Hello dear friends, my name is Prakash Sontakke and I am a musician by profession . Academically people call me Dr Prakash Sontakke as I have a PhD in Music apart from Masters Degree in Vocal,Violin and Slide Guitar .
To further clarify, when I say professional musician I mean to say that my bread and butter (not just the jam) comes from music.I sing and play this unique and beautiful instrument called the Slide Guitar apart from many other beautiful instruments.I have around 2200 concert experiences apart from various other projects. However from the audience perspective sometimes on the stage it looks like I am staring down a computer keyboard but thats how the slide guitar is played .
I have been given a tough job to jot down my journey which I feel is a tough call because I have never really understood the concept of milestones if there are any .
Well I belong to a musical family as in both my father and mother were musicians settled in Benaras and teaching at Benaras Hindu University where I was born . They both were highly reputed exponents of Hindustani Classical music .
My dad Dr R B Sontakke a double doctorate in Vocal music (PhD) and Violin (PhD) and my mother Dr Mani Sontakke (PhD) apart from Masters degree in 12 instruments she could actually play more than 30 instruments (actually perform) . Music was all around in a purely traditional yet non conventional way . I had convent education in a school called Saint Johns School . Like any other kid at that point of time the feeling of classical music being boring and not so cool struck me hard . In school with friends Michael Jackson , Cyndi Lauper and Depeche Mode where part of daily routine and life was good . At home however Pt Omkarnath Thakurs ( my fathers Guruji ) , Ustad Abdul Kareem Khans recordings along with Kumar Gandharva were devoutly followed and jostling with them for listening space was Pt Brijbhusan Kabra and sometimes a little bit of Parveen Sultana on the parallel routine .
My parents never forced Hindustani Classical down my throat and I was a very free bird .My mother was making sure I took up my yearly classical music exams ( Prayag Sangeet Samiti ) in a routine way and I was making sure that I attended to all the course material only a fortnight before exams ( like academics ) . My major choice of instruments from my mothers incredible instrumental menu was Violin and the Slide guitar . The lessons and the philosophy was focus more on playing and performing what wasn’t taught apart from what was taught anyway .
The slide became a special bond and still remains so as it helped me understand any form of music . When I heard “ Dark side of the moon” album by Pink Floyd I was surprised to see the same slide guitar so comfortable in some other music all together and that was an everlasting impression . I felt very liberated and thankful that I was not a slave to any terms like “ Genre” . “Style” , Gharana etc.The decision to become a professional musician was totally mine . My parents though musicians themselves had diligently pursued jobs in Benaras Hindu University . They were of the firm opinion that as time is passing by pursuing music as a profession will become increasingly difficult . The Government sector was slowly slowly reducing jobs of musicians like Akashvani where after retirement posts were being abolished . The private sector however was never answerable to the world of Arts anyway. However there is a small window now of Corporates having music shows for their guests and I believe it’s a good trend .
The journey is an interesting one . It is also a journey of hardships of a unique kind but at the bottom line you can always say proudly that you pursued what you wanted . Pursuing music as a profession today is indeed a challenge if you want to be focussed on your craft and your art . Creativity is a tool which can be useful in boardroom discussions or coffee table conversations but doesn’t seem to work in a reality based context . Anyone can question a music composition but no one questions a piece of Modern Art or poetry or literature somehow . The answer comes from the fact that whatever you create has to be instantly likeable and be fully rewarding in case of music but not so much in any other case. Maybe because the spoils are also huge . Often heard the term “fresh “ approach in anything but music cause somehow music has to be stale as in created years ago and to be consumed every day .
The beautiful city Bengaluru where I stay has incredible music to offer in terms of amazing variety of bands coming and performing their own independent original material till very recently . Somehow I see a growing trend now that every other venue wants covers and cinemas music . I am not averse to any form of music per say but If “everything is for the good” is a philosophy to go by I would want to believe that this is the phase where independent and original music has to find its true promoters and set off in creating a parallel music scenario . As a matter of fact I never found that necessity to perform covers all my life and even when I did so it was fun but does that mean we totally ignore independent and original content . Since I dabble both the worlds let me also specify that the classical music as a circuit also suffers from the same problem cause you have to perform only what people understand . So as time passes by and people understand lesser and lesser so where do we end up. I remember a famous story of a so called sponsor who asked Pandit Bhimsen Joshi to perform “ Bhagyada Laskhmi Baramma” a popular bhajan sung by him in an Anant Nag movie . The fun part is that bhajans are usually sung towards the ending of the concerts but the situation here was that the sponsor wanted the song . So Panditji found an easy way he sang Bhagyada Laskhmi Baramma for 3 hours and finally asked that sponsor “ SAKA INNU BEKA” meaning are you done or you want more .
Looking back at the way things unfolded and the challenges arose it did get difficult at times . At times very difficult because the struggles are between your ideals your creativity and sometimes simple basic facts of life like food clothing and shelter . Whatever the struggles came by the thought of giving up never arose .
Sometimes as a struggler the the question does arise.
Is it a cultural problem or are we just so allergic to what we don’t know ?? . The irony however is that supposedly we are a culture which believes in maximum Gods . If in terms of talking about faith we seem to be up there but at the same time deep down maybe we don’t believe in anything . My philosophy is simple “ Listen without prejudice” .
My belief to tackle this however is very strong in terms of the fact that more and more musical institutions should come up and the education towards music has to reach a much larger part of the society . More people should fund Music education cause “ Music is the only thing that will make you feel good about your life” . Music education having gone online is also a welcome trend and should be encouraged more and more .The Shankar Mahadevan Academy of OnlineMusic education is doing stellar work in this direction .
Often this question is asked as in what was the changing point or that one particular moment when the change happened . I feel there are several such moments which happen in a phased manner . Also apart from all that the morning waking up ritual is a changing point in ones life . Waking up the moment the alarm bell rings in the morning is the moment which makes big difference in life.
Once you become a performing musician it doesn’t really matter how many people attended or what the conditions were during your concert and believe me every time the challenges are unique . Just when you thought that you have done it all seen it all you will face the most unique situation which will be born that very day and that very moment .
It happens every time I perform and thats almost every concert I have played .So all put together 2200 odd times .
Art is life so you have to live with it whatever . The struggles are felt less cause what you want to do and what you are doing are the same .Its an awesome and awful amount of responsibility on your shoulder . You cant just turn around and blame anyone else unlike other fields . Here you have only yourself to blame . Art as a profession is yet to be understood and encouraged to its fullest in the society . It is very slowly evolving but I feel that the evolution is too slow . We have become a truly Global entity in many sectors but maybe in creativity and arts we are taking it a bit slow . The Government sector as well as private sector should invest more towards art in the coming years as thats where the future is . According to Michio Kaku who is an American theoretical physicist, futurist, and populariser of science (science communicator) the future is for creative people and creative endeavours . Slowly slowly mundane and boring stuff will be taken over by machines computers and robots so the only reason that a human will be valued is Art and creativity . Hope the right folks are listening.
Collaborations / Projects
I am lucky to be blessed with such incredible opportunities starting from amazing Cinemas in several languages even outside India , Jingles of all kinds , Grammy Award winning albums as a composer and artiste , Background scores / I have also Curated Global Music Festivals . Collected rarest of the rarest of instruments and still keep collecting .Projects which I am part of and are close to my heart are DPSG - Dr Prakash Sontakke Group with Kedar Nayak , Karthik Mani and Shadrach Solomon we have almost 5 years of playing together independently almost 20 years or more and 2 albums . Progressive Raga and Satrang and the third album ( title to be revealed soon ) is underway . “Ragas Everywhere” with Hindustani Classical Singer Chaitra Sontakke and writer Veena Prasad . “Moonarra” with Jagadeesh MR , Madhuri Jagadeesh and Karthik Mani . With Thomas Stronen “ “Time is a blind Guide” and “Food”. With Italian musician Eraldo Bernocchi “ Invisible Strings “ . “Introspection” and “Duvidha” A cine concert with Jeremy Labelle from Reunion Islands . “Lehera” from Canada with Prashant Micahel John and Karthik Mani . Several concerts with Jazzman Gerard Machado , Vid Suma Sudhindra and Konark Reddy . Some interesting concerts with Geeta and Gopal Navale where we had lot of fun . “Weaves form Benaras” a special project with my dear friend and Entrepreneur Sagrika Rai . A few hundred movies in various languages .
The Coke Studio project with Bollywood biggies Ehsaan Noorani and Loy Mendonsa and an amazing set of musicians like Benny Dayal .Want to share recently successful song “Kannanakanne” from the movie “Viswasam” by popular star Ajit and Nayantara and popular music director D Imman from Chennai .Bollywood movies like “Ram Leela” when I worked with dear friend Indrajit Sharma “Tubby” a popular music director . “ Bangistan” with Ram Sampath recently again with Tubby on the movie ‘ Hamare Pyare Prime Minister” Some amazing Malayalam movies with dear friends Prashant Pillai , Justin Vergese and Suresh Peters Kannada projects and movies with Kannada film directors Anoop Seelin , Judah Sandy , Praveen D Rao , Manohar , Manu Murthy Gurukiran , tracing back to yesteryears works with personalities like G V Iyer . Nagabharana , Vijay Bhaskar and later on Tirumalai Srinivas “Chami “ had deep impact on my personality .. The “Arya” project with Roberto Narain , Vasundhara Das , Arun Andrews Keith Peters , Bruce Lee Mani . A collaboration with Thermal and Quarter on their album “Plan B” .Later one small roles in Antaragni with Raghu Dixit with whom it was always a great bond . . My honour and privilege also extends to and boasts of names like Vidwan Inagi Balappa for whom I payed the Violin on almost 50 songs for his Kannada Rangageetay album .A privilege to work with Michael Jacksons drummer Narada Michael thanks to Babu Chaudhary from Mumbai . Also as a guest with Babu Chaudharys albums along with greats like Ranjit Barot , Khanjira Amrit N and many more amazing musicians . Also a chance to collaborate with Bhajan Samrat Shri Anoop Jalotaji and Ustad Sultan Khan Sahab thanks to dear friend Ricky Kej . A special mention and thanks to dear fiend Ricky Kej for having me as a Co Composer and Artiste playing on his Grammy Award Winning Album “ Winds of Samasara” .
Some remarkable associations
I learnt a lot from valuable suggestions and advice from Pt Ravindra Yavagal , Vidwan Anoor Anantakrishna Sharma , Pt Rajeev Taranath , Vidushi Gangubai Hangal , Pt Sheshagiri Hangal , Pt Yashwantbua Joshi … and so on . I might have missed many names cause all over India or abroad I have tons of great associations with some very senior musicians and advisers from whom I have learnt and experienced a lot . I was a very ardent student always willing to learn and I still am On the Carnatic classical music front the seniors with whom I share a great bonding are Vidushi Rama Mani and Vidwan TAS Mani , Late Vid B K Chandramouli , Vidushi Suma Sudhindra , Vid Mysore Nagaraj , Vid Ravichandra Kullur , Vid Amrith N . Vid Jayachandra Rao , Vid BC Manjunath , Vid Amith Nadig , Vid Arun Kumar and Vid Manasi Prasad . Special bonds with Late Pt Brijbhushan Kabra , Pt Debasish Bhattacharya ,Vid Kamala Shankar . Pt Somaranjan Chakravorthy , Pt Satish Khanolkar , Pt Deepak Kshirsagar , Pt Shri Shankar Bhattacharya and Pt Rajeev Taranath ,Pt Dattatareya Velankar , Pt Kirtikumar Badasheshi , Vidushi Sangeetha Katti Kulkarni , Pt Jayateerth Mevundi , Pt Praveen Godkhindi , Pt Milind Date , Pt Chetan Joshi , Dr Ravindra Katoti , Pt Vishwanath Nakod , Pt Rajendra Nakod , Pt Lalit Kumar , Dr Uday Karpur ,Pt MS Kiran , Sushant Mukherjee , Rohan Naidu , Pt Sameer Dublay , Pt Charudatt Phadke , Salar Nader Ustad Faiyaz Khan , Pt Ashim Chaudhary , Vid Anupama Bhagvat , Ustad Shafeeq Khan and Ustad Rafeeq Khan , Vid N Rajam , Vid Jayashree Roy , Pt Ramachandra Bhagwat , Purna Chandra Paikray , Pt Parmanand Yadav , Shri Jayavant Rao , Vidushi Lalit J Rao , Ustad Fazal Qureshi and Pt M Venkatesh Kumar . Sometimes the fun part was that the bonding was equally good with both the Guru and their disciple so it lead to some “ Dharamsankat” at times.
Working and making music for Arundhati and Jagdish Raja,s productions like “Charandas Chor” and later on Girish Karnads “ YAYATI “ was a great experience in itself . The best part was when I shared pieces that I imagined and created I did not send the titles to Arundhati Raja so that I don’t colour her vision . I wanted her sincere take on the tracks and where they would match . The final answer from her was exactly what I had imagined and it matched 100 percent … too dramatic I thought ..exactly .
Some personalities who have inspired me to do something better each day with life are Sridhar Ranganathan and Deepa Sridhar CEO Shankar Mahadevan Academy and Cloodon Musica , Kedar Nayak and Chandrika Nayak Directors Octavium Academy . Shri Gowdgere Ramakrishna and Kavitha Ramakrishna from Muscat Architect / Music lover and a great friend Harsha Shivakumar , Sagrika Rai Director Warp and Weft . Uma Sudhindra CEO Go Magic Trails , Dr Indraneel Basu my dear friend from Benaras , Sudheer Krishnaswamy a student and a dear friend . A friend , a student and flamenco guitarist from Bhopal Sanjeev Srivastav CEO The Art Hub . A special mention of Tara Kini who inspires by her works and her pursuits .
It happens with all creative people that sometimes we face a creative block and we seem to have arrived at a dead end of sorts . It's natural and happens with any kind of pursuit . Previously in the younger days ( not that I am old now ) I used to mull over the problem hours and sometimes days and weeks in a row . Experience definitely taught valuable lessons in this regard that now I adapt an all new path . I usually try to totally forget the whole work wash my head clear . Sometimes when you even need to wash your ears clear after attending an album mix for weeks and then revisit it again and usually the moment mind is left free some brilliant thoughts pour in . It happened recently while mixing an album for a friend I was stuck at particular song for almost 4 days and did not get the satisfaction that I wanted for the mix . The loop was never-ending but on one evening I just went out for a stroll to Gandhibazaar and something beautiful happened . A big speaker was blasting away some devarnamas in preparation for some “Habba” meaning festival in Kannada . All of a sudden the epiphany happened and I decided what to delete in the song more than adding something . For some funny reason it so happens that noise chaos and confusion are my favourite inspirational medium for creativity . Chaos is my favourite medium and multitasking in chaos is my favourite activity .
Over so many years of performing and so many venues the favourite jaunts are few
The Oslo Rainbow Club , Denmark Copenhagen Library , Pacific Rim Festival Canada , Guelph Near Toronto , Anaheim Convention Centre California , Cita Des Arts St Denis Reunion Islands , Bflat bengaluru and anywhere open in Chikamagalur Malnad region .Theses are the most beautiful places to perform . On the other hand to watch music all these venues are absolutely great to attend a concert in but let me add I am the happiest in front of any Television or Mobile as long as the music is absorbing .Venue become immaterial when it comes to listening of music .
The artiste goes through various stages in his life the first one majorly being focussed on skill development and execution followed by widening of his horizons as in involving the interesting elements of performing and how to present an act later followed by how to master this whole process and reach out and bring the audience on to his side . If we think about the evolution of audiences along with the artistries or even independently the audience has grown and keeps growing .The best part of our audiences however is that they are more interactive and personal now than ever before . The social media has however given a new spin to the whole concept of listening .Its either a fan following or nothing . I tend to take a different view to this whole phenomenon . Actually the fun and suspense of art ,an artiste and his creation is lost if we are talking of full time engagement with the listeners cause the Artiste should spend more time in creating something of value which a fan can treasure later and admire . Also appreciate that music fans want to know everything and involve themselves much better than before but now and then you find geniuses who walk up to me and congratulate me for playing the keyboard.
An artiste is actually a very powerful person and I always remind myself that we are the lucky few how much ever unlucky we may think we are . We interact with Ministers , International and World Leaders , CEOs of Global Companies , Business Tycoons revolutionary people and what not . This interaction happens because of our music and they interact with us with respect and admiration mainly because of our music . We should always be conscious of that .
I believe very firmly that the artiste has to reach his audience bring them over and take them along on an interesting and exciting journey called “experience” .I would want my interactions and engagements with my audiences to be either entertaining / Shocking / inspiring / exciting or all of these put together. They could however be arranged in a different order at times .