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‘We evolve on stage’

Five-time Grammy award-winning bassist, Victor Wooten, and acclaimed guitarist, Prasanna, on their collaboration, after a workshop and concert in the city

music Updated: Apr 14, 2010 16:33 IST
Nikhil Taneja

Five-time Grammy award-winning bassist, Victor Wooten, and acclaimed guitarist, Prasanna, on their collaboration, after a workshop and concert in the city

This is Victor Wooten’s first visit to India. Prasanna, how difficult was it for you to get him down to India?
Victor Wooten:
(Straight faced) Well, I called up Prasanna and told him, ‘You’ve got to come to India, man. You’ll love the place.’ It took a long time, but I finally convinced him to come to India.
(Both laugh)

Prasanna: Yeah, it did take a long time to happen. I’ve started a music college in India, Swarnabhoomi. We did one week-long workshop for it last year with David Gilmour (Pink Floyd), which was very successful. So I thought of doing a multiple-city tour of music workshops. (Smiles) The only person I could think of was, but didn’t know I could get, was Victor.

Victor’s been a very good friend, but it almost didn’t happen because he wanted to take an Easter break from his tours. But he really wanted to do an India trip, so he got on board.

Wooten: We’ve tried to make this possible since many years but it wasn’t working out from my end.

Prasanna: I think we had a better cause, and that’s why it worked out now.

When did you guys first come together? Was it for Prasanna’s album, Be The Change?
Yeah, it was. The first time I contacted Victor was 10 years ago, when I had just finished studying at Berklee College of Music. (Laughs) I don’t know how I had the guts to ask him for a concert! It didn’t work out at the time, but when I was working on my album, I called him again. Not only did he agree to it, he also helped me get Derico Watson and Jeff Coffin on board, and lent his own studio to record it. So I recorded with him, met his family, (laughs) played on the trampoline with his kids, and formed a great bond for life.

We first played in a concert in California, in 2003. You know, Victor’s very keen to play in concerts, but he’s always so busy with all his bands, so it’s great of him to make time for this.

How has the music that you play together evolved over the years?
First, I think we are definitely better musicians now. I also think that I understand Prasanna’s musical language better. I’ve learnt a few more words of it. We don’t play with each other a lot, but we just know each other more, so it becomes easier to perform on stage.

Prasanna: Yeah, we never have time to rehearse for a week or sit and understand each other’s music before concerts, so we just trust each other’s understanding of our music. We evolve on stage, while we play. The important thing is that we are having fun as a band now – the compositions may be mine but it’s Victor’s interpretation that lends it the charm.

And what have you guys learnt from each other?
I’ve learnt the language of Indian music from Prasanna. The beauty of his music is that he mixes two cultures in a terrific manner. He stays loyal to American jazz traditions, but doesn’t forget his Indian roots. A lot of guitarists from other countries have tried to play jazz but what sets Prasanna apart from anyone I’ve heard playing guitar or American music is the way he incorporates his authentic Indianness in it.

(Smiles) He’s not just good at it, he’s so good that it makes me want to learn how he does it! I’d say he’s the Indian parallel of John McLaughlin, who I’m a big fan of.

Prasanna: I’ve learnt how Victor internalizes his music and makes it a part of himself. Also, when you hear his music, within seconds, you recognise its him! (Smiles) I hope someday people can recognise my music that way too.

He’s an inspirational friend to have. We may be peers, but I’m also his fan. (Chuckles) So I actually try and incorporate his tips in the workshops, in the gigs we play after that.

How do you both perceive the music you make? Is it ‘fusion’ for you?
Contrary to it being fusion, a lot of people think it’s Carnatic music. But what we play is only informed by Carnatic music, but there’s a lot of jazz, funk and rock in it, which Victor is familiar with. So he brings in his experience to fill the gaps in my music with his sound. Also, I write my music in a way that people can have fun with it and it’s not intimidating. It’s a deliberate attempt to make elements of Indian music fit in with everything else, rather than stand out. It’s less Indian, more r ‘n’ b or funk.

Wooten: (Chuckles) But of course, for me, it’s more Indian than anything else. The Indian part stands out, and I work hard to understand it, while the rest is up my alley. Whatever I know about Indian music today, I’ve learnt through Prasanna. I keep asking him questions about it, every chance I get, and that’s how we’ve perfected our sound.

Victor, how has your experience in India been?
I’m blown away by India! My records are not in the stores here, my books aren’t here, but people knew my music in concerts, they had my books with them, they were requesting my songs… It was amazing! It’s quite exciting to come to another country and have people cheering you on.

I’d love to come back here for a longer time soon. There’s some culture here that I want to embrance and take back. I love India so far… The people, the food, (chuckles) the crazy traffic. To us Westerners, what may appear as chaos, is actually a thing of beauty here.