It’s been a little over ten years since Prateek Kuhad became acquainted with a guitar. In that time, he’s earned a math degree from NYU, won a string of awards (including an MTV EMA last month), and redefined what it means to be an up-and-coming musician in India.
Kuhad’s charm lies in his sincere simplicity. He keeps his music minimal and his voice light, and the results are ephemeral. The simplicity can be deceptive, though. Lean in a little closer and listen hard, and you’ll realise that the lyrics have a depth you could drown in. English or Hindi, they just come to him. “My process towards songwriting and production has always been instinctive,” he says. “I try my best to not guide either in a conscious direction. I feel like I express myself equally well in both languages. It just depends on the moment, which language I decide to write in.” This ease of expression is what defines his music. Rather than work towards a deadline, Kuhad collects his music in bits and pieces, setting down guitar arrangements that lie without lyrical accompaniment for months on end. He creates a bank of songs, from which he later picks out the ones that can come together in an album.
The soulful lyrics and smooth delivery create a beautiful sense of intimacy, one that Kuhad uses to maximum effect in equally intimate concerts. For the launch of his debut album In Tokens and Charms in 2015, Kuhad ignored big outdoor concerts and the cosy-but-confused pub gigs, and instead, performed in small amphitheatres and auditoriums. This October, he played at a 600-seater auditorium in Mumbai, set up with only a baby grand piano and professional lighting. The effect was captivating. “I’ve always tried to stick to doing what feels right and what makes sense. Following the norm has never been part of my attitude, no matter what aspect of my life.” If you congratulate him on all the effort he has taken to perfectly package his music and build a real experience for his fans, he laughs it off. “I think it’s more my songs that have struck a chord with people. It’s why they come out to see me in concert. I’m very thankful for that.” Kuhad shows his gratitude by personally responding to every fan message or comment on his Facebook page, thanking fans for their love and support, and giving out ticket links and show timings.
‘Ab Hoga Kya’
‘Go’ ‘Yeh Pal’
On his own time, Kuhad is up for anything, even music-wise. “I like to listen to all forms of music, everything from pop to hip-hop and classical, folk music etc. Mostly for the past few years I’ve not really had one particular artist that I’ve been stuck on or obsessed with. Some of my favourite songwriters have been Hozier and Tom Odell — both their first albums were incredible.” His songwriting, he says, is also inspired by various artists, though his decision to write music came from listening to Elliott Smith. “His songs really affected me in an unprecedented manner.”
When he’s not busy revolutionising the way in which we listen to music, he’s off touring the world, flying from venue to venue and squeezing in recordings when he can. New York, Austin, Toronto and Rio de Janeiro are slotted in his schedule between Pune, Delhi and Arunachal Pradesh. “Overseas, the music industry is more mature in many ways. People are more professional and ethical, and the music is less of a business and more of a passion. It’s relative, but it still makes a difference.” With an EP, an album and several singles under his belt, the future looks promising for Kuhad. What next? He answers, “More shows, more songs, more albums.”