Straddling Scales

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Marrying two traditions to see what comes of it is as risky as it is interesting. Especially when they both carry the weight of history — such as Carnatic music and jazz. With Aditya Prakash Ensemble, a young NRI Carnatic musician, who splits his time between India and the U.S., has successfully managed to bring the two forms together. Aditya Prakash, who studied Ethnomusicology at UCLA, took jazz lessons. That’s when the idea of a jugal bandhi of the two genres came up.

A mixed group

“The Ensemble is a mix of all my friends and classmates from college, and they all asked me join in during informal jazz sessions,” Aditya says. The group of 10 musicians has been performing for about three years now in the U.S., and officially as an Ensemble, for two years. “Sometimes we even perform as a group of four to six musicians,” Aditya Prakash explains.

The Ensemble feature vocals, two saxophones, one trombone, a piano, bass guitar, Latin percussions, Carnatic violin and a Brazilian folk guitar. “Sometimes we have a tabla too,” he adds. After a few gigs at spaces where other members of the band performed regularly, the Ensemble found recognition when it performed at the World Festival of Sacred Music.

“I listened to jazz only after joining college. It was hard for me to grasp it because the harmonic motions of jazz are intense and complicated. For us, in Carnatic music, the emphasis is on ‘bhava’. In a Carnatic composition, the sa remains constant but there are 10 different sa-s and ri-s in jazz and that’s a challenge I welcomed,” says Aditya, who enjoys the music of jazz legends such as Dave Brubeck. “The Ensemble is doing really well in the U.S., and I am happy with my concerts in India. But right now I feel as if I am leading a double life; I would like to strike a balance between the two. That’s what I am working on now,” he adds. Aditya has Carnatic concerts lined up in Coimbatore, Mumbai and Bengaluru over the next few weeks.

The Ensemble’s first album The Hidden sees Aditya explore the meanings of spiritual compositions by Meerabai, Gnaneshwar and others. Dancer Mythili Prakash (Aditya’s sister) and group will work on a theatrical production with The Hidden’s music. “We have one show in Hollywood and are working out the rest of the details,” he says. Of the others in his groups, Aditya adds, “They are all musicians and have their own groups with which they perform.”