Carnatic music comes to life in a fusion of jazz, rap

Aditya Prakash. Photo: Aditya Prakash Ensemble

NEW YORK – Fusion music has taken root globally, and Indian American musicians have thrived in its wave, mixing traditional vocals and modern instruments to present an array of eclectic sounds that draw mainstream audiences. Fortifying that new lineage is Los Angeles-based vocalist Aditya Prakash, who will release his third album, ‘Diaspora Kid’ – a mix of Carnatic music, Hindi vocals and jazz, next month.

Growing up in Los Angeles, Prakash was rooted in South Indian arts and culture through his immigrant family, yet at school found himself in a distinct minority. He studied Carnatic voice from childhood, but kept that passion apart from the public persona he had for his friends.

His talent was soon noticed, and at the age of 15, Prakash was selected by Ravi Shankar to tour, and he played with the sitar maestro at venues like Carnegie Hall and the Hollywood Bowl.

Later, Prakash studied ethnomusicology and music at UCLA, where he gained a broad understanding of western music and met key players and friends, especially in the world of jazz, who would help move his vision forward.

The Aditya Prakash Ensemble since then has released two explorative albums, and the third, ‘Diaspora Kid’, is a reference to the artist’s cross-cultural upbringing in LA. Prakash selected 24 musicians – from the LA jazz scene and fellow maestros from the Indian classical tradition – to come together and make his vision a reality, according to press materials.

“Diaspora Kid is about finding my roots in my ever-changing environment, filled with a diverse array of inspirations. From rhythmic Carnatic grooves over a brass band (Greenwood), to an alternative rock Radiohead-inspired feel (Wave for an Ocean), to an aggressive Tigran Hamasyan-inspired modal jazz tune (The Warrior), to an Irish fiddle-inspired sound (Irish Song) to a hip hop rap vibe (Up in Flames), to a funky Indian folk feel (Ambiga), and finally the pure Carnatic (Roots – Ramakali) – this album is about moving through the melting pot of cultures I grew up with in Los Angeles through the lens of the Indian classical voice,” says Prakash.

The album, set for worldwide release on March 20, 2020, was recorded at the Evelyn & Mo Ostin Music Center at UCLA’s Herb Alpert School of Music and at Mount Atlas Studio in Chennai, India.

In his new album, Prakash’s mellifluous and powerful vocal chords are best heard in the number ‘Ramakali (Roots)’, which has pure, soulful Carnatic notes, with no fusion involved.

‘Ambiga’ is another excellent number. Sung in Tamil, with a feet tapping tune, it ends the album on a high note. He also displays his multifaceted talent in the plaintive, but racy-sounding ‘Warrior’ number; which comes across as truly unique, with heavy intonations of jazz.

If there is a fault in the album, it’s that Prakash experiments too much, trying to reach out to a diverse audience, rather than doing more songs in the pure Carnatic vocals, which is his forte.


Sruthi Dhulipala and Shruthi Iyer, two ‘IndianRaga Channel’ artists. Photo: IndianRaga Channel

Sruthi Dhulipala and Shruthi Iyer, two ‘IndianRaga Channel’ artists, did a fusion production of Senorita (originally sung by Shawn Mendes and Camilla Cabello) on YouTube, “O Jaana”, as a part of their Boston Fellowship 2019, earlier this month, to coincide with Valentine’s Day.

“The Hindi piece, “O Jaana” complements the romantic vibe of Senorita, with lyrics about moments in love, subtle glances that lead to two people falling for each other. Lyricist Sunayana Kachroo also scripted the perfect lyrics for the song in a couple of hours after we set a melody to the piece,” the artists said in a press release.

“We came up with the entire idea online – through WhatsApp! We sometimes joke around that we had an online music dating experience! We were “matched” by our interests and skills, and we started texting each other from different parts of the country. Finally, as we met in Boston for the fellowship weekend, we wrapped the piece into a tight bow and headed to recording and production,” the release added.

Explaining the making of the songs, Dhulipala says: “Our adaptation of Senorita started with a Spanish-flamenco vibe – chords shifting from minor thirds to diminished. We would send each other random voice-notes through wee hours of the day and work on patching random tunes and beats into a complete song. Slowly building layers, we made the perfect piece to complement the original Senorita before we knew it.  During one of our brainstorms, we realized that this song is a blossoming love story and would be a perfect tale for the lead vocalists to play two women in love. And so, we started building a narrative – of the lead roles meeting, instantly connecting with each other, feeling nervous around each other, and slowly starting to fall in love.”

She added: “As we started speaking about “unconventional love stories” we realized showing two women in love, especially the two lead singers in love, is depicting one variation of an unconventional love story, which is refreshing, and a story that must be told – as a component of the modern arts.”

IndianRaga says that over the past five years, they have connected over 3000 artists, ages 6 to 60, from 40 cities. They have collaborated to produce 400 masterpieces viewed by 10 million people across 65 cities.


Roopa Mahadevan. Photo: Rubin Museum of Art

The New York-based Indian American classical and crossover vocalist Roopa Mahadevan and her ensemble Roopa in Flux, will perform at the Rubin Museum of Art, on March 6, 2020, to celebrate Women’s History Month.

Presented by Brooklyn Raga Massive as part of their annual festival Out of the Woods, a collective expression of local female performers within the Indian classical music world, Roopa in Flux is an ensemble of musicians rooted in structured and improvised traditions from around the world.

Through novel arrangements traversing Carnatic, jazz, R&B/soul, and other influences, Roopa in Flux uses camaraderie, honesty, and emotional intensity to create moments that express both the quirks of the individual and the joy of community.

Mahadevan’s “hurricane wail and command of infinite minutiae” have taken her to diverse venues from Chennai’s prestigious Music Academy to New York City’s Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and the Metropolitan Museum, as well as numerous folk festivals and cultural centers around America.

She has performed full-length Carnatic vocal concerts, accompanied leading South Asian dancers/choreographers, and directed the groundbreaking choir Navatman Music Collective.

She is also a soloist on several albums, including Christopher Tin’s Grammy Award-winning Calling All Dawns and the Facebook Sound Collection. Mahadevan has been named a member of Joe’s Pub’s Working Group of 2020 and recently released her debut Carnatic album, ‘Roopa in Six Yards’.

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)



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