A musical instrument is one of the better gifts parents can get for their child. Little did Joshua’s parents know that the flute they would gift him will drive them crazy. Prem Joshua, as he is known now, immediately took to the flute and would play it through the day!!
“My parents were not rich and a flute was probably the cheapest of all instruments. They forgot that a flute is much louder than many other instruments,” said Joshua.
A man’s life is often defined by certain trigger points that come along his way. Receiving that simple wooden flute was one such trigger point, which led Joshua on a wonderful musical journey. He received initial learning of the flute from a local teacher.
As a teenager he dabbled mainly into rock, jazz and fusion music as a flute and saxophone player. Joshua, now plays the sitar, bamboo flutes, soprano saxophone and sings too. Ask him to choose his favourite amongst them and he answers with a smile.
“Equal! I am being diplomatic. If my instruments hear that I prefer one over another, then the other instruments will get jealous.”
From Joshua to Prem Joshua
Joshua happened to get a record of Pandit Ravi Shankar’s performance which changed his musical horizon. That Indian classical music could be improvised within a format liberated his mind and pushed his artistic limits.
“Music can open our minds to a space beyond. I had experienced this in rock and jazz but Indian classical music added another dimension to it. There is a universal and meditative quality to it. Although I am exploring my own musical expression in the field of world fusion music, I am forever grateful to Indian classical music,” quipped Prem Joshua.
At the age of 18, he travelled to India to explore the music and quench his spiritual search. India had cast a spell over Joshua and he fell in love with the country, changing his life forever. However, the trip was not alike a fairy tale. Joshua was carrying little money with him which got exhausted soon.
Imagine an 18-year old German traveling in India with no money in the 1970’s.
“My flute saved me! Wherever I was I just played my flute and attracted lots of people. Mother India always took care of me! Immediately, I made friends and got to know many lovely families. I did not visit any of the usual tourist attractions in India. I became the tourist who was an attraction for Indians,” recalled Prem Joshua.
Meeting his Ustad
A nomadic travel across India followed. Joshua travelled lengths, interacting with the local musicians and learning about Indian culture, music and developing a bond with the land. The travel would take him to Pune where he attended sitar maestro Ustad Usman Khan’s concert. He approached Ustadji to teach him which was met with a positive reply. Joshua would learn the sitar under his guru for several years. He lived at Ustadji’s gurukul and was taught in the classical way which is carried on through generations of musicians.
“I feel forever thankful for this experience. But at some point I realised that my musical search did not want me to continue as a classical Indian musician. I started experimenting with fusing my experience of contemporary western music with Indian ragas,” said Prem Joshua.
Fusion – the right way
Fusion music has always attracted mixed reactions from the audience. The naysayers have contributed their reactions based on certain fusion bands. But there are bad apples everywhere. The merger of two cultures is fascinating. This art when created in the right way gives birth to a fresh sound. Many bands and musicians use the Indian shloks or ragas in their music. Often these are added without considering their importance to the song.
More than words the message of the lyrics is paramount.
“I write lyrics in English or sing in the traditional Indian tarana style where words have no specific meaning. Many of my lyrics are traditional Sanskrit shloks. This is not because I am a very religious person or a devout Hindu in particular. It is more because I study the deeper meanings of these shloks,” asserted Joshua.
“These meanings are beautiful and reach the depth of our soul. That is why I love singing them. I also sing poetry by Rumi, Hafiz, Kabir, Meera and other great poets. The same thing applies to raga. A raga explores a certain mood, it is almost a scientific approach. Once I start understanding and am moved by this certain mood, I can express a raga even in a modern fusion concept.”
Joshua is currently working on a new album project. It is an entirely acoustic album with music that one could describe as ‘chamber raga music’. He is using instruments like grand piano, cello, double bass, Indian percussion, sitar, flute, saxophone and vocals. The album is a mix of western chamber music, jazz and Indian classical.
Music is Joshua’s spiritual practice and he believes it is much more than materialism. It opens us up to other planes way above the materialistic world and gives us a taste of the beyond. Being peaceful is the way of life for him.
“If you think, just by reciting a mantra peace will descend upon you then this peace might be fake and superficial,” smiled Joshua.
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