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A Fusion Of Music From East & West

From The Gainesville Sun
Nov. 13, 03
by By Julie Garrett,  Sun staff writer

Prem Joshua, Hina, Manish Vyas, TanmayoPrem Joshua's 2003 East-West Alchemy Tour touches down in Gainesville this weekend, offering a musical masala of East and West fusion at a concert Saturday and a day-long workshop Sunday.

Just as garam masala, an aromatic mixture of spices, is used extensively in curry dishes, Prem Joshua's mix of musical traditions creates a unique blend of world music.  "We play a fusion of East and West based a lot on Indian music mixed with modern grooves and a touch of jazz and Celtic," said Manish Vyas, the group's percussionist.

The group's Gainesville visit - its third - is sponsored by The World Harmony Project, a local nonprofit cultural and educational organization.  "They're a world-class, world music group, and world music is a big part of what we like to offer," says Shanti Vani, World Harmony's spokeswoman.  "We've had a rousing response from people when they've been here before.  There's a lot of excitement about them coming back." 

The group's namesake, German-born composer and instrumentalist Prem Joshua, is considered a pioneer in world music.  Joshua traveled to India at age 18.  At the time he already played the flute, saxophone and electric guitar, and soon he began learning the sitar.  He spent the next 20 years studying music and meditation, primarily in India, all the while creating a new synthesis of sound that fused his Western roots in rock and jazz with his spiritual and musical studies.

Today, Joshua is a sitar master who employs Indian flutes, sax, electronica and tarana-style vocals (sounds mimicking beats) to bridge the gap between traditional Eastern sounds and Western jazz forms.  Anyway you look at it, the sitar music of Prem Joshua is not your father's sitar music.  If you are hoping to hear the same music that inspired George Harrison, look somewhere else.  Prem Joshua is totally contemporary.  Joshua's sitar works to support the music rather than own it.  The extended solos of the past are replaced by subtler passages, with rhythmic phrases woven underneath the melodies.

The group also showcases tabla master Vyas, who plays with a flair that recalls Mickey Hart, another '60s alumnus.  Hart, who had early fame with The Grateful Dead, has won notoriety and a Grammy Award as a New Age percussionist.  Vyas shows a similar deft touch in blending Eastern instrumentation with Western rhythms.  He also plays the santoor, a traditional Indian instrument with 86 strings.

Prem Joshua, as a group, seeks to make foreign sounds intriguing for Western cultures.  The group often adds doses of contemporary Celtic and Techno to its mix of New Age and traditional Indian music. If all this sounds confusing, don't worry; your body will figure it out.  The music may send you gliding toward meditation or into the grind of the dance floor.

Prem Joshua members come from around the world.  Joshua himself was born in Freiburg.  Vyas is Indian, violinist/vocalist Tanmayo Boydd is from Scotland and classically trained dancer Hina Sarojini is from Singapore.  She fuses flamenco, African, hip-hop and modern dance in her performances.  The four met in India. And, Vyas contends, all share the same musical and spiritual path. "Our path and spirituality brings us somewhere.  Music is simply a reflection of where that is - it's just sharing the space where we come from," Vyas says. "Our music is what we are.  If it's beautiful, that's what we are.  If it's ugly, that's what we are.  That's true of any art form.  You can never hide it."

Prem Joshua's 2001 fusion releases Sky Kisses Earth and Dance Of Shakti remain his most popular.  Joshua and Vyas collaborated in 2002 on Water Down The Ganges.  New releases include Dakini Lounge: Prem Joshua Remixed, Shiva Moon: Prem Joshua Remixed by Maneesh De Moor and Vyas' solo debut album, Sattva (Sanskrit for "the essence of being").

Their music is popular at yoga studios and spas.  Gainesville acupuncturist Bethany Bechtel describes herself as a big fan.  She attended the band's 2000 and 2001 Gainesville shows and plays the group's CDs during her acupuncture treatments.  "What I really love about their music is its therapeutic qualities," said Bechtel.  "People just walk into my office and they're immediately relaxed."

Sunday's Prem Joshua and Manish Vyas Meditation Workshop includes a 90-minute live musical satsang (music and silence, with participants sitting in meditation), an hour-long live music trance dance meditation and a two-hour introduction to Indian dance.  At 5 p.m., after tea, they'll lead a kirtan event (devotional singing) with all participants singing together. The workshop also is sponsored by The World Harmony Project.  Now in its 10th year, the Project produces cultural events that highlight traditional and contemporary art forms from around the world.

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