Conversations with Prasanna
Prasanna is a guitarist of a unique pedigree. An ex-Naval architect, he pursued his passion of playing the six-string with great dedication. A Berklee alumnus, where he concentrated on Western Classical music, he has developed a style that takes him in very many directions at once. He has wrapped together a great fusion of South Indian Carnatic music and rhythms with all the wonderful elements of Western Music to produce a cohesive package. Abstract Logix was lucky enough to have a few words with this up and coming star.
AL: HOW WERE YOU INTRODUCED TO MUSIC?
P: My first exposure to music was Indian film music, Tamil film music to be specific. Illayaraja was one of the greatest influences. When I was about 11, I was playing Indian film music and somewhere along the line, I started to learn other stuff. I studied western music theory and western classical music on my own and at the same time my teacher was teaching me Carnatic music. My sister was learning the VEENA and I would always listen to her. My mother saw my interest and had an instinct that I could play the guitar. I have had such great support from my family all over the years that it made everything so much easier. I grew up in Madras, India, where you are expected to learn for many years and then perform. At least that?s what the tradition goes…. But the path that I pursued was slightly different. I learned all the preparatory material right away and was giving professional concerts at a very young age. I grew out of Indian film music, because you can do so much in Hindi film music…(laughingly). Before I knew, I was playing rock music. It felt natural. That opened up a load of things for me. I was playing all over India and winning a lot of semi rock competitions and in the course of time I became familiar in the college circuit. People thought I only played rock music but that was not the complete story. I pursued learning carnatic traditional music as well. After graduating high school, I went to do a degree in naval architecture at IIT but I kept playing and performing. I heavily got in to the blues, specifically delta blues- anything from Robert Johnson to Muddy Waters. I had perfect pitch from the beginning so that really helped in some sense. With time, I was logically bought into jazz. I was surprised by the sounds and techniques of playing jazz and noticed an amazing similarity with South Indian music. I got heavily into John Coltrane and Miles Davis and felt that was the thing I wanted to do. I came to the United States in 1994, and after a small stint with a software company in Michigan, I decided to follow my passion and instincts and joined Berklee College of Music. I just had a great time, learned a lot. I started to interact with a lot of musicians from the west. I noticed that not a lot of folks were familiar with the Carnatic tradition of Music. They were all familiar with North Indian styles and people like Ravi Shankar and Shakti. I thought that I had to do something about it. I felt responsible and realized that it was a mission to introduce strangers to this musical form. My work in carnatic music went through metamorphosis and the responsibilities towards the art grew by leaps and bounds. People started to hear what I was doing and were deeply interested. I would play Miles Davis, but with my style, which probably had not been played before. During my stay in Berklee, I learned classical and chamber music and started to compose myself. But my commitment towards carnatic music continued. I started to realize the idioms of the music and how it related to western classical forms and how they were all co related. Things started to light up in my head. I started to get a lot of students of all musical interests that came up to me and asked how they could do what I was doing to relate it to their music. People would come and asked me how I would do a Charlie Parker piece and they seemed to be quite surprised. Writing became very important and I seriously got into composing. Things started to fall into place. It felt that everything was meant to be and I have had a great time in this journey and hopefully continues for a very long time.
AL: YOU HAVE SOME DIFFERENT GROUPS.
P: I perform solo Carnatic classical concerts as well as with Alphonso Johnson and Airto Moreira with the band called Quantum. I have done a bunch of shows in the past, everywhere from Madras to Anchorage! In fact I was the first Indian musician to perform in Alaska, which was quite humbling. I will be performing this fall with Victor Wooten, which is sure to be quite interesting. I am always interested to play with any one that has good musical ideas and open minded to what I am doing. In fact I have seen a growth in Carnatic music worldwide. Definitely, John Mclaughlin has created worldwide interest in this musical realm, but I would like to take it to a deeper level. I know that Shawn Lane has been doing something in these lines and would actually like to see where he is coming from. The great thing is when others start to do this, it gives a certain validity.
AL: WHAT IS THE AKAMOON PROJECT?
P: They are a Belgian group and I first met them when came to India to perform. They were very eclectic and at the same time doing very complex stuff. Some of them were already interacting with South Indian musicians. It was not till later that I got back in touch with them and they were looking to do this guitar thing where they were thinking of having three guitar players. They had already made up their mind about me and the great jazz guitar player from New York, David Gilmore. The music is very difficult and fascinating. I realize how much that music connects to the music of South India. I am excited to perform with them this year at North Sea Jazz Festival and very proud to be associated with them.
AL: WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON CURRENTLY?
P: I just finished recording a new album. I will be performing with Aka Moon and Joe Lovano at the North Sea Jazz Festival this year, the new record is actually quite different than any of my work. I felt like that I had to attempt this sound. There is a lot of electronic production, synthesis and trance sound, it is real funky. There are even some ancient 19th century SWAHILI poems. It has impressions of Celtic and African music. It is also the first time that I played some kanjeera on the record. I am planning to do another record towards the end of the year with some of my friends over the years like Alphonso Johnson and a bunch of other jazz musicians. The thing is no matter what I do, the output has to be prolific. I will also be working on an instructional video aimed more towards a jazz-rock audience showing them what I do and how they might want to utilize it in their work. And maybe one of these days, I can finish composing my orchestra piece. Just so little time and so much to do.