Indian American Aditya Prakash is known as a young Carnatic classical music virtuoso with an emotive voice.
Growing up surrounded by various art forms in the backdrop of his mother's Bharatnatyam school in Los Angeles, and with his father’s support, Aditya took to mridangam and vocals, soon finding stages in India and the United States.
"I would wake up to hearing rhythmic foot-slapping. I would wake up to rehearsals in our living room. I was just used to the sounds all the time. There would never be silence in our house. It was always filled with music, dance, rhythms," he tells The Quint.
Performing With Pt Ravi Shankar & Breaking the Wall Between His Identities
Spotted by late Pandit Ravi Shankar, then high schooler Aditya became the youngest musician to tour and perform with the sitar maestro, at venues such as Hollywood Bowl, Carnegie Hall, etc.
Speaking about his growing-up years in California when he was a rare South Asian at school, Aditya tells us he was afraid of being too different, keeping his Indian music identity and American identity separate, and how being accepted to tour with the maestro changed all that.
"My desi friends and I felt like outsiders. We wanted to fit in, and felt embarrassed about our Indian culture when we were in an American social setting. I was embarrassed to share Carnatic music with my friends. The few times I did, they would say 'this is weird, what is this'. I did want to share this with my friends or western audiences. There was a wall built between my identities."
"When I was 13, 14, or 15, Pandit Ravi Shankar – I used to call him Guruji – lived in Encinitas, California, which is not far from Los Angeles. He really encourages artists. When I was 15, he called my parents and asked them if I could prepare a set of 20-30 minutes at his house. When I went there, I got nervous, there were quite a lot of people, some legendary Hindustan musicians, some American people, a really diverse audience. But he (Ravi Shankar) was so engaging, warm, and humble," he says.
Aditya Prakash Ensemble – Coming Together of Jazz and Carnatic Music
In college at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Aditya founded the Aditya Prakash Ensemble with his friends – a group that frames his emotive Carnatic vocal style around jazz instrumentation.
His time at UCLA studying music and founding his ensemble became the perfect vehicle to straddle two deep music cultures.
"My roommates and best friends at the time were Jazz musicians. We found a lot of similarities in the ideologies. Naturally, we started practising together and started trying things, and we found such a special space which came out with improvisation with both forms of music – Jazz and Carnatic."Aditya Prakash
"That experience, when I was able to perform at a Jazz Club with my own music and see my friends having a great time and connecting to the music, it was a whole new high for me; my identities were getting closer. I was becoming more proud to share my music," he adds.
"I was starting to accept that I can be cool and a classical musician."
Making Sense of the Volatile World Through His Music
Aditya has processed the uncertainties of the pandemic, combined with rage and political rhetoric in the US and India, contemplating and composing, allowing the turmoil to enter his composition, ‘Battlefield’.
"Music is the centre of my life. So whenever I'm around music, I only see the beautiful and the uplifting. But at the same time, when I turn on the news, it's only chaos, tension, and division. It was my privilege that I turn a blind eye to these issues. That kind of hypocrisy disturbed me, as well as the hypocrisy of the leaders and the power politics of both countries I call home – the USA and India. That got me to question the idea of beauty in music."
What Next for the Virtuoso?
Aditya now spends his time creating music between Los Angeles and Chennai and continues to perform with artists like Akram Khan, Karsh Kale, Anoushka Shankar, etc. He has enthralled audiences on stages in numerous countries and festivals, and can be heard on all major streaming platforms.
He released 'Lord of the Cave' in 2021 and 'Virahe' in January 2022 and is now working on a new album with Tigran Hamasyan.
His production 'Home' for Singapore-based Carnatic vocalist Sushma Soma, releasing on 8 April, is based on the theme of humans' relationship with nature. Aditya's forthcoming four-city US tour is to commence this spring, from 23 April to 28 May.
(Savita Patel is a San Francisco Bay Area-based journalist and producer. She reports on Indian diaspora, India-US ties, geopolitics, technology, public health, and environment. She tweets at @SsavitaPatel.)