When Indian classical music reached foreign shores in the early 20th century through maestros like Ravi Shankar, Zakhir Hussain, Shiv Kumar Sharma and other legendary artistes, they introduced our music to an audience who were hardly familiar with this form but in the process became bigger than the music itself. As strands of Indian melodies introduced audiences to unknown sonic realms, artistes attempted to nurture and further define their styles through innovative ways. However, nowadays Indian classical musicians are taking a step forward by making our music more understandable to a global audience. “One has to give credit to Indian maestros who opened up the horizons for others to follow in the later years,” says well known classical musician and renowned exponent of Hawaiian guitar, Prakash Sontakke who is now onto jazz and world music.
Prakash and his band of music is here to stay and flourish as he explains and says, “Fusion music has touched the hearts of many, reaching the remote corners of the globe. Getting a break through ECM records was a dream come true as it is one of the most prestigious jazz labels in the world of jazz . We have managed to adapt the Indian classical music to the Western style. In fact, I get numerous request whenever I perform in the US, Germany or anywhere else on how to do alaap in the Jazz scale.”
Through his band, Prakash has gained big entry and gained wider audience what with their music going viral on the Internet.
Once, an Argentinean Joe Frambios who heard their music on the local radio channel was so moved by their piece that he traced their address and called up Prakash personally to express his gratitude. Joe had lost his wife two-three years ago and was very touched by a song from their album Mercurial Balm and said he could feel her spiritually. “Technically, this was a heavy progressive electronic jazz that is an unheard of genre in India and set in the Raga Mishr Asavari. Even BBC’s host Fiona on her talk show on live productions said this was a piece that touched the soul,” adds Prakash.
He is one of the very few musicians in our country who plays the slide guitar and the only one to have won the Independent World Music Awards, USA and the Nashville Award for composers where his composition was chosen over maestro Illayaraja and the phenomenal AR Rehman.
Prakash has toured extensively all over the world with many of his troupes namely - The Prakash Sontakke Group, International Trio Lehera, Moonarra and FOOD. As a performer, producer, director and innovator, Prakash has performed in various concerts and shows for many Indian television channels.
Best of all worlds
In fact, critics raved about the performance of Prakash's band at the All Jazz Festival at Trondheim, Norway and said, “Together, Ballamy, Strønen, Sontakke and Vågan delivered an hour-long set that ebbed and flowed as ideas moved liberally around the stage. Prakash began alone, first singing but gradually introducing his lap steel to create a warm wash that slowly expanded with the injection of Ballamy’s softly lyrical yet still somewhat skewed lines, that only led to new ideas, new paths and new developments ....”
Recollecting his experiences in Europe, Prakash said, “All my concert tours to Europe have been in the cold season and I have had to perform in freezing conditions, sometimes as low as -15 degree Celsius. And, this has been true of Norway.” Over the years, he has improvised and composed music and has worked with Norwegian musicians with great success. He is a musician who has embraced and understood western taste and interests. Prakash prefers to play the gayaki ang (vocal style) which recreates the emotion of the human voice on the slide guitar.
His creative explorations in Jazz and world music are deeply underlined by his classical training. Prakash has learnt everything about music from his renowned father and mother. Hailing from the illustrious Gwalior Gharana, his late father Dr Rajbhau Sontakke was one of the senior most disciples of Pandit Omkarnath Thakur and his mother Dr Mani Sontakke, the disciple of Pt Lalmani Mishra.
Elaborates Prakash, “Having learnt classical music, it does not mean that one has to perform at concerts only but rather try to understand the concept of music holistically. Music is for people, it should come out of its traditional barriers and reach out to as many people as possible. Music is a celebration and not for solitary confinement. Even as early as the 19th century, Guruji Omkarnath Thakur, who was the pioneer of world music, had devised new phrasings of music which was unheard of in Indian classical music. He propagated this, and said music is the essence of life and a must for de-stressing.” Once Guruji, during a visit to Italy, was invited to cure the problem of Mussolini who was a known insomniac. He requested for four tanpuras that were all tuned differently, one to ga, one to dha and one to ni. This was to harmonise the elements of each tanpura to ultimately derive the shadaja. Playing the Raga Puriya, he put dictator Mussolini to sleep in no time who, it seems, slept like a baby.”
Prakash’s foray into different fields is difficult to list but all are connected to his musical prowess. He has directed several movies, documentaries and animation films and jingles. Recently, his duet with Sonu Nigam and Shankar Mahadevan, in the movie Sangoli Rayanna, won a lot of critical acclaim as well his guitar work in Simple Aagi Ondu Love Story. He has, to his credit, the challenge of composing the musical score for a German silent classics film Cabinet of Dr Calgary. Apart from this, Prakash’s guitar can be heard in several more language movies including Hindi ( Bhaag Milkha Bhaag,) Kannada (Director's Cut), Tamil (Snehidanay), Telugu (Mr Khiladi), Malayalam (Colours) and Marathi (Ekanth).