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Music festival brings Journey drummer

Photo courtesy of Prasanna
Prasanna (left) and Journey drummer Steve Smith offer an accessible introduction to Carnatic music at a fund-raising concert tomorrow night.
By Nathan Tafoya
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, March 25, 2004
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The words "Carnatic music" don't usually conjure up images of Indian guitar virtuoso Prasanna and legendary drummer for multi-platinum rock band Journey, Steve Smith, jamming together on the same stage.

In fact, most people would ask: "Carne what? Is that a burrito?"

Regardless, the duo will showcase the ancient form of Indian classical music at the UA tomorrow night.

"It's just like European classical music, in the sense that it's very highly evolved," Prasanna said.

He added that Carnatic music is much older, though, and involves various percussion and stringed instruments.

The noted musicians will also fuse the traditional art form with American jazz and rock in the Social Sciences auditorium as part of a fund-raiser for the Association for India's Development.

"Steve is one of the few people who can do it," Prasanna said. "We thought, this way, we would have something for everyone in the audience. But it's a good introduction to Carnatic music, and it's a good introduction to how I use Carnatic music in my work in jazz, rock, reggae ¸ everything else too."

The primary stringed instrument for Carnatic music is the vina, which is similar to a sitar. Prasanna is known world-wide as being the only professional performing Carnatic music on modern Western instruments such as the electric guitar.

Percussionist Smith has a nice resume too; he's been voted top all-around drummer five years in a row by Modern Drummer magazine and performed with artists like Mariah Carey and Bryan Adams.

Prasanna explained that the Carnatic portion of tomorrow's concert will rely heavily on improvisation.

"It's going to be spontaneous because that's the nature of the music itself," said Prasanna.

The 33-year-old guitarist picked up his first six-string when he was 13 in order to play songs from Indian films and to play along with bands like Deep Purple and Santana.

"I was pretty much playing the guitar before I started playing Carnatic music, and I just naturally took to playing it on the guitar," Prasanna said.

Prasanna said most of his concerts in America tend to be at universities because they integrate multicultural performances. He and Smith will only be performing at the UA and Arizona State University.

"I think younger people need to be given access to music outside of what you see on MTV and VH1," he said. "There's a lot of stuff going on. I think performing in colleges gives you a ready-made audience of people of different diversities."

Prasanna said the name of the two-stop tour, Be the Change, works on multiple fronts.

Be the Change was the name of his latest record and, Prasanna said, was part of Gandhi's message for sociopolitical reform.

One of the concert's organizers and a computer science graduate student, Arvind Krishnaswamy said AID hopes to raise a few thousand dollars in order to finance rural development projects in India.

"It's a good situation for everyone," said Prasanna. "They can come and enjoy some very interesting music. At the same time, we all know that it's a very good cause."

AID is a voluntary nonprofit organization committed to promoting sustainable, equitable and fair development in India.

Tickets can be purchased in advance by contacting Prasad Boddupalli at 440-2633 or Arvind Krishnaswamy at 791-0526. They can also be purchased online by proceeding through the concert page:

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