Dream Guitars Q&A with Konarak Reddy

We had the luxury of having Indian guitarist Konarak Reddy visit the shop recently, perform and also record a video lesson all available here.

Konarak is an amazing player with a unique style of play. We have asked Konarak a few questions about his history and playing style – following are his responses:

How long have you been playing Fingerstyle?

I have been playing fingerstyle off and on for about 40 years. But I started concentrating solely on fingerstyle about 15 years ago when I performed at Peter Finger’s “Open Strings Festival” in Osnabruck, Germany. Around the age of 13, I first began playing the guitar and it was an acoustic steel string guitar (nylon string guitars were not available in India back then) and I started out by studying western classical guitar from the “Carcassi Classical Guitar Method” book.

What styles are you blending together? Is it Indian classical music or folk music?

I blend styles that range from western classical, jazz, rock, Brazilian, North and South Indian classical and from my experiences of life.

As a child growing up here in India in the 50’s I lived with plurality and multi-culturalism. Every morning I heard the Muslim Mulla’s call echoing from the neighborhood mosque as well as the traditional Subrabhatham, a Sankrit chant sung by the famous M.S.Subbalakshmi playing on temple speakers. We had the Andrew sisters on Radio Ceylon and the western classical music of Beethoven, Chopin, Bach and Tchaikovsky on 33 and 78rpm records at home. We had the churches and the choirs. We had concerts of the great South and North Indian musicians of our time and we also listened to Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead, The Who, Ten Years After, Miles Davis whose LP’s we would exchange amongst us friends.

Where did you learn western music skills?

Well, I studied western classical guitar in India and took exams from Trinity and Royal College of Music, London which are held in India annually. After that, I toured India extensively with my rock band. In ’76, I went to Berklee to study jazz and in ’89 to Musicians Institute, Hollywood. I lived in Los Angeles for 6 years, teaching and playing. Finally, I returned to India in 1993 to focus on my music.

What musicians / artists were influences on you along the way?

Lalgudi Jayram, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Bismillah Khan, Ali Akbar Khan, Carl Jung, Jimi Hendrix, Andre Segovia, Flute Mahalingam, The TibetanBook of the Dead, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin…

What else would you like our readership to know about you?

I am very fortunate to be born in India a few years after Indian Independence and that too to parents from a mixed marriage, both of whom were artists. The whole world was open to me. I was not confined by tradition, language or thought.

The Freedom Movement was initially led by minds who were fluent in English, aware of world affairs and not afraid to break with tradition. Later, Mahatma Gandhi took this movement to the masses.

So today, when foreign artists and musicians come to India with folded hands, taking their shoes off, dressed in Indian clothes and try to learn from our traditional systems, they do what most hesitant guests do in a new country. They get mesmerized by the brilliance of the traditional systems. The logic, the mathematics, the return to the sum (one), the Raga system, konakol etc. Fusing, trying to mix and match western harmony and Indian melody and rhythm.

But for people like me who grew up in an Indian environment speaking English and equally comfortable with Jimi Hendrix and Ravi Shanker from an early age, well versed with all the influences of post colonial India, mixing styles and genres was a natural process of assimilation. We own it and can practice it with easy irreverence.

I would love readers to contact me on Facebook, share their comments and also to view my music links: