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As his guitar gently slides

Prakash Sontakke

Prakash Sontakke  

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This year’s Grammy winner for New Age music had a secret ingredient: a Hawaiian guitarist from Bangalore called Prakash Sontakke

Even as the world wakes up slowly to the myriad gentle layers of love in the album ‘Winds of Samsara’, which won the Grammy 2015 for Best New Age Album, the Bangalore-based musician who helped kindle these emotions thanks Ricky Kej for giving him the freedom that allowed the album to happen. “Ricky has always been very open to ideas and gives creative freedom to artistes, which helps bring out more flavour,” says India’s leading slide guitarist Prakash Sontakke, adding, “It is very exciting to work this way and I compare this creative inclusiveness to the art of cooking, where every ingredient is a surprise and helps tremendously in bettering the flavour of the dish. If the ingredients are powerful, the dish has to turn out beautifully. As did ‘Winds of Samsara’.”



Nirmala Govindarajan


Sontakke lent hand, head and voice to help bag the Grammy for the album. “I played my slide for the tracks ‘Crystal Moon’ and ‘Longing’. I composed the scores for ‘Mahatma’ and ‘Eyes of Wonder’ along with Kej, and also sang the alaaps and chorus in ‘Raag Yaman’ for these tracks. I’ve sung a traditional thumri, ‘Lagay Tosay Naina’, for the track ‘Eyes of Wonder’,” he says.

Sontakke was accorded the Sangeet Chakravarti in Kota, Rajasthan, this November, an addition to his treasury of awards. “When the audience asked for my favourite composition in ‘Raag Charukeshi’ in Kota, I realised that the world has become a much smaller place than what we understand it to be,” he says.

As geographical boundaries merge, it’s been a year of rare opportunities for the slide guitarist, as he returned home from Reunion Islands after performing at the Cine Concerts with Jeremy Labelle. “The Cine Concerts requires musicians to perform live in front of a video screen, with a movie showing and its audio silent. It requires a great deal of co-ordination and spontaneity from the artistes. The live performance is worth watching and is an experience in itself,” says Sontakke, adding, “Jeremy Labelle is an acclaimed electronic musician, producer and composer-director from the Reunion Islands. We met through the Alliance Francaise and have been working on a performance in sync for the woman-oriented Hindi film Duvidha by Mani Kaul.”

As creativity meets the liberation to express, Sontakke is preparing for the upcoming guitar festival in Kolkata. “Legendry guitarist Pt. Debashish Bhattacharya curates this festival every year and I religiously participate with performances and lecture demonstrations. For the January 2016 edition, I am working on the Pilgrimage of Slide, to share the finer nuances of the instrument,” he says.

When Sontakke is not performing, he is listening to other musicians. “I am currently fascinated by a young band called Symphonic Eternity, who in my mind are going to give heavy metal an altogether new definition. I also teach music at Octavium and am part of the Advisory Board of the Shankar Mahadevan Academy for Online Learning,” he says.

Born to Dr. R.B. Sontakke, a double doctorate in vocal and violin and Dr. Mani Sontakke, who held Masters degrees in at least 12 instruments, Sontakke was especially smitten by the Hawaiian or slide guitar in his childhood. “My love for this instrument doubled when I saw Pink Floyd produce authentic rock music while I was still playing raagas on it. This intrigued me to explore more musical styles. The slide guitar has always been a quiet yet powerful presence in the Indian classical music scenario. I was inspired my PhD paper on how this instrument has a unique position in Hindustani classical music today.”

Albeit trained in the classical form, Sontakke is experimental and has worked on several compositions with renowned artists and bands including Moonarra from Bengaluru, Thomas Stronen and Iain Ballamy from Norway and England, and Figura from Denmark. Prakash has performed jugalbandis with an eclectic range of musicians, including Anoop Jalota, Mahesh Vinayakram, Anil Srinivasan, Shafiq Khan, Faiyyaz Khan, Pushpa Kashinath, Jayateerth Mevundi, Praveen Godkhindi, Debashish Bhattacharya, Shankar Mahadevan and more. He has played progressive electronic jazz with Eraldo Bernochchi from Italy, pop with Narada Michael Walden, who was Michael Jackson’s drummer, and Peruvian musician Ciro Hurtado.

“For any combination to be successful, it is important to listen to what the other person has to say. A musical combination that stirs the listener works pretty much like a good conversation,” says Sontakke. He is now busy getting ready for his 2016 release, the album ‘Perception’, a combined one with Eraldo Bernochchi, and for part two of his Reunion tour.

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Printable version | Mar 25, 2019 7:49:02 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/nirmala-govindarajan-talks-with-indias-leading-slide-guitarist-prakash-sontakke/article7976348.ece

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