Joshua talks to Ishu about music and his beloved India.
Multi-instrumentalist Prem Joshua (sitar, flute, saxophone and vocals) is one of the most successful musicians known in the so-called World Music. He lives with his band for six months in India and for the rest of the year tours in Europe. We wanted to know from Joshua what place meditation has in his stressful and busy life as a musician.
Your life is probably anything but a slow, calm river. You’re often on tour, you organise your band, your concerts. Is there any room for pause, quietness and silence?
[Laughs] The crazy thing is that the other day I asked myself exactly this question. We are actually travelling a lot, we are constantly packing our bags and still have to plan this or that. What a luxury it would be to have more time! And when you do not have enough time, that also means that you cannot really be in the moment, that you are already somewhere else.
I honestly have to tell you that I rarely take time for what we usually call ‘meditation’, although I have done that a lot in Buddha Hall in the past… But there are also other possibilities to fall into a meditative space: a walk for instance or just cheekily lying on the sofa to chill out. We don’t always have to sit in the strict Zen posture; we can sometimes also be a couch potato, as long as we are aware of what we are doing.
Is that what you do at times?
Yes, absolutely! Perhaps it also has to do with the fact that I am getting older and that sometimes I simply need it.
But the path for me to reach my center is music. We now have a month’s break for our band and I have a few weeks to just play and practice. At the moment I especially practice on the sitar and with vocals; I clearly feel how playing takes me to the center. While tuning the sitar strings at the same time I tune myself into music. It is like a meditative space into which I enter.
How does that work when you are on tour? For example, you arrive feeling tired and yet have to play that very evening. Does is sometimes happen that you are unable to access a meditative space or does it happen by itself when you start playing?
Over the years I have learned that; fortunately you can learn it! Also, my band provides a very big support for this. The core of our international band consists of four members: bass player Satgyan Fukuda (from Japan), percussionist Raul Sengupta (from India and Germany), keyboardist Dondieu Divin (from India and France) and me. This core is augmented by other musicians mainly for concerts and tours. Most of us have been playing together for over ten years now and we are a great support for each other.
With our concerts we want to convey a certain musical message. Even if the word ‘meditation’ is not written in large neon letters, our approach is somewhat meditative with a sprig of energy. I am, however, very careful with such labels. Basically, all I want is to make honest and good music. And when someone is touched, I’m happy. If a piece of music really moves you, then it expresses something that corresponds to your soul, to your heart. And the result is a presence – that I associate with meditation – even if our music is not really made for sitting quietly.
You have been playing music since you were a child. How has your music changed since you met Osho?
During the many years I was in Pune with Osho, for over three years I learned classical sitar with master Ustad Usman Khan and that collaboration went hand in hand with being with Osho.
A sentence by Osho which made an impact on me was: “If your music cannot create silence in the people who are listening, it is not music. … It is just making noise.“ 1)
I liked this sentence so much that I wrote it on a large poster and hung it in our music room where we practiced for the evening meditation at the ashram.
That was for me exactly the point: Am I making noise or do I want to make music? Is it about vomiting or is it about creating a space in the listeners, where it is easier also for them to come back to themselves? And now we are back to the subject of meditation…
A band like Led Zeppelin would not necessarily meet these requirements?
[Laughs] I do not want to say this at all! I can actually say that the music by Led Zeppelin has helped me significantly to find myself. Music has an uncanny power and a band like Led Zeppelin has its place. And often I too feel that what is being called ‘meditative music’ is not meditative at all, but foremost very boring!
When it comes to creating silence for the listener, does that mean that you use different kinds of music?
I do not want to limit this at all to the word ‘silence’. But first I have to say something else; in spiritual circles there is incredibly much chatter [laughs]; everyone has an opinion and everybody knows something! I have become very cautious not to add my two cents worth about all what I have understood! After all these years with Osho I only know that I know nothing, and that I shouldn’t be giving any great speeches.
It is too easy to say, “Because of the blessings of my master I am where I am today…” However, I do say that this sentence is right for me because Osho has helped me so much to carry on with my music. He has encouraged me again and again, and for that I am very grateful!
With our music, we do of course try to open a specific space for the audience. It is very difficult to put it into words, yet ultimately, it is about some kind of presence. And I believe that, for example, Led Zeppelin and other bands that are perhaps very loud, do that in their own way, too. Through their incredible energy they have given me so much: the wildness, something that pushes all boundaries, that’s Rock! But also Jazz in the broadest sense or World Music – there are many great artists who manage to move boundaries and can convey a sense of freedom to their audience. Many of these musicians have given me something that feels like meditation to me, because their music has led me to myself.
You guys are travelling to many different countries. Is there a place where you perceive a particularly strong flow with the audience?
There are many different places but for sure one of them is the famous jazz club Blue Frog in Mumbai. When we play there the audience stands – up to 600 people shoulder to shoulder –and the place really heats up. Yes, actually, our best audience is in India! There is now a young generation – around 20 years old – who have grown up with our music. It is a very special experience to play in front of people who are so young!
It’s a very interesting generation that is growing up now in India; they are intelligent, educated, cosmopolitan and they want to get somewhere in their lives. They’re fresh, open and enthusiastic! I live part of the year in Italy and there I feel the mood is often quite depressive. For 25 percent of the young people there is no work and they say, “Why should I study? I won’t get a job anyway!“ They don’t see a future for themselves because the economical crisis has interfered with everything. In India I see this totally differently; many young people have a very positive outlook on their lives.
Many in the West see India as the mother country of spirituality and meditation. What is your view on this after having lived so many years in India?
First of all, India is the country of my master. For that alone I have a very special connection with this country. And India has produced so many masters as no other country has, and still does. There is somewhere a source that is much more accessible than anywhere else in the world. Of course, it says nothing about the quality. In India there are thousands of choices that are simply there to draw money out of people. But that is not only in India; you can find it in every spiritual scene. Also there we have the law of supply and demand. Do you want a car? There’s a car. Do you want a guru? There’s a guru. Do you want the truth? Then here’s the truth. Whether it is really the truth, that is another question!
In India I am always asked, “Why do you come to India? Where do you see spirituality here, where meditation?” Many Indians do not perceive it as such and are partly bemused by that. That’s the modern India and it is, in fact, far removed from its spiritual roots. You could compare it with going to Tokyo to find Zen. Of course there are tourist places in India such as Varanasi, where at every corner empty pseudo-religious phrases are offered to you. This is, for me, dead Hindu tradition and certainly not my spirituality. But for me there is something like my inner India. Basically, I mean my inner home. Of course you may not only find it in India, but India has helped me with that and continues to do so.
Interview by Ishu for the German Osho Times (oshotimes.de) – translation by Osho News
1) Osho quote from The Great Pilgrimage: From Here to Here, Ch 18, Q 2
Joshua was born in south Germany and came to Pune in 1979 where he took sannyas. Some might remember him washing pots in Mariam Canteen but mostly we saw him playing for Osho, before and after discourse. Joshua lives between India and Italy and travels worldwide with his band. He released 18 albums so far, with EMI, Universal, Silenzio, Music Today, New Earth Records. premjoshua.com – facebook.com/PremJoshuaAndBand