Prem Joshua, the musical visionary

joshua and the bandBorn in a German musical family, he became an established flautist-cum-saxophonist at a very young age. A record playing a Ravi Shankar performance, combined with his search for spirituality, led him to India at the age of 18. To spend a fair number of years learning Sitar under Ustad Usman Khan and spiritual lessons under the great Osho. Today, he is one of the best-selling World Music artists around the world. We present to you Music Aloud’s interview of Prem Joshua.

Starting off with a question on something I’ve often wondered about, is Prem Joshua your real name? How did a German happen to have a very Indian-sounding name?

We are conditioned in such a way that the name we received from our parents is considered our “real” name. But we were babies at that time, nobody asked us if we like that name, now we are older, we are completely different persons, why should we always stick to the same name? We change! If you want so, “Joshua” is my “real” name and I added “Prem” in front and dropped my family name. I think this world needs more “Prem”, love! And this name reminds me of the essence of love.

At the age of 18 you migrated to India, to learn Indian clasical music. Quite a daring feat for someone that young! Could you tell us a bit about the experience here?

Yes, that was quite daring – but India had such a pull over me! I had no choice, the call was so strong! Life is full of mysteries! Believe me it was not easy. One might want to argue about past lives and reincarnation but I strongly had the feeling that I was coming back home. Learning classical Indian music felt like I was continuing something I had started in some other life.

You have come out with over 10 albums over the 2 decades that you have been in the industry (my personal fave being Water Down the Ganges!). But your last original album came in 2007. Why no album since then?

I recorded and released about 17 albums worldwide. 12 of them are released in India with Music Today. My last release in India in 2009 was Prem Joshua & Band – In Concert, a live album with interpretations of some older songs plus some new tracks. At the end of this year I will be releasing a brand new studio album that I recorded with my band. The reason for the longer gap between my last studio recording and the new one is due to the fact that we were touring so much and giving many concerts all over the world.

Your 2010 calendar is packed with concerts. Considering your music is so deeply rooted in Indian classical music, whats your opinion on the attitude that people from various countries have towards Indian classical music?

My music is rooted in Indian classical music but I do fusion, it is also rooted in rock, jazz, funk, and it has Middle Eastern and African influences. But of course the Indian element is the strongest, sitar, bamboo flute and tabla are the trademark of my sound.
The world is changing fast, it seems that nowadays more western people listen to Indian classical music than Indians do. Today Indians in general listen to Bollywood, full stop! OK, I am exaggerating as some Indians still listen to Prem Joshua, hahaha!

Who are the classical music veterans you have collaborated with? Anyone whom you long to work with and haven’t been able to as yet?

I have not collaborated with any classical veterans so far and I don’t long to collaborate with them. I love what they do because I love good Indian classical music. But I passionately do something else! Fusion to me is an art form! It needs tremendous sensibility and respect! You cannot just mix anything and call it fusion, it will be only hotch potch. To create intelligent fusion music you have to be really at home in both musical worlds! You have to be respectful to the cultures that you fuse and at the same time you have to have courage for the new. I am collaborating with young and excellent Indian musicians who bring some fresh air into the world music scene.

Do you follow Indian film music? What is your opinion about the same? Any favourite composers/artists you have?

Music as such has a tremendous power. It is an international language. It is a channel to our soul, to our truth. Every human being has a connection with music in some form. But of course this channel can be used for other things, can be exploited for only commercial reasons.
Older Indian film music was very connected with folk traditions. But now Indian film music is more or less commercial western music with lyrics in Hindi or other other Indian languages. Most contemporary Indian film music composers have simply learned how to translate western pop music into a noisy Indian version. To me there is rarely a good and original song. Most modern Indian film music is just re-using a certain formula that has only one aim: commercial success, there is hardly any artistic musical content left!

What kind of music do you generally listen to? Who are your favorite musicians?

I listen to any kind of music, Indian classical, western classical, fusion, jazz, heavy metal, trance, African, South American…. there is only one condition: I have to be moved, my soul wants to be stirred, it has to go under my skin! I can listen to classical sitar by Nikhil Banerjee and go straight to Mozart, followed by Miles Davis, then Led Zeppelin, then Lata Mangeshkar, then Mongolian folk music, no problem! And then I switch of all music and just listen to a nightingale singing into the deep dark night, ah, what melody! Ah, what silence!

Indian classical music is going though a transition, most of the masters are ageing, do you think the future of this tradition is in safe hands?

Yes, there are many extremely talented young players, Indian classical music is in good hands. To me the question is less about the lack of classical musicians but more the lack of Indians being interested in classical music.

Indian music has so far broken into international fusion and lounge scenes so far, do you think there will be takers of Indian Music in a pop format?

As far as I understand your question, you mean will there be an Indian born star in the international pop music? Sure, why not? It is just a matter of time. But to me it brings up another question: what is so great about being Indian? Why Indians are so identified with being Indian? What is so great about being Indian, German, Chinese, American, any national identification? Nothing! Why do we love to identify with small boundaries, limitations and conditionings when we can just be free human beings living together in a great beautiful world? The days of nations are over! It is just a matter of time! The concept is out-dated. Let’s grow up! World fusion music does its small contribution towards a better world by bringing traditions and cultures together rather than separating people and nations.

You can listen to Prem Joshua’s out-of-the-world music and read more about him and his band here.