Interview Multi-intrumentalist Prem Joshua says you cannot just mix music, referring to “terrible stuff” that passes for fusion these days
“The world of music needs the Brahmas, Shivas and the Vishnus. You need those who preserve old styles, those who break tradition, and those who have the courage to try something new with it; the daring ones are the most important because music should move on, it should evolve. And fusion has always been on the daring side,” explains Prem Joshua upon being asked about his unique brand of music he calls ‘Indo-fusion’. He was in Hyderabad along with his band for a performance. Even that term doesn’t satisfy the Germany-born musician who has been performing music that has its roots in the Indian Classical tradition.
“It’s not a very exciting term but it indicates our inspiration and the fusion of cultures we represent. Our music has its roots in raag and we take it to different places with influences from rock, jazz, African and Middle Eastern folk and so on.”
The Prem Joshua Band — Prem Joshua, Chintan Relenberg, Raul Sengupta, Satgyan Fukuda and Runa Rizvi — which has been playing together for over six years now is in itself a perfect representation of their sound — a combination of the sounds from the sitar, flute, tabla, keyboards, bass guitar, vocals and more.
World citizens of music
“But when we get on stage we are not Indian, German or Japanese. Our sound is a mix of so many elements that we somehow become world citizens.” What does it take for all these elements to come together? Like most things in Joshua’s life, the compositions he creates ‘just happen’. “Of course a lot of thought goes into how you arrange the song but the initial spark is intuitive,” he informs. “But you cannot just mix!” he says referring to the “terrible stuff” that passes for fusion these days. “Fusion is a form of art and it means you have to respect, understand and study the elements you are trying to fuse.”
Joshua has been playing music since he was a child. His tryst with Indian music began when he listened to a record of Pandit Ravi Shankar. “I was 16 and heavily into rock and jazz but when I heard the track, it had such an impact on me that I kept listening to it and finally decided I need to go experience the culture that creates this music,” he explains, his eyes lighting up when he speaks of Pandit Ravi Shankar.
His own taste in music is eclectic: “I listen to everything. There is good and bad music in all genres. But I don’t spend much time listening to music because as a musician, silence is just as important to me.”
“The moment a musician stops learning, something is finished. When I listen to the great masters and the heights they can soar, I feel I am so far away from that. I wish I could play better and understand more. This can be discouraging at times but the desire to learn, delve deeper and keep practicing is very strongly there.”
In his jeans and kurta, sporting a ring of silver and turquoise Joshua is as Indian as his adopted first name, ‘Prem’.
Has he imbibed more than the country’s rich musical heritage?
“To dedicate one’s life to music and then to be on the move for it, you have to make a clear decision as to what you want. It means other parts of your life may not be lived but I have made the decision and have no complaints.”
Fusion is a form of art and it means you have to respect, understand and study the elements you are trying to fuse