The young and the restless: why Prateek Kuhad is a singer to watch
Some say Kurt Cobain shot himself because he believed his music was inadequate. Prateek Kuhad is in no danger of doing any such thing. "I am able to look at my music objectively", he says. "It's good."
Kuhad's fairly large fan-following likely concurs. In February 2015, his track ranked fifth among VH1's top 10. He has performed in New York, New Orleans, Prague and across India, including at every edition of NH7 Weekender. He's opened for Alt J in Delhi and Bombay, to frenzied screaming from the female audience. His first full-length album, In Tokens and Charms, was the best-selling album on OK Listen for an entire month.
If you're tired of being told to 'put your hands up in the air' every time you head out for a drink, then Kuhad is your man, too. The guitar-strumming singer-songwriter is the most viable alternative to the MDMA fuelled EDM experience we now associate with a night out. His music is easy, uncomplicated, a genre he has described as a blend of pop rock and poetic folk. His voice is young, yet hints at a wry, experienced maturity. Oh, and he can croon your troubles away with sweet words of wistfulness.
In this lies Kuhad's appeal - he's attempting something different enough from the norm for you to want to cheer him along, even if you recognise that his talent, though ample, isn't path-breaking.
But he seems to have the courage to follow it to wherever it leads, and at the moment, it's against the breeze. Which is rare. And therein, lovely.
No struggle required
Kuhad is, in many ways, the archetype millennial artist - signs of struggle are conspicuous by their absence. He lives in a plush air-conditioned single bedroom apartment in Delhi's posh Defence Colony, alone with his many musical instruments. The decor is tasteful, the cutlery impeccably chosen. The walls are liberally adorned with paintings from his mother's art gallery in Jaipur.
He has degrees in Economics and Math from New York University. But after six months of work as a consultant in the city, he came back to start a career as a musician because his supervisor had an 'inflated sense of being'.
Since then he has been writing, performing and recording his own music. He writes almost exclusively about love, because as he says, "life is all about human relationships." And he considers himself "a better songwriter than guitarist."
Raat Raazi, Kuhad's breakthrough EP of four songs released in 2013, grabbed the attention of many. This included the organizers of NH7 Weekender, the country's biggest alternative music concert series. They uploaded a video of his song on their own website and offered him a performance slot, one he gladly accepted. He has since been performing gigs at bars, clubs and even "the first birthday of the child of a fan", he smiles bemusedly.
Kuhad's first EP was in English. The second, Raat Raazi, was entirely in Hindi. His first album, In Tokens and Charms, was once again in English. How does he manage this bilinguism? The answer lies in the unlikely Guru Dutt film, Pyaasa. Kuhad was deeply besotted with the movie. So drawn in he was that he found himself writing Hindi lyrics, possibly producing his best work to date - Raat Raazi and Chahe Ya Na Chahe.
A lightness of being
Kuhad's lyrics are no grand feat of poetry but in this, perhaps, lies their appeal. He manages to be the kind of easy listening that requires little intellectual or emotional investment - music that hints at complexity without necessarily offering it. It's ironic, of course, given that he emphasises the role of human relationships in his music, but his one-dimensional view of it is probably attributable to age and inexperience.
Oh Love for instance, his biggest hit to date in terms of Youtube views, is a sing-along slow-shoulder-swaying number that doesn't make a dive into true pathos. The video is kitschy, but with the deliberate intent of being so. The cover art of the album, a sepia picture of a Polaroid photograph and camera, screams hipster. The writing is adequate. No single line stands out, but it all comes together with the warm glow of knowing that Indian Indie music, at the very least, exists.
And Kuhad knows it. "We are operating on the fringes." That, he muses, is what contributes to a certain excitement and energy around his arrival. "Because it is new", he concludes, "it has more heart".
Perhaps. Then again, perhaps not. While it's tempting to see Kuhad's one-dimensional experience of relationships as a function of age, it may owe itself to something else entirely. The struggles of a Mohammad Rafi - who spent years in a 10X10 ft apartment in Bhendi Bazaar awaiting his big break - may not have made themselves apparent in his work but they informed it. Rejection, hunger, failure - they're not the only route to gravitas but neither, possibly, is the life of upper-middle class urbanites who define their life struggles with their breakups.
This isn't a challenge limited to Kuhad; it's the rare piece of contemporary Indian music or cinema or literature that manages both complexity and effortlessness. But perhaps it's too early in the existence of Indian indie music to demand both. Maybe, for now, it's enough that a talented 20-something boy is attempting a genre that didn't exist, pushing boundaries and taking Indian indie music into new, interesting places with him.