One of the best known contemporaries folk musicians in India, Raghu Dixit needs no introduction. His soulful melodies, as a playback singer and also a freelance artist – from Amber for Khidki and Darmiyaan – is on most playlists. But, ask the artist to pick one, and he quickly shares that the playback chant doesn’t excite him much.
Returning to the stage after a two-year hiatus, Raghu recently captivated audiences at the Red Fort Festival – Bharat Bhagya Vidhata, a large-scale cultural event conceptualized under the Government of India’s ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’, under the aegis of Union Ministry of Culture with Red Fort Mitra Monument, Dalmia Bharat Limited –– an experience he likens to breathing. Talk about it and much more in an exclusive conversation, the the musician tells more about his careeronline concerts, challenges, and future projects.
You recently performed on stage after two years. What did you feel ?
It was surreal; literally like receiving oxygen. It was our first gig in about two years, and performing live on such a prestigious stage was an incredible experience. Every concert is such a blessing. Before, we took it for granted. But now I realize how beautiful it is to be alive, to be on stage and to be able to do what I do. It gives me so much happiness. Now that things have opened up and we’re back on stage, it’s been a great experience and it puts things into perspective.
For us, the pandemic has probably been the hardest thing because an artist thrives on interacting with a live audience. So performing in front of cameras and laptops and phones was a very tasteless way to express myself, especially for an artist like me who really enjoys being on stage. It was a terrible time and it affected me a lot mentally.
The last two years, as you mentioned, have made online gigs quite popular. What is your opinion on the same?
Well, that’s great because it kept things moving for us. We played quite a few gigs and it brought in revenue. We have suffered a lot financially. But aside from the financial support these gigs provide, it’s certainly not satisfying for an artist to perform in front of cameras and laptops.
You lead one of the most wanted bands in India. How would you describe the evolution of the independent music scene in India?
It’s amazing how music has evolved, with teen pop becoming popular. The pop scene earlier when I started was mainly focused on Indian folk fusion and rock. But now tastes have changed. Varied electronic music took precedence over everything else. hip-hop came on its own – from being underground to mainstream. Thus, many more genres have come forward and artists have expressed themselves in forms that suit them. There is an audience for everything.
In addition, thanks to the Internet, the connection with your audience is now more direct, without any intermediary. Even the public has now realized that there is more to the music than just Bollywood. I think it’s a big scene right now. But so many opportunities also means clutter; and only if you are truly unique and can actually perform on stage and hold an audience for an hour or more will the cookie not crumble.
Besides being an independent artist, you are also a playback singer. What excites you the most?
In fact, reading while singing doesn’t really excite me much. I did it for friends, and for my own films at the insistence of the producer and the director. But otherwise, I’m not too excited about singing in movies.
What’s the hardest thing about being a musician, especially a freelance artist in India?
It would be heard and have a lot less opportunity compared to bands and artists playing Bollywood music. Indian audiences are queuing up for something they already know, and indie music takes years to catch on. For example, my songs Lokada kalaji and Mysore se aayi have been performed on stage for the past 30 years, and only now are people acknowledging it. So it takes a long gestation period and a constant bombardment of song to get them heard.
Whereas with film music you don’t really have to worry – the actors probably help make it popular. I feel like often, if not rarely, average songs become extremely popular simply because they’re from a very popular actor’s movie. So that’s the challenge we take up, because even radio and television rarely play independent music. But the Internet has definitely brought us closer to our audiences. As a veteran, I can say that learning the same thing was a challenge I faced – becoming internet savvy. So yeah, I’m trying to learn and catch up with everything that’s happening right now in terms of technological advancements.
You have performed all over the world, what has been your most memorable performance to date?
This is a very criminal question to ask, so to speak. But overseas, out of all the performances, I would definitely name Glastonbury as my highlight because it’s one of the biggest festivals in the world. Other than that, performing at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Center has always been a privilege. Playing on BBC London, on Later with Jools Holland, made us an instant hit in the UK, which is amazing. But nothing beats performing in my hometown, Bengaluru, in front of my own people. I would always rate playing here far ahead of any other gig, anywhere else in the world, because when you play in front of your own people, the love and the bonds are incredibly strong.
What are you currently working on?
Currently I am working on a pet project. At the cinema, I make a film called Orchestra where I composed music, and where I also became a co-producer. It’s about a young boy, a natural singer, who works as an office boy in a band called ‘Cleaning’. He longs to sing by the side of a road orchestra during the summer festival in Mysore. So, it’s a very local, very heartwarming movie, and it feels like an underdog wins against all odds.
Other than that, my own album which will be released in July 2022. I will release one after eight years. then there are collaborative projects that I look forward to through my travels in Karnataka – in search of unheard rural voices. There is also a scrapbook that I am personally writing about, based on the stories of soldiers who fought Indian soldiers who fought in the British Army in the First World War. So this is another interesting project I’m involved in.