Battlefield, a piece I created during this lockdown, is inspired by Anand Patwardhan’s 1992 documentary “Father, Son and Holy War”—which addresses religious fundamentalism. Battlefield is a piece arranged and performed by me, using vocals and mridangam, the primary percussion instrument in Carnatic music. The video was captured and edited by Brian Hashimoto. This piece comes from a place of personal reflection on the two places I consider home: India and the U.S. My cultural upbringing always emphasized the idea of openness and inclusivity in Hinduism. And growing up in L.A., there was always the value of diversity and multiplicity. My increasing awareness of the divisiveness of my two countries, and—in particular—the rhetoric used by the political leaders in power in these two countries has disturbed me and found voice in this piece. Of course, I understand that extremism and xenophobia exist in all major religions and cultures, but it’s seeing the extremism of the people in power in my two countries that disturbs me.
Aditya Prakash is an award-winning vocalist known for his powerful and emotive voice and is one of the foremost young virtuosos of Carnatic music, the traditional classical style of South India.
A Los Angeles native from a family richly immersed in South Indian arts and culture, Prakash’s intensive musical studies began in his childhood. At only 16 years of age, he became one of the youngest musicians ever to tour and perform with sitar maestro Ravi Shankar, accompanying him to such prestigious stages as Carnegie Hall, the Hollywood Bowl and The Music Center’s Walt Disney Concert Hall.
Aditya continues to collaborate with leading innovators and artists including Anoushka Shankar (he was featured on her Grammy-nominated Traveler); Armenian pianist Tigran Hamasyan (working together on a new album planned for release in 2021); Asian Underground artist Karsh Kale, and most recently the acclaimed dancer and choreographer Akram Khan (in his final solo work, XENOS, touring internationally from 2018-2021).
Aditya Prakash Ensemble
In 2010, Aditya Prakash founded the Aditya Prakash Ensemble. The group’s unique collaboration took root during the members’ ethnomusicology studies at UCLA where their horizons for new, cross-cultural musical explorations were vastly expanded. The group of imaginative young musicians bridge seemingly disparate styles of music to create a boldly innovative and dynamic mix of the deep-rooted tradition of Indian classical ragas, chants and rhythms with the modern sounds of brass band arrangement, jazz harmony and hip hop-infused beats. They have established a space where Indian classical and jazz aesthetics intertwine in an engaging, contemporary way—a musical dialogue that is eminently accessible and playful yet powerful.
Aditya Prakash Ensemble has released three albums -- The Hidden (2012) and MARA (2016) and most recently Diaspora Kid (2020) which was in part sponsored by the Herb Alpert School of Music at UCLA and released by Ropeadope Records.
The ensemble has performed at notable venues across the globe including the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage in Washington D.C., Esplanade Theatres by the Bay in Singapore, The New Parks Festival (a six-city India tour), and at such prestigious Los Angeles venues as The Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, The Ford Theatre, The Getty Center and Skirball Center. Extensive touring in support of the new album is planned throughout 2020 and 2021.
Artist Q & A
What inspired you to create “Battlefield”?
Images and videos of the Capitol Hill insurgence, Trump’s enraged rhetoric at his rallies, Prime Minister Modi’s inciting speeches, the conspiracy-theory based media reporting and a documentary titled “Father, Son and Holy War” by Anand Patwardhan on religious fundamentalism and patriarchy.
You’re most known for your Carnatic singing which is very beautiful and meditative. However, “Battlefield” is a very different range of your voice from previous compositions. What is the nexus for the change in your tone, and how does this different range of singing affect the motive behind the piece?
Music is a part of my identity. I have always been magnetically drawn to the power, vibrance, meditativeness and the search for the “beautiful unknown” that feels most authentic when expressed through music. This has of course been supported by the notion that Indian artforms are meant for transcendence, spiritual upliftment–-meant to take us from the mundane to the divine. In some sense, this context of the music perpetuated in me a certain disconnect with worldly happenings. But more and more over the years, the politically charged climate, not only in the U.S.A. but in India–-both of which I consider home, has made me realize that there is in fact no disconnect.
My mentor says: “Art can never be separate from politics”–-it is a response to the socio-political climate. I had often grappled with that because I never felt anything I was doing musically was deliberately political. In my mind, I was singing and creating music that highlighted this “mystical unknown.” Now I see the politics even in that–-how limiting my music to the spiritual spectrum plays into Orientalist notions! More and more I am asking questions and facing my own privilege that previously allowed me to close my eyes to the world in the meditative musical journey that I compartmentalized from politics and society. Absorbing the incessant news of world events and feeling anger, hopelessness and division that is so apparent, how can it not find its place in my music?
What do you hope the audience takes away from “Battlefield”?
War, anger, hate-speech, indoctrination, violence—these are all words that came to my mind when created this music—and I hope that resonates with listeners.
In light of the recent hates crimes against the AAPI community, what is the role of allyship in supporting the AAPI community?
Allyship is an important step in social justice and restoring a sense of humanity and kindness in our society. Nobody wants to live in fear, tension, hate and violence. It is misinformation, fear of the unknown, lack of empathy and hegemonic views that isolate communities from each other and perpetuate xenophobia. Allyship is an important catalyst that can create dialogue and conversations, which are necessary for change.
What is one piece of advice you would share with your younger self?
My advice to my younger self: do not feel apologetic for who you are and what musical values you hold dear. Do not feel like you have to shift your musical choices to appease the “majority” listeners. Easier said than done, but I am working on it!