The Hedonistic Ascetic - Prem Joshua


Freedom, creativity, joy

Mini-in-depth interview with Prem Joshua

How are you? How’s your life?
Jet-lagging after my return from India to Europe... I love this feeling of waking up and not knowing who I am, where I am and what time it is, there is just a complete gap in my brain!

What did you sing the last time you sang?
Just a few minutes back I practiced the vocal parts of a new composition I have been working on lately. For half of my life I was concentrating on playing different musical instruments, mainly sitar, bamboo flutes, soprano saxophone, but over the last few years I have added vocals as an important part of my music. I simply love singing, it is so direct, it comes straight from within, my whole body is the instrument!

How’s your inner experience of your own life lately, in the last few years?
Big question! Maybe that of gratitude! I feel like such a lucky person. Yes, with my music I have always worked hard all my life - but this kind of hard work is not at all a drag, it comes straight from an inner urge to express all the luck and blessings I have received. I experience so much freedom, creativity and joy.

Sometimes I ask myself, why I am so lucky?
I can live in such beautiful places of my own choice, I have the freedom to travel, I can earn my livelihood with music which is my greatest passion, I am healthy, I have lovely friends and family. There is not much more one can ask for in life. It is sheer luck, and to recognise this luck is very humbling.

Do you think I deserve it? Do you think I have done something special to be so lucky?
No, it is a sheer gift of life! I feel a deep longing to share this gift through my music. And this “lucky feeling” is not a superficial emotion, on the contrary, it is the deep recognition that I am nothing but a drop in the vast ocean.

When was the last time you’ve had a whole-hearted laugh? What was it?
Laughter? What is this? I have German background and we Germans can be soooo serious! We are the world champions of seriousness! You want us to laugh? It is inefficient to laugh! The same time you are laughing you could be working! But deep down we Germans are really suffering from this disease that was already given with our mother’s milk. And nowadays this German disease is quietly spreading all over the world. It is a dangerous virus, no antibiotics will help, the only antidote is an overdose of laughter. Please have compassion with us! We Germans are actually simple and nice people who also want to laugh and be easy, but we have forgotten how to do that. Whosoever out there in this wide world
still knows how to laugh - teach us again! In return you can have all our machines and technology. And trust me, wwe Germans can be very funny too! Just we need a little international tickling! Laughter and inefficiency are the main ingredients in the soup called happiness. Luckily I have lived most of my life outside of Germany, I have learned again how to laugh, at least once a month...

When was the last time you’ve had a whole-hearted weeping? What was it?
Just this morning tears came to my eyes when I heard the news that my favourite Indian airline had to shut down due to a recent 1 billion dollar loss. Of course I didn’t cry because of an impersonal airline going bankrupt but because of all the lovely staff people working for the airline I had come to know. All of them suddenly lost their jobs. Over many years of my extensive concert tours in India I had developed a personal contact with these lovely people working at check-in counters and the porters carrying my instruments. Knowing that they are suffering makes me sad. If I had learned one thing in India then it is that the warm smile of an honest and simple person is worth more than a billion dollars.

What brings you great joy these days?
Practicing music, it is my tool and key to my inner world. Of course sharing my music with an audience is a great joy - but honestly, just sitting at home and doing my daily practice with nobody listening is certainly as rewarding.

And what makes you sad or angry (these days)?
That the world does not seem to learn from it’s own history. Democracy is a nice idea but practiced in a kindergarten by immature people will only bring dangerous idiots to power. The most dangerous politicians nowadays are all elected by the people of democracies.

What is the most valuable thing for you in being a musician, an artist who works with sounds?
Silence. Only out of silence inspiration comes. Of course I listen also to other artistes and their music to get inspired — but ultimately I need a silent space to be able to work on music. This refers to a quiet inner and outer space. The great masters of India have always considered silence as the highest form of music. Out of the core of silence sounds evolve like garlands. This universe is filled with sounds and music. It is all already there. As a musician and composer one has to just develop the key to be able to hear it.

What is the most valuable thing for you in your live performances?
A good sound from my monitors. Only an inspiring stage sound makes a band go beyond “just playing well”. Then it doesn’t matter whether you play for 20 or 20000 people.

Does spirituality have a role in your life? If so, what kind of how?
Nowadays there is so much talk on so-called spirituality by people who pretend to know. Please let me avoid it. But it doesn’t mean that I don’t “believe” in spirituality. Your question is a bit like: does food have a role in your life? Yes, of course! Without food I would die of starvation. It is the same with spirituality, it is the food for my soul.

How do you see our future on Earth?
What can I say? We should ask the Earth herself how she feels about our future. I am sure we humans are on her “wish list for extinction”.

What is the most important thing you learned so far in your life?
How to prepare a good Italian pasta.

Is there anything that you feel absorbed into nowadays?
If I don’t travel for concerts, then I love to be absorbed in the very simple things and rituals of my daily life — in the following sequence: an early morning walk, a little yoga for my body-temple, a good coffee, hours of musical practice, preparing a simple but delicious lunch, again hours of musical practice and composing, a late afternoon walk in the fields with the neighbor’s dog, a glass of excellent wine. I love a life of “hedonistic asceticism”, without any TV, games, movies and other distractions.

In what form does aggression manifest in your life at this point and how do you deal with it?
Oh, this question makes me so angry! Just kidding! Aggression mostly arises unexpectedly. Basically nothing wrong with aggression, it is just raw and pure energy — as long as I can watch the impulse and don’t immediately hit somebody’s nose. But it becomes dangerous as it is almost always paired with unawareness around repressed emotions. But when I learn to consciously see it the very moment it arises, then I might be also able to transform this energy into something creative, right then and there.

How would you describe your fans in three words?
Music is like a code language that unlocks the access to inner freedom. Regardless of their country, language and upbringing, this code can be immediately and globally understood by certain “People With Ears”.

What is or could be your life’s motto now?
Let it happen.

Do you fight for anything?
I would like to contribute to this world in such a way that I add to its beauty and grace, as an act of thankfulness. Sometimes this feels like a fight as in this age nobody seems to be interested in beauty any more, people want money, power and success.

And do you fight against something?
I hope that my music is an expression of a “fight for a better world”, against a world that gets more brutalised by the day.

When in East what do you miss from the West?
In the West things simply “work”. There are certain high quality standards of daily life that we take for granted. Once living in India it becomes very obvious that these basic Western standards are actually luxury items. In India clean air, clean water, constant uninterrupted electricity and internet access are next to impossible. But it is not just the functionality, there are many more qualities in the West that I love and miss when I am away. On so many levels Europe has achieved extremely high and unsurpassed standards in human living — culturally, economically, politically, socially, philosophically, educationally. We should be proud of these human achievements and fearlessly continue to improve these fields. But now the brown demons of fear are back with their loud and simple political “solutions”, they act like bulldozers against the fragile butterflies of human evolution.

And when in Europe, what do you miss from India?
India is an explosion of colours, diversity, intensity, contradictions, there is an abundance of everything, good or bad! The most breathtaking beauty of nature next to the dirtiest, polluted cities in the world. The finest of musical heights next to the loudest noise. The subtlest fragrances next to the most horrible stench. The most heartfelt, sweet and selflessly giving people next to the most inhuman corruption. Spiritual wisdom and deep insight next to the biggest egoistic materialism on this planet. I could easily continue this list. I have lived in India for more than 40 years, my initial superficial honey moon is long over but now I am in love and even addicted to her. She has caught a spell over me. And she is the only country I call “she”.

What can we expect at your concert in Hungary at the 2019 Everness Festival?
“Prem Joshua & Band” is a truly international collective of musicians from India, Japan and Europe. You can expect a very unique and danceable sound, a bridge between East and West, heavily inspired by the mesmerising music of India, merging traditional acoustic instruments with reggae, jazz, loops and electronica.

What would you say to yourself that you were at the age of 20?
I would say: Thanks for being such a courageous fool, with your head in the clouds but with your feet always on the ground, ready to make every mistake possible. Your trust in your dreams and all the hard work has eventually borne fruit.

What does freedom mean translated in your own life’s everyday language?
It is almost a paradox. Freedom is a constant challenge and responsibility to be more conscious and to make your right choices, every moment anew — and at the same time you know that actually there is nothing to do and nothing to choose — as life is already happening perfectly fine on its own.

Once you said in an interview that there are many luminous or open secrets in the universe but we need the sensitivity to perceive them. Could you please give us a few examples based on your life experience?
Man is looking for God in churches and temples but at the same time he is busy destroying this beautiful Earth. With a little more sensitivity he would realise the open secret that the same Earth which he is destroying, is the God he was looking for.

If you would have left only one hour to live what would you do?
I would probably sing or cry out of gratitude, or just sit in silence....