Music is often the reason we dance. As a dancer that fully surrenders to the indispensability of music to my Art form, it was natural and intriguing to really understand the making of a musician. Aditya Prakash was born into the Arts.
“I was very fortunate to grow up in the Arts. My family was dedicated to the Arts.”
He shares a strong and rooted journey with Classical Dance. In a singular and sweet conversation he tells me, Why Music, how he came to be and what he’s put out there?
“It’s all I knew.”
He begins with his mother. As we all do. She pioneered the first Bharata Natyam School in Los Angeles in the 1970s. “The first sounds I heard were those of Bharata Natyam – the music that complements the dance form.” Of his father, a stay-at-home Dad who took a very keen and compelling interest in his blossoming as a singer, he says, “My father left his job to help my mother set up her school. My family was my biggest influence and then of course there were others along the way…”
Children born into families that stand for one large pursuit over generations – in Aditya’s case, The Arts – often change direction in order to avert the pressures, the expectations and the (conceivably) constant critique that come with going down the same route. When asked if it was challenging, being a child in such a family and subsequently, making the career choice he did, he says,
“Although I do know a lot of people who have swung the other way because of the pressures that come with being part of an artistic family, luckily for me, I didn’t have a direct influence. I’m the only musician and Carnatic vocalist. My mother and sister are dancers. My choice came out of a joy for singing. Obviously it came with a lot of parental guidance…my parents did have to force me to practice. Like any other kid (back then), I just wanted to play outside all the time and not have to practice music as often as I was made to and be as disciplined as I had to be.”
Through his pre-teens, when he just wanted to play video games and go have a good time with friends, he admits to hating music because his parents would often turn off the Cable TV and take away other distractions as punishment for when he didn’t practice.
Right about then, Aditya’s father wanted him to get into a strict training regime which, on his first trainer’s recommendation, needed to begin at 5.30 in the morning, the most effective time of day to train your vocal chords for the rigours and reaches of classical music!
But the most beautiful part about his growing pains as a singer was that his Dad would be up with him, day after day. Perhaps, that was what replaced pressure with support. And that has made all the difference. The joy for his music, his Art, is real, from within as well as around!
In hindsight, he’s grateful for that discipline, that foundation, that regimen of his formative years, “You really need someone to kick your ass early on!” The work and effort he put in as a child helped him through college and all the times that you can’t give your own, individual practice enough time.
As an established musician today, he explains, “It’s no longer about just singing and performing. There’s administrative work and so many other things you have to be engaged with to buttress your career…and it does take away from the creative and practical part of it. I do find it hard to keep up with a training schedule but being a professional is all about how you can bring in the right balance.”
As a kid with several interests and a strong inclination to sport and academia, picking music above all became an easy choice when he had the privilege of touring with Pandit Ravi Shankar at age 15. “It was life-changing…being on a tour bus, touring the world, performing at every magnificent, prestigious concert hall in the world. For the first time, I was introduced to the professionalism and reach of Indian Music and how it echoes in so many hearts beyond origin, beyond language…Ravi ji made Indian Classical Music cool for me as a kid! My inclination towards music went from being out of reverence, tradition and respect to trendy and influential and something I wanted to do!” He was even advised by the Pandit, in a candid, separate conversation to skip college and go straight into pursuing music. “It’s not something he would tell any kid! That was really special. For a legend to have that much faith in me. He really pushed me over the edge and I wanted to make him proud, no matter what. I can still feel his voice ringing in my head…”
With the right encouragement, mentors and a bounty of opportunity at that age, there was nothing Aditya could’ve picked over music.
He did go to college though! For the experience and because he so earnestly wanted to gather the tools to take Indian music to the world, to understand other forms of music and immerse himself in a deeper, wider, more diverse study. “If you aren’t obsessed, the Arts aren’t for you. I was obsessed with learning more about music, with my music, with all music!” And even then, over and above being versatile, he simply advocates, “being true to yourself. If it feels right, create it and put it out there!”
At a young age, Aditya was confident and really out there. Did it ever go to his head? “I was probably more confident back then than I am now,” he jokes, “but life has a way of humbling you. There came a phase when I did struggle a lot with my voice. I had a lot of vocal issues. My voice didn’t really co-operate. And it still is very temperamental to be honest. I had a lot of dejecting moments in my performance career. My voice would crack. It would just be hoarse and even after resting it, I was developing vocal nodules which is the worst thing for a singer! This was at a point when I was still young – 17 may be. I was told I’d have to have surgery and that I could lose my voice or that my voice could change. And that was scary!” He weathered that storm by resting his voice for 6 months and following procedures to cure it. As it slowly came back, every day was a more than gentle reminder of its volatility and just how invaluable it was to him – “That realization was sobering.”
Traveling and touring has been a big part of his musical journey. Most recently, he was part of Akram Khan’s final solo performance tour. Of constantly being on the move, he says, “It can be tough…my health took a hit. You’re living out of a suitcase, not sure what time zone you’re in, eating so many different foods at very irregular timings and sometimes it can be unsettling. It affected my throat. I wasn’t getting enough rest…so after being thrown off a regular, predictable schedule for a long while, I took my time to get my throat back in order. And that’s a journey too, in recuperation and balance – a lesson in not taking my health for granted.”
His contemporary presentation of classical music is an outlet for all the sounds he heard growing up, shuttling between India and Los Angeles. “I like having structure and history. But I also like setting my own rules.” We break away from the exchange for a few minutes to listen to his album, ‘Diaspora Kid’, and it is fascinating in its respect, love and praise of nature. In what might be the ultimate paradox, “Earth, water and fire find a place in spite of his displaced but earnest identity as an Indian Classical singer in a land far from his roots.”
Through my exchange with Aditya Prakash, I went from being a child to a teenager to an adult. And as I changed, what didn’t was my discipline and my truth. It is what I took away. It is what I will keep.
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