Indian performer DJ Prashant plays hard, works harder
by Sarah Eadie
Last month four of DJ Prashant’s dance students stood huddled outside the Crystal Ballroom, excitedly waiting to perform. Debbie Dresner, Kelsey Darling, Kate Kilbourne, and Brittany Newton first experienced DJ Prashant’s work at his Portland State University (PSU) dance class. Since then the group has been hooked. A self-proclaimed database geek by day, Dresner loves the accessibility of Prashant’s teaching style. “He gets everyone up and dancing,” she says. “Everybody in his class feels like they can do it.”
Darling, a PSU English major, echoes the sentiment. “I was horrible, but then I took his class and it was so much fun,” she says, adjusting the dark purple chaadra tied around her waist. The Crystal Ballroom bouncer ushers the group upstairs to Lola’s Room, where DJ Prashant’s gear is spread out on a table atop a raised platform. Colorful Bollywood music videos flash on a large screen behind him. It is obvious DJ Prashant knows and loves his music. Afar cry from painfully hip DJs with their lackadaisical nods, DJ Prashant seems unable to stop dancing. This is not to say he is without hipster appeal. He has enough of it to keep Lola’s Room at the Crystal Ballroom packed with young people every second Saturday of the month at “Jai Ho! Pure Bollywood,” and again every fourth Saturday at “Jai Ho! Strictly Bhangra.”
“In the same way Latin- American music became popular a couple decades ago — you know, Ricky Martin and Shakira — I really think we are going to see an Indian revolution in music and popular culture,” DJ Prashant says with his characteristic sincerity. With his natural talent and insatiable appetite for new projects and collaborations, Prashant has positioned himself as a vanguard for the emerging cultural movement.
Prashant Kakad watched a lot of movies as a kid. With a father in the Air Force, he spent much of his childhood on military bases with little to do. He claims to have watched upward of 40 movies during one six-month period on a base near Kashmir. “Every movie in India is a musical,” he explains. “There are five or six songs per movie, and at least one or two big dances.” This exposure to music and dance led to a lifelong passion, one that remained dormant until only a few years ago.
Prashant lived a double life while he worked on his graduate degree at Cornell University. He paid diligent attention to his studies while being an active member of various bands as well as a Bollywood a cappella group. “I started to realize that singing, dancing — it was not just a passing phase,” he said.
Prashant began working as an engineer for Intel, a four-year stint that eventually culminated in his decision to begin DJing full time. Instead of squeezing his passion into nights and weekends, he was finally able to fully commit his time to music. “I am completely self-taught,” Prashant says, not without a due hint of pride. When he moved to southeast Portland two years ago, he would play music from his laptop at friends’ house parties. After purchasing a mixer for $100, he began receiving more and more requests to DJ. His popularity began to grow, culminating in his first solo show in August 2009 at Pasha Club in Portland. “I felt like I was under a lot of pressure. I had been active in the community enough that I had to defend my name as an artist. I bought a better mixer, but I did not know how to use it,” Prashant recalls half-jokingly. He began working regularly in Portland while lining up other gigs in New York and the D.C. area.
From the beginning, Prashant never limited himself to one project at a time. As his DJing was taking off, he also began teaching Bollywood and Bhangra dance classes. “At first I was cautious. I had a few friends teaching with me — three instructors for 12 notorious kids,” Prashant explains. The young troupe has been warmly received at the India Festival at Pioneer Courthouse Square the past few summers. And class attendance has exploded. Prashant has since taught at Portland Community College and PSU, and continues to teach at the Northwest Dance Project. DJ Prashant is in no danger of losing steam anytime soon.
He hopes to bring more Indian DJs to Portland (he already brought DJ Akbar Sami over from Mumbai), continue producing music, and try his hand at musical theater. Armed with his penchant for hard work and the skills to turn his ideas into sold out events, count on DJ Prashant to continue bringing the best of Indian music and dance culture to Portland.
The next edition of “Jai Ho!” takes place Saturday, October 23 at Lola’s Room, located at 1332 West Burnside Street in Portland. The evening, which is for persons age 21 and older, features special guest DJ Nawed from Mumbai. To learn more, visit <www.bollywoodpdx.com>.