1992/B.Tech/OE Musician Virginia,USA
Shri Prasanna obtained his B.Tech from IIT Madras in 1992. In 1996, he attained his Bachelor of Music in Classical and Jazz Composition from Berklee College of Music, USA with Magna Cum Laude distinction. Prasanna pioneered the art of performing Carnatic music on the guitar and is affectionately referred to as “Guitar Prasanna” by fans. He is renowned worldwide as a guitarist and composer straddling the worlds of Carnatic, Jazz, Classical music, Rock and Blues with a large fan following around the world. For over 15 years, he has been a voting member of the Recording Academy which presents Grammy Awards.
Prasanna has composed music for the Oscar winning film “Smile Pinki”, a laudation he brushes off with modest grace. He was Voted amongst the ‘Top 50 Creative Indians’ by Open Magazine in 2010. His notable performances include the M. S. Subbalakshmi Centenary event at the General Assembly Hall in New York with A.R. Rahman, and the IIT 50th year celebrations at Flint Center in Cupertino.
An Artist with a Humanitarian Vision, Prasanna has helped raise over a million dollars through various concerts for organizations like Eye Foundation of America, India Literacy Project, AID, Doctors without Borders, Asha for Education, Room to Read and others. He composed the stunning “Apna Ek Kal”, the theme song for NGO Ekal Vidyalaya, which brings education to children in the rural and tribal villages of India and Nepal. The “Apna Ek Kal” campaign helped Ekal grow its schools from 30,000 to 100,000 villages.
Prasanna has composed music for prominent socially conscious films – the National Award winning Tamil feature film “Vazhakku Enn 18/9”, The Bill and Melinda Gates funded “After the Garden Grows”, “Algorithms” – a film on India’s chess players with Visual impairments, premiered at the 2013 World Chess Championship in Chennai. He also lent his guitar talents to ‘LoveSick’, a film highlighting the lives of people infected with HIV in India.
With a passion to bring world class music education in India, Prasanna founded the Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music, which is South Asia’s largest college of contemporary music. He has given Talks, Workshops and Residencies at MIT, Berklee College of Music, Harvard University, New York University, TEDx, Facebook HQ, You Tube HQ etc, and we are honoured that he began here.
For his contribution in the field of music, IIT Madras and its Alumni are proud to confer this award upon Shri Prasanna Ramaswamy.
1. You’ve been awarded a pretty hefty title in Emissary of the Muses. What was the job profile like?
It is an honorary title of recognition awarded to me by the Mayor of San Antonio Mr. Ron Nirenberg for representing Chennai and India as musical ambassador and Guitarist for the Sister Cities Jazz Ensemble along with renowned artists from Germany, Namibia, Mexico, Taiwan, China, Japan, Canary Islands and Israel. Chennai is one of the Sister Cities of San Antonio. The Sister Cities Jazz Ensemble partnered with the City of San Antonio and its pre-eminent cultural organization Musical Bridges Around the World and presented a few concerts.
2. Your philanthropic efforts have been remarkable and diverse. Are there any fields and social concerns in the line that you are currently in, or will work on in the future?
I am always happy when my music has a larger benefit for society. I have had the pleasure of aligning with several note-worthy organizations who have done amazing philanthropic work and it is gratifying to see my art be an accompaniment to worthy causes and through that I could give back. I look forward to contributing a lot more to society.
3. You’ve spoken before about the uncertainty of getting a formal degree in music. What was it that finally encouraged you to take the leap?
A mixture of passion, gut instinct and a love for taking some calculated risks. When I left my Engineering Career to go to America to do a degree in music, I did not exactly know how my path will turn out but the thought that I could make a difference to the world through my own special brand of music was wildly exciting. Having been through the drill of an IIT education, I developed enough self-confidence to plunge headlong into music and see what happens.
4. In your opinion, what major factors scupper the potential of formal Indian musical education?
Music is given a high place in Indian culture but intrinsically our classical music tradition has favored a direct Guru-Shishya approach rather than institutional education as is common for Western Classical music, Jazz and other art forms. Most top performers in Western Classical music for example, have formal music degrees from reputed institutions while many top level Indian Classical performers don’t go to music college. That may be one reason why institutional education in music has been slow to emerge but that’s fast changing now. When I founded Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music (with the financial and infrastructure support of Marg Group of Companies), I saw a tremendous excitement from budding musicians from India and many countries to come and study at the college and take advantage of its world class international faculty and infrastructure. A.R. Rahman’s KM Music Conservatory is another wonderful institution that has opened doors for aspiring musicians in classical music. Today music education in India has picked up well with lots of colleges and institutions offering courses in many musical styles.
5. Can the IITs serve to encourage musical talent in India? If so, how should they go about it?
Most definitely yes. IIT Madras has always been fostering music through the Music Club, Saarang and many other activities that were an important part of my musical development. But there is also room for institutions of excellence like the IITs to look beyond the entertainment potential of music and find a way to harness the benefits of music and musical thinking in a more strategic way to find an inter-disciplinary connection with its Science stream. I will be thrilled to offer my services for any initiative like that.
6. Your genre-crossing Electric Ganesha Land (which included songs like Bowling for Peace) created a furor in Indian music when it first came out in 2006. How has the look of this jugalbandhi between classical and other genres changed since the album first came out?
I wanted the world to hear a new Guitar based sound, a sound that’s rooted in India with traditional Indian percussion instruments and yet have a contemporary and current sound – Since the protagonist of the ‘Electric Ganesha Land’ story is a Guitar, the story is in a way universal. I wanted to do a uniquely Indian tribute to the architect of modern Rock guitar sound – Jimi Hendrix in my own personal way by composing new music for Rock guitar and Carnatic percussion. It is not only amazing to see EGL’s impact around the world with the Guitar and Rock community but also in Indian film and fusion music. Many tracks from EGL were used as part of the soundtrack for the Tamil film ‘Vazhakku Enn 18/9’ as desired by the director Balaji Sakthivel. South Indian Superstar Music Director Anirudh Ravichander and his band Zinx performed many songs from EGL in their shows. ‘Bowling for Peace’ is one song that has become very popular and has influenced a lot of musicians and composers from the Indian sub-continent. The song is commonly played by many cover bands in South Asia and has been used as theme music for the Kolkata Blind school of Dance, a Bengaluru street cleaning project, a documentary on the Punjab in Pakistan, a travel video of Pakistani Railways and more.