractions of this festival was ‘THE COLLIDING WORLDS PROJECT’. It was a 90-minute musical journey which engaged the viewer in an exciting musical dialogue between Indian classical and folk, jazz and hip-hop by Aditya Prakash Ensemble, a Los Angeles based music group made up of some of the most exciting and dynamic jazz and Indian classical musicians-Aditya Prakash on vocals, Julian Le on Piano, Praveen Kumar on Percussion, Jonah Levine on Trombone and Keybass, Mahesh Swamy on Bansuri and Percussion and Jake Jamieson on Drums. Abhijit Ganguly spoke to Aditya Prakash before his performance at THE Park, Kolkata.

You studied Ethnomusicology at UCLA which is a frontier place for creative arts, music etc, so, was this a conscious effort for you to find and blend with the roots two different traditions namely Carnatic music and Jazz?

Yes, UCLA was amazing environment which fostered creativity and open-mindedness. I was introduced to many different styles of music, not just jazz. I did not make a conscious decision to blend those two styles, I just happened to make friends with some amazing musicians and we began making music together and whatever came out of it was a product of a natural curiosity to know more about each others music. You have tried to delve into the 'bhava' invoking the dynamic spiritual energy through your songs and how does that connect with the subtle improvisations of jazz? Are we into a new conscious ambiance through this music?

Well, the spiritual energy is boundless, it is not only related to Indian and classical, it is universal and can be invoked through any medium. We use many influences, its not just jazz or carnatic. Even a beautiful melody played by a street performer is enough to spark inspiration to create a song. Improvisation is in different forms, in the more obvious form- which you hear when we are doing interplay and taking solos. Then within the composition itself we have room to improvise. I can sing a line slightly differently, or the piano player can deviate from the chord progression, or the drummer can add his own touch to the rhythm. Improvisation only can enhance the spiritual energy, because improvisation comes from the creative spiritual place within us.

In your first album The Hidden you have brought out the spiritual essence of Meerabai,Saint Jnyaneshwar through the composition of music and songs putting that on a new social context at a time in the world where we are splitting apart by climate change, economic and political crisis. How do you see the role played by the listeners of your music? I think music is critical in these times. Not just music for entertainment, but music to help us become more introspective. If my music can transport people away from the worries and struggles that the world throws, at least for a short time, then I am grateful. If music can help people silence their mind from racing thoughts, then that is amazing. If my music can spark the interest in the poetry of these great Spiritual Mystics then that is the greatest achievement for me!

You have been inspired by Dave Brubeck's music, tell us how you shifted to listening and liking jazz and what were the initial effects it had on your mind?

Dave Brubecks song “Take Five” was one of the first songs I heard in jazz. It created such a whirlwind of emotions and excitement when I first heard it. Beautiful melodies, with intricate rhythm. It inspired me to write the Hidden, the title track from our album. Just one melodic idea from his song sparked off my creativity. Jazz music is still very difficult for me to grasp my head around, but I think it challenges me to think and understand the complicated progression and nature of improvisation.

Is your creative compositions in blending two traditions a spontaneous process or you conceive this intellectually and then put that into a rigorous discipline to create the structures of this new music?

It is not just blending 2 traditions, it is blending any musical sound or inspiration that has been a part of my life (whether it be a melody from an African song or from a pop song or from a Japanese Koto piece). And the process is very spontaneous. I cannot think of how it happens. Compositional ideas come to me when I least expect, sometimes on the airplane, sometimes right before falling asleep. Sometimes I intellectually think about composing and ideas will come, but most of the time they don’t. It usually is a very spontaneous process. If there is one place where you will feel inspired to perform, what will be that place?

Any place that has a quiet and introspective ambience. I love performing in churches or cathedrals. The acoustics are beautiful! My goal is to be inspired even in the busy streets, even if there is chaos outside, internally I would always like to be inspired and in that creative mood! That is my goal and I practice it through music.

Contributing Writer, Abhijit Ganguly, is an extensively published journalist based in Kolkata, India. His stories cover the global arts scene and the fusion arts movement with the culture and art of India. Ganguly’s work includes personal interviews with world renowned dance troupes, film directors, fine artists, sculptors, as well as jazz, hip hop and classical musicians. He is known for presenting an inside view of the artist's craft and what motivates their creativity. Ganguly also delves into the artist's take on what a young person in Kolkata can learn from each artist, so that the youth of the city can learn to master these skills.

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