Instrumentalist and composer Prem Joshua’s music bridges cultures. The german artiste tells Deepali Dhingra about his latest project, why he can never summarise his creations with a genre, and how India is the ‘home of his soul’
A couple of years ago, when Prem Joshua performed at a private concert in Russia, he had the most bizarre experience. “There were members of the Russian mafia in the audience, sitting with their sunglasses on, just like in the movies!” laughs the musician. He also remembers the heart-stopping moment when one of the gangsters climbed onto the stage after the concert. “He came right over, slid his glasses down his nose and looked me straight in the eye. I almost froze and he said, ‘You touched my heart’. I think that was something really special,” he grins.
Prem Joshua says he would not mind composing for Bollywood, only as long as he gets to do what he wants. Pic/Bipin Kokate
The multi-instrumentalist and composer from Germany, who took on the name ‘Prem’ after his first visit to India in 1977, calls the country the “home of his soul”. When we tell him that the name is often associated with protagonists portrayed by one of Bollywood’s biggest superstars on the big screen, he raises his eyebrows in surprise. “Really? I didn’t know that,” he shrugs. Adopting the Indian name came naturally to the musician, who shuttles between Goa and Italy when not on world tours.
“My name is like my music,” he explains. “It’s fusion, it’s a mixture — Prem and Joshua,” he smiles. But, ask him whether people give him quizzical looks on hearing his name and he shakes his head. “Strangely, people don’t seem to wonder much. I guess it’s as strange as seeing a Westerner play the sitar and flute and play music which is raaga-based. So why not have a strange name as well?” he quips. The musician, who gravitated to India during his teenage years, studied Indian classical music under sitar maestro Ustad Usman Khan. However, Joshua says he always knew he didn’t want to specialise in the genre. “I love Indian music but I like to give it a global touch. My passion lies in bringing cultures together,” adds the artiste.
And that is exactly what Prem Joshua & Band do. Their music is inspired by ancient traditions of the Indian sub-continent, even as they have their finger on the pulse of contemporary Western music scene. With more than 18 albums to his credit, the 56-year-old artiste’s music transcends borders and today, Joshua is the number one best-selling World Music artiste in India.
We hesitate to use the overused word ‘fusion’ to describe his music. Instead, we ask him for suggestions and he guffaws. “I have been looking for that short sentence for years and never found it!” Prod him a bit more and the artiste replies, “I’ve been using the word ‘crossover’ for sometime now, only because it’s less worn out than fusion.”
In August last year, Joshua released his latest album Kashi: Songs from the India Within. In the album, which was a slight departure from his earlier more instrumental albums, Joshua has composed music using famous shlokas and mantras. “My colleague Chintan Relenberg, who is also the producer of the album, suggested that we try this. I was hesitant at first because it’s a clear devotional statement, the recording went quite smoothly,” he says, adding that he doesn’t dwell on a project once it’s complete. “Even painters do that. Once they’re done with a painting, they move on to the next,” he says.
So, what is he currently working on? “We’re gathering new material for a band album. We are working on new tracks. It’s quite exciting,” he adds.
Having performed for dignitaries such as UK’s Prince Edward at the Royal Palace in London in 2007 and the then President of India, Pratibha Patil in 2008, and at music festivals such as Shantipi Festival, Israel (2008), Big Chill Festival, UK (2009), Glastonbury Festival, UK (2009) to International Yog Festival, Rishikesh (2013), we ask him to choose the gig that left him most satisfied. “A lot of people think that the biggest performance would be the most satisfying or that playing for somebody really famous would be the best thing to happen. But sometimes, a small concert with a listening audience — an audience that is with you — can be much better. Thankfully, I have had many such experiences,” smiles Joshua.
Yet, ‘satisfied’ is a term Joshua prefers to use cautiously. “Satisfaction is something you have to feel within yourself, be it through music or anything else. Am I satisfied? Yes, I am but as an artiste, I can’t afford to get too satisfied. There is always this sense that I can do better and that there’s more to say through music. I feel I have only scratched the surface and there are more depths to explore,” he concludes.
Prem Joshua & Band will perform at Hard Rock Café, Worli on January 22 at 8.30 pm. Log on to www.bookmyshow.com