Singer Aditya Prakash’s latest album is an outcome of his musical influences and introspection
In his musical evolution, vocalist Aditya Prakash has been influenced by two artistes. While he was fortunate to tour and perform with sitar maestro Pt. Ravi Shankar when he was just 16, Carnatic singer T.M. Krishna has had a deep impact on his thinking. This dual inspiration has played a role in Aditya’s latest project, the seven-track album ‘Isolashun’, out on New Amsterdam Records. After making a mark with The Aditya Prakash Ensemble, which was a dialogue between Carnatic music and jazz, he once again pushes the boundaries on his debut solo recording. Says the Los Angeles-based Carnatic singer, “It is a self-critique album that explores the tension in dual identity and questions notions of beauty tied to the ‘classical’ aesthetic.”
Aditya says the starting point for the album was the pandemic. “It brought me solitude as an artiste, with my engagements cancelled, me being forced to stay in one place, unmotivated and uninspired. The political happenings in my two homes, India and the U.S., made me aware of the one-sidedness of history that we are taught since childhood, in school and in our learning of the ‘classical’ art forms.”
Songs and strings
With this backdrop, ‘Isolashun’ emerged from Aditya’s garage studio. The singer has composed and arranged the tracks, with contribution by Singapore-based singer Sushma Soma on one song. Two tunes have already been released in the build-up. The title piece, which features veena player Guhan Venkataraman and violinist Arun Ramamurthi, uses Aditya’s vocals to explore a sonic experience that straddles the line between music and noise. The second song, ‘3 AM’, reflects emotional turmoil.
The music album is only one part of ‘Isolashun’. The overall roll-out plan includes a podcast series, a short film for the track ‘Insirgents’ directed by Akram Khan, and a live one-person performance set to premiere next year at the UCLA Center for Art Of Performance.
‘Isolashun’ is the latest milestone in a journey that began while growing up in an artistic family in Los Angeles. Aditya’s mother ran a Bharatnatyam school, and he got exposed to Carnatic music since early childhood. However, in the desire to feel included, he tried to keep his music and Indian cultural identity separate from his American persona. His passion for Carnatic music made him spend vacations visiting Chennai and learning the rudiments.
The turning point
The turning point came when Pt. Ravi Shankar spotted him, and invited him to do a 30-minute set at his home. One thing led to another, and soon, Aditya accompanied the maestro on a tour of the U.S. and Canada in 2005-2006, performing at prestigious venues like Carnegie Hall, Hollywood Bowl and Disney Concert Hall. “Pt. Ravi Shankar encouraged me to be curious, to experiment, and to pick up different things. He expanded my musical language, my musical horizons. I noticed how he was curious about any melody, Indian or western, classical, jazz or anything, wanting to know more,” says the singer.
Aditya says he learnt a lot from his mentor T.M. Krishna too. “He taught me how to practise, advising me not to do it as though I was preparing for a concert. He told me to set time aside to practise with an explorative spirit. He taught me to define what Carnatic music is, helping me to find a deeper, personal connection with the music. His book A Southern Music elucidates the socio-political history of Carnatic music, which I didn’t know.”
Other artistes who have played a crucial role in his journey are violinist R.K. Shriramkumar and contemporary dancer-choreographer Akram Khan. He says, “Along with Krishna, Shriramkumar helped me reset my focus and go back to my passion for Carnatic music at a time when I felt I had lost my sense of direction. I met Akram while on tour of India and he invited me to be the vocalist and collaborator for his final solo ‘Xenos’. Working with him sparked a search within me to find a more authentic voice and decolonise my musical choices.”
Two projects that Aditya considers extremely satisfying are his work with the Aditya Prakash Ensemble and his role as a producer for Sushma Soma’s album ‘Home’. “The Aditya Prakash Ensemble was formed in 2010 . I met many incredible jazz musicians and we were enamoured by each other’s styles. We did a few informal jam sessions, and eventually formed a band. We’ve released three albums ‘The Hidden’, ‘Mara’ and ‘Diaspora Kid’, besides touring India, the U.S. and South-East Asia.”
Aditya Prakash says that within his generation of musicians, there’s more acceptance to new sounds. “People are opening up the space of what Carnatic music is. To me, when music makes you feel deep and visceral, that’s all I care about,” says Aditya.