How musician Craig Pruess mixes music and activism

Artists by definition use their work for self-expression, and this is communicated through their chosen form. Many decide that their medium; be it visual art, music, or film can be used to convey one or more messages.

Musician Craig Pruess is one of them. He plays the Indian string instrument; the Sitar. Alongside this he produces, arranges and composes for a multitude of international stars, such as Def Leppard, Massive Attack and Cliff Richard. Craig was producing some of Sir Cliff’s albums when the singer asked him to contribute to his Tear Fund Charity by asking Craig to score two of the organisations films for Haiti and Kenya.

Craig Pruess told us, “Music has always been a powerful art for touching the heart of the collective: many people can remember the music they heard when they first fell in love. Remove music from a film or TV programme, and a dimension is absent. Of the five senses, sound is most connected to the inner consciousness – it is the last sense that leaves you when you die.”

Early on, Craig explored the vocal chants of world sacred traditions and recorded them in a way that brings the mind to a quiet, still point. His first chant album, “Sacred Chants of Shiva”, went viral in India selling over 20 million copies. The series is popular internationally; championed by leaders of the human development movement like Tony Robbins, Eckhart Tolle and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, a proponent of the art of peaceful living.

Craig is a trained volunteer Art of Living teacher – he teaches breathing techniques and gives tools to balance out the mind. He found such techniques so helpful for his own work challenges that he decided to share this knowledge to help others.

In 2003, he visited a high security prison in the English Midlands in Doncaster; HMP Lindholme. He gave several one-man sitar recitals, structured as deep relaxation sessions for inmates. “The prison chaplain noticed how serene and peaceful the convicts became, and I was invited to return a month later to teach the specific Art of Living Prison SMART programme (over ten days) designed for those in crime and law enforcement.”  Craig says, having witnessed a change in the prisoners.

“Many were serving life sentences and many live with their past as a nightmare. Their future has been taken away from them. They felt gratitude, joy, relief, happiness and more present, in the moment: with our easy breathing techniques. It was moving to witness their transformation – they were hugging me at the end of the 10 days.”

This programme had already worked in Denmark, South Africa, Poland, India and the USA, but never in the UK. The Art of Living courses are continuing in many prisons in the British Isles.

In 2010, Craig received a British Academy Award nomination for Best Original score for the BBC-TV prime time series, “Moses Jones.” The African story told about Ugandan musicians trying to survive in London. Craig had lived in Kenya, teaching and performing music. Two Ugandan pop stars,Denis Mugagga and Daniel Sewagudde, who are cousins, came in on the project as advisors on Ugandan culture. They ended up performing with Craig’s live band. Writing and recording songs together, Craig and the Ugandans soon finished a first album while performing live as the Ganda Boys.

Craig and the cousins formed a UK charity, the Ganda Foundation, which took medical equipment from the UK to Uganda for Kowolo Hospital and educational materials and computers to Lugazi School.

“Our Foundation has support in Uganda, right up to government level. We are perceived as successful musicians wanting to benefit society. Many of our Ganda Boys’ songs have a social-conscience message. Our music is loved all over Uganda. It is a platform to promote our work and create an example for the youth there.”

Craig notes, “Music helps me be of service to the world – to give something back, pay my rent on this planet… it is my own personal activism.”

One of Craig’s current projects is creating a soundtrack for a documentary feature for TV and cinema.  

“I am thrilled to be contributing my film score music skills to a new feature film about the Dalai Lama’s escape from Tibet in 1959, “An Officer and His Holiness.” Largely an untold story, this event has worldwide implications today with the peaceful message of Tibetan Buddhism and the compassionate teachings of the Dalai Lama. It was a precarious escape, riddled with danger, really a knife-edge situation. To help me create moments of tension I will be using low ominous sound and deep percussion. I feel privileged to be in a position to maximise the impact of such an important film with what I do best.”

Additional reporting by Sophie Cridland. This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.

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