Angeleno Brings Indian Classical Music To The Forefront
The mass of dull, windowless practice rooms in the Schoenberg Music Building at UCLA are a maze of tiny boxes. But in one of
They are led by a completely new kind of musician: South Indian classical vocalist and fusion composer Aditya Prakash.
Prakash, 23, has made a name for himself in the elite world of South Indian classical, or Carnatic, music, despite being born and raised in the U.S. Since the age of 16 he has been performing internationally at venues like Carnegie Hall alongside such renowned musicians as sitar maestro Ravi Shankar.
“I used to hear music all the time, but I wouldn’t notice it or show an interest in it,” Prakash said, remembering the musicians who frequented his childhood home as they rehearsed with his mother, who runs a classical Indian dance school. “But just being in that environment, I kind of soaked it up.”
When his parents noticed that Prakash was fast in picking up on the melodies of classical Indian music, they decided to train him formally. From the age of eight Prakash split his time between vocal teachers in the U.S. and in India, performing solo from the age of 12.
With one foot in the demanding world of classical Indian music and another in traditional American grade school, Prakash grew up with his fair share of identity crises.
“At heart I’m always an L.A. kid. When I was growing up… because it was so different doing South Indian music, I was kind of a little shy about telling all my friends about it” Prakash said. “At one point I was kind of wishing I did something Western too so I fit in.”
More than a decade later Prakash has no interest in fitting in.
A case in point is his latest work, Sampurna, to debut on Oct. 9 as part of the World Festival of Sacred Music. Prakash, who completed his bachelor’s degree in ethnomusicology at UCLA in 2011, has teamed up with fellow Bruins of the jazz group Le J Trio to create a new sound for the show.
“We tend to sort of fragment different cultures and music, when things can combine really well and you can create really beautiful music from different cultures,” Prakash said.
Though Le J Trio works primarily in jazz and other forms of Western music, founder Julian Le said he was thrilled to have someone of Prakash’s background and skill on board.
“We’re trying to hold onto a lot of Aditya’s tradition, and fuse it with our style. The result is that we get something completely different,” Le said. “We love it.”
Still, mashing musical genres is risky business. Abhiman Kaushal, assistant adjunct professor in ethnomusicology at UCLA, says that attempts at cross-genre collaboration are often in danger of lacking clear purpose and mutual understanding.
“Collaboration is bound to happen, that’s the way the world is turning. But the point is to try to feel the culture behind music for exchange to become genuine,” Kaushal said. “In Aditya’s case it’s quite effective.”
Indian classical music and jazz have much more in common structurally than one would imagine, Prakash said.
“We found a lot of similarities between the styles …there is so much room to improvise and figure out ways to make our music work together, to be compatible, without really sacrificing the aesthetic quality of the music,” Prakash said.
It is precisely this kind of intercultural collaboration that the World Festival of Sacred Music, which is hosting a variety of performance at venues across Los Angeles, aims to promote, according to Philip Graulty, director of programs for the festival.
“The festival is a testament to the diversity found in our city, in that way we try to promote local artists who are doing unique things in L.A. Aditya fits into that mold perfectly,” Graulty said.
The east-meets-west dynamic that has been a part of Prakash’s life from childhood invariably colors the work he does now, and he thinks he is the better for it.
“At first I felt out of place, that I wasn’t really Indian because I’m American, and I’m not really American because I’m Indian, but now I really have the best of both worlds,” Prakash said.
The fusion of those two worlds is clearly working-- Sampurna is set to open to a full house.
Reach contributor Shweta Saraswat here.