Aditya Prakash Ensemble: Diaspora Kid

July 29, 2020

Transcendental Orchestration

Listening Post 263. Aditya Prakash describes his Los Angeles childhood as “socially American and culturally Indian” and observes that growing up the two aspects of his life were largely separate. He began studying Carnatic music—the classical vocal style of South India—at age five; by the time he was 10 he was shuttling between LA and Chennai in pursuit of his music education, and by 15 he was touring with Ravi Shankar, which included appearances at the Hollywood Bowl and Carnegie Hall. His social-cultural synergy blossomed in UCLA’s ethnomusicology program, where he studied jazz composition and Hindustani music and launched his Aditya Prakash Ensemble. Diaspora Kid, the group’s third album, is an Olympic-grade fusion of Indian classical and contemporary jazz templates, with folk, funk, hip hop and Celtic touches. It’s also a soundscape of voices, instruments and styles—dreamy chants and sharp rap poetry, brass arrangements and mesmerizing konnakol (rhythmic syllables)—alternately flying in relay and synchronicity. Beyond musical pairings both recognizable and novel are songs in Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, Sanskrit and English; themes and metaphors that embrace heavenly devotion and romantic love, joy and madness, fire and water. A forbidding river separates lovers in Nadia, Prakash’s voice floating on flute, electric tabla and soft drums (video 1); the pace turns frenetic in the clash and tumble of Warrior, an allegory about reaching the boiling point (video 2). Joy is the perfect title for rhapsodic vocal gymnastics expressing the carefree spirit of youth (video 3). Returning to a trope, Ambiga (Boatman) links a devotional melody with a sixteenth-century lyric comparing God to a captain who ferries people across turbulent seas (video 4), while Ramakali (Roots), is a pure Carnatic ode to the Hindu deity Rama. Transcendental and terrestrial, universal and particular, Diaspora Kid brings together distant continents—and the once separate chambers of a single artistic soul. (Ropeadope)

Aditya Prakash Ensemble: Diaspora Kid
Aditya Prakash: Vocals
Julian Le: Piano
Owen Clapp: Upright and electric bass
Brijesh Pandya: Drums
Mike Greenwood: Piano
Jonathan Pinson: Drums
Amir Oosman: Drums
Josh Johnson: Alto Sax
David Michael Otis: Alto sax
Mike Cottone: Trumpet
Emile Martinez: Trumpet
Jonah Levine: Trombone
Shiva Ramamurthi: Violin
Wesley Singerman: Guitar
Ryan Thomas: Guitar
Megan Shung: Violin
Yu-Ting Wu: Violin
Mikala Schmitz: Cello
Sean Lyonns: Viola
BC Manjunath: Konnakol
L Ramakrishnan: Violin
Sumesh Narayanan: Mridangam
Hitomi Oba: Flute
Mic Holden: Percussion and raps
Matt Smith: String Arrangements


Nadia / नादिया

The song’s Hindi lyrics tell the story of lovers on opposite sides of a river who passionately desire to meet. But the river has turned hostile and they are not able to cross. Despite the sorrow and longing to unite, factors beyond their control prevent it from happening.


The Warrior
Original composition
Konnakol recited by BC Manjunath, sung by Aditya Prakash

The linguistically void rhythmic syllables (konnakol) convey the idea of getting to the boiling point—the point where you feel like you are going crazy and can’t take the madness of this world anymore and want to just shout in frustration.


Original composition by Aditya Prakash and Julian Le/Lyrics by Vignesh Ravichandran

The Tamil lyrics tell of the beauty and carefree joy of youth.


Ambiga / ಅಂಬಿಗ
Melody from the devotional tune “Devarnama”/Lyrics by Purandaradasa (16th Century)

The lyrics in Kannada compare God to a boatsmen who ferries the lyricist across the ocean of life. The waters are turbulent but he has faith that his Divine Guide will take him safely to distant shores.


Roots / Ramakali
Traditional Carnatic composition by Muthuswami Dikshitar (18th century)

A song of praise, in Sanskrit, to the Hindu deity Rama


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