Playing them all with flair

From being whispered in the world fusion music circles to global acclaim and adulation, multi-instrumentalist and composer Prem Joshua remains essentially unruffled. The German born Joshua has been pushing the edges of global fusion over the years resulting in several critically-acclaimed albums, collaborations and hundreds of performances.

Born to musically-inclined parents, Prem Joshua started playing the flute at the age of five. Talking about whether his early interest in music was genetic or spontaneous, he says he would consider a third possibility of re-incarnation. “Maybe I was a musician in my last lives. This might explain my fascination for music, and why a German-born man especially wants to learn the Indian sitar and bansuri.”

The young Joshua started performing in various rock, jazz and fusion bands as a flute and saxophone player, always searching for new ways of expressing his music.
Music across borders

At the age of 18, he felt a musical discontent. That combined with his search for the spiritual, inevitably moved him toward India. Talking about his travel to India, he says, “One attribute of young age is openness and fearlessness. When I travelled to India from Europe through countries like Greece, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, I played my flute everywhere, nobody could ignore me, it was easy to get in touch with many musicians. We couldn’t communicate through words, but music has its own language that can be understood by everybody. These early meetings with so many musicians have taught me that music can bring cultures together.”

He finally landed in India in 1977 when he was 20. Reminiscing about India of those days, he says, “India was still an ancient country. Although I was far away from my roots, I immediately loved India. I had a strange sensation of coming home, of familiarity. One of the first things I did in India was buying a sitar. Little did I know then that Indian music would become my main focus in life. Little did I also know that I’d be spending half my life in India until today.”

He was influenced spiritually by Osho and musically by Ustaad Usman Khan. He realised early that “learning Indian music and studying a difficult instrument (sitar) needs proper and profound tuition, otherwise I would never understand Indian music. In my early years, Ustad Usman Khan became my mentor. He gave me proper roots. But soon I realised that my passion was in fusion music rather than in pure classical music.”

He then started his first fusion band in Pune with other Indian and international musicians.  Explaining the evolution of his music, Joshua says that his “musical journey has always been rooted in the fascination for fusion, of deeply exploring different musical cultures and then respectfully merging them, thus creating something new. Fusion music needs tremendous sensitivity; it has nothing to do with just ‘mixing’. Every generation needs courageous musicians who translate music anew. Traditional music, however beautiful it might be, becomes dead when nobody listens to it anymore. Music has to stay alive, always. I’d call my music ‘Indo-Fusion Music’, if I had to label it. It has changed a lot over the last 20 years, and music should keep on changing.”

Terra Incognita was his first project featuring kora-player Ravi and British sarod-player Chinmaya Dunster; the association yielded two albums. He then went on to release four solo albums, after which he formed the band Hamsafar, with which he released one album.

Togetherness counts

Talking about some of the best performances, Joshua recalls, “Our performances at the Glastonbury Festival (UK), the Big Chill Festival (UK), our show for Prince Edward in London, for the Royal Family of Kuwait or the Malaysian president rank among our top venues — but sometimes, an intimate concert at a small venue with an attentive audience gives much more quality time.” He seems to find that his best collaboration has been with his own band. “We have been working together for eight years now, it cannot be replaced by any quick and flashy combination of random artistes jamming. The members are from India, Japan, Germany and the US. There is a certain depth, strength and homogeneity in the music of a band that has been growing and performing together for many years.”

He also goes on to add that they love to feature outstanding guest musicians. Joshua says his latest album Luminous Secrets has to be his most-favoured album. “We did the album as a band project of Prem Joshua & Band. Every band member was at his best, and such collaborations are always the most fruitful ones. Each album should be a step ahead from the last one, a new phase, a deepening of one’s music.”

Joshua recently performed at the goMAD festival in Ooty. He has also been experimenting with genres like drum and bass, lounge and trance, while still focussing on traditional Hindustani music. His new album will be released shorty.

Talking about future, he says, “Let the future decide! We will always dedicate ourselves to making better music.” He continues to stay on the quest for new musical paradigms on his journey across the mystical soul scapes.

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