This is the era of the singer-songwriter. Singer-songwriters with guitars strapped on are cropping up everywhere with everyone wanting to emulate John Mayer or Nick Drake, but very few have the talent to stand out. Fortunately, Prateek Kuhad is one such singer-songwriter. Fiercely talented and unnervingly honest, he has managed to turn audiences with his performances in the US and India. It is surprising to learn that the Jaipur-born, Delhi-based musician had no aspirations of becoming a musician growing up and in fact has studied Mathematics and Economics at the New York University. Although his interest in music was piqued when he learnt how to play the guitar while he was still at school, a true passion for the art form was born when he moved to the bustling city of New York and was introduced to Elliot Smith.
His obsession with Smith and other similar folk-rock and pop artists lead him to start songwriting seriously and focusing more on his musical career. He recently devoted himself fulltime to music and has already played at various venues in New York and other cities in America. Calling his decision to focus full time on music instinctive and something that felt right at the time, he doesn’t seem to be slowing down or turning back anytime soon. He already has a debut self-titled EP and various singles under his belt. His debut E.P was released in 2011 and consisted solely of English songs. His follow up EP Raat Raazi, however, may have a similar musical styling but is written entirely in Hindi.
His music is deceptively simple, heartfelt and unassuming and one can easily pick out the musical influences that have shaped him. A massive fan of Elliott Smith, Nick Drake and Ben Howard, his songs sound like an homage to his musical heroes. As a result, his music can be classified as pop-rock and folk-rock with influences from a wide range of genres. There are no complex lyrics designed to wow and confound – his lyrics both in English and Hindi are straightforward, effortless and soulful and compliment his music perfectly. The things that set him apart from the rest of the crowd are his unique fingerstyle guitar technique and the beautifully honest lyrics of his songs. The arrangements on his songs are minimal and barebones making his songs all the more distinct and evocative.
Raat Raazi was released on 18th August, and was influenced by a period in the artist’s life where he was hooked on to the songs of old Hindi cinema. He effortlessly switches to Hindi on the tracks on the E.P. and none of the songs sound forced or superficial. The lyrics talk of life, love and living – trite themes but spun into something new by Kuhad’s talent. The whole album is upbeat, light and laidback without becoming cute and kitschy. Though, Prateek Kuhad is a multi-instrumentalist as he plays the ukulele, harmonica, bass and even the drums, he seems most comfortable with his acoustic guitar. This album shows off his fingerstyle guitar technique to great effect. On this E.P he has collaborated with Sahil Warsi on double-bass and Vir Singh Brar on percussions and the three are popularly known as the Prateek Kuhad Collective.
With clean crisp tracks, poetic lyrics and great melodies, this EP is a cracker and a worthy follow-up to Kuhad’s debut E.P. If you prefer tracks that are easy to listen to, bittersweet and devoid of theatrics and drama, Raat Raazi is for you. The Prateek Kuhad Collective shows us that even without dramatic vocals and sudden tempo shifts a song can be memorable and interesting.
The EP starts off with ‘Ab Hoga Kya’ - a happy, upbeat and summery track. This track sets the mood for the rest of the album and has a sprightly intro. A bright romantic track; with a very catchy chorus, this song seems to talk about the feelings accompanying new beginnings – especially a new love. Listening to Prateek croon “Ab Hoga Kya”, the track comes off as being slightly cheeky, which makes the song even more addictive. Prateek’s soft vocals go really well with his twangy guitars and upbeat tempo and the overall feel of this track is quite folksy.
This is followed by the title track, and my favorite song of the E.P. – ‘Raat Raazi’. Written while Prateek was walking around the city of New York, this track talks about the joy of just living and feeling youthful at heart. This song shows off Prateek’s interesting technique on the guitars and his soft and teasing vocals. The percussions don’t kick in until after half the song is done, giving Raat Raazi a very mellow and minimalistic feel. The sparse arrangement shows off Prateek’s vocal range and control and this song never gets bland or boring. The sharp beat that is introduced late into the song contrasts beautifully with the breathy vocals and string instruments.
‘Chahe Ya Na Chahe’ is the third track on this E.P – another upbeat track however, this track has a cello in the bridge that lends a slightly gloomy edge to the song. It has some interesting shifts but the song goes back to the laidback melody by the end. Although this is a great track, it does not make as much of an impact as ‘Raat Raazi’.
The album then moves on to what is probably the liveliest track – ‘Voh’. This song has a deep and groovy bass line that is quite distinct, which is not the case on the other tracks. Featuring bigger vocals, energetic strumming and rock and roll beats, ‘Voh’ is a welcome break on the album, which teeters on the edge of becoming slightly monotonous at this point. The laidback tracks are excellent but the album needs this high energy track to keep it fresh. It has a more rock feel to it compared to the rest of the album but it never becomes garish or loud. The only gripe I have with this track is that it ends very abruptly, which can be quite jarring to the listener.
The album ends on a much softer note with ‘Yeh Pal’, where he seems to be comforting the listener and easing them out of the album. Another favorite from this E.P, this song has a bittersweet feel to it. It almost seems like Prateek is lamenting the end of a time spent together with a loved one, of lost promises and life taking its course on relationships. ‘Yeh Pal’ also features soft backing vocals, unlike the other songs and it captures the essence of nostalgia and loneliness. All in all, a great albeit wistful end to a splendid album.
One cannot help but feel a slight twinge of sadness as the album ends. Even though the arrangements are flawless, the songs never sound over-produced. The sheer talent of the members of the Prateek Kuhad Collective shines through in each track. The songs on Raat Raazi will grow on you and each track has the potential of becoming a earworm. Going by his albums, Prateek Kuhad is definitely a force to be reckoned with among Indian singer-songwriters and indie-pop musicians. He stands out effortlessly by showing great restraint without losing the emotions in his songs and possesses a huge advantage by being able to write and sing in Hindi and English with ease. Although he is not a seasoned musician, there are no traces of inexperience in the album.