RAGHU DIXIT, the singer-songwriter based in Bengaluru, is the frontman of the critically acclaimed folk band RAGHU DIXIT PROJECT – currently the biggest stint in the contemporary independent music scene of India. The 45 year old artist, apart from composing music for Kannada films, has also scored in mainstream Bollywood flicks like Mujhse Fraandship Karogey, Bewakoofiyaan, Chef, and Gully Boy. He has also performed in Glastonbury Festival twice—in 2011 and 2015—a dream for any musician. His debut album ANTARAGNI (2007), the collection which was earlier rejected almost by all the major record labels, instantly shot him to prominence. His second studio album JAG CHANGA (2013) earned a huge acclaim across the globe, was called as “India’s Biggest Cultural Export” by The Guardian. In 2012 he performed on BBC TV’s Later… with Jools Holland, wherein he played on the same stage as Robert Plant, Adele, Mavis Staples, and Arcade Fire. Raghu also made an appearance in Andrew Marr Show on BBC Radio 3. His latest release is GEEYA GEEYA, the song which was produced to raise funds for the charity in the wake of coronavirus pandemic.
Q. Your persistent struggle to put out your debut album should surely be the first thing we must talk about. Can you please ferry our readers to your past?
A. I struggled for 7 long years, without a fruit, knocked at the doors of every record label and heard nothing. After hearing demos, they would ask me to rework on them and come back. To be honest, record labels are not straightforward, if they don’t like your stuff, they will not tell you directly. And during the period between 1999—2006, I made almost 25 demos, and it didn’t work at all. One fine day, I had to meet this ‘guy’ at a major record label who had heard my demos and had told me to meet at his office. I go there and wait from morning till 5. I did not check out for even a minute, skipped my lunch, and didn’t even leave to drink a sip of water lest I missed the chance to meet this guy. Imagine, I had even switched off my phone. Finally a lady shows up and tells me the guy is not at the office. And she told me it does not work like that, if you have money, we will launch you. So get some thirty to thirty five lakh rupees and come to us. She also told me that my face would not work in the videos and they would have to find someone else for it. I was shocked, I kept staring at her. I left the office, dejected. I started doubting myself, I had spent years with record labels and every attempt turned out abortive. I was crossing the street and I received a call from my friend Shashanka Ghosh and he asked me why my phone was switched off and told me that I he had already agreed on my behalf that I would perform at in a solo concert Zenzi. Zenzi was a small pub in Bandra, literally a mecca for independent musicians. I went there in the evening and I was sure that would be the last musical performance in my life and that I return to Bangalore and become a teacher or something. I decided that I would sing every song I had composed so far and finally part my ways with music. So I sang my heart out. And once I was done, I received a warm applause from people. I started packing my guitar and somebody patted on my back when I turned around it was Vishal Dadlani. He said he really liked my performance and the originals I played. He asked me whether I could go to their studio the next day; they wanted to hear me out. I went there, and after playing few songs, Vishal stopped me midway and told me, “Listen, we have planned to start a record label and we will launch your album, are you interested?” I was perplexed. So that’s how my first album was done. Vishal and Shekhar (VnS) spent every penny they had in the promotions. They got all their Bollywood friends on board for helping in promotion— Shahrukh Khan, Priyanka Chopra, Karan Johar, Sanjay Dutt. That was the only album their record label, after that the label was shut down.
Q. Your debut album reached No. 1 on the iTunes World Music charts in the UK. How was the distribution done?
A. Album was out, but it couldn’t reach the stores. VnS had a distribution network in collaboration with a major record label but the label wouldn’t supply the CDs to the store unless there was a demand from the retailers. Hence we requested VnS to help us get back the stock from the distributor that we could ourselves at our concerts. So we got all the CD’s and sold them ourselves, especially at the DIY stalls of our own concerts. Over a period of three years we sold more than 60,000 copies. And it was the highest number of sales any independent artist had ever acquired in India.
Q. One of the songs in your debut album, “I am in Mumbai and I’m Waiting for a Miracle” speaks about the inner complexities of a passionate human being and his itch to chase dreams. Can you tell me more about the optics of this song?
A. Mumbai is the city of dreams. Most of the people in Mumbai are in Mumbai just to realise their dreams. If you go out on the streets, out of three people, one person would be from Bollywood, second would be a musician and third would be from stock exchange. Everyone is driven by their struggles and their dreams!
Q. Your music is multilingual, you have sung in Tamil, Hindi, English, Kannada and Telegu. What are the audiences your music aims to target?
A. I travel across the world to perform, and I do not tend to restrict myself in the linguistic barriers. When I sing in Kannada, I am aiming at the people of Karnataka. When I sing in English, my audience is almost global, and Hindi is the language which is understood almost throughout the whole of India.
Q. You have also been doing music for movies and commercials, and jingles. What is the importance of those projects for you as an independent musician?
A. I feel commercial stints are actually vital in two ways: they pay money, yes. And second is that they give me a chance to capture a wider reach so that more and more people discover my independent projects through them. I don’t aim for money primarily; I spend that money solely to finance my band projects. You see, I don’t have a car, I manage with a scooter. But I have twelve guitars.
Q.What is your third album about and when is it coming out?
A. I can’t wait for my third album to be out but every time I listen to it I feel that something needs to be changed. There will be a day when I feel happy about it and feel there is nothing more to do, I’ll finally release it. I have never given dates for the release of my albums. I never work like that unless there is a deadline. But it is interesting that the album came out during the darkest phase of my live, when I didn’t wanted to live anymore. Nothing at that time made sense, there was no purpose. I had lost everything and during that phase I locked myself with a friend and the goal for everyday was to make music. Ironically what came out was the happiest content and after that I pledged that I will never ever make songs that will make people unhappy or remind them of their sorrows. I will make songs that will remind people that there is always a way out of every problem and make them believe in life and love again. All songs are geared towards being positive. For instance, there is this song called “Shakkarpari” and that will be the first song to be released. It is about this girl who steals sugar from the market and distributes to people who have never tasted sweetness. All my songs are about joy and happiness, giving and about resolving conflicts. The album will be in four languages, there is also a song which is about home, about how there is no other place in this world that can make you as happy as your own home. There are five songs that are in all the four languages and other five I have retained the originality, they were pre written and I didn’t want to change anything.
Q: I recently came across one of your collaborations “Geeya Geeya” and I also learned that all the proceeds of the songs will be donated to the organizations that are feeding the poor in India, in the wake of this pandemic. In the light of this song can we talk about the duties an artist performs for his society?
A: There are several roles to play. There is this role of being an entertainer, I perform and I make people feel good and then send them back home to their own worries. There is also a responsibility of not saying something that will create conflict, there are some artists who want to say something that will be spoken about or debated upon. I don’t believe that my songs can be revolutionary; I don’t want to get into that space because I am not that type of a person. I am a very positive and a happy person and I don’t want to use my music in agitating way. Even in the war or the conflict I will compose something that will make people sit back and think about it rather that relishing hatred or antagonism. For instance, I just did a happy song [[Geeya Geeya] to make people get up from their chair and dance to it. The track— relevant even in the times of war, any type of conflict you are in for that matter— is talking about dancing through the darkness. Moreover, the aim was also to raise some funds for the people who are helping out the needy in the wake of the pandemic. That is what is best about humanity no matter how bad things are there is always a group of people who are doing all the right things at the right time. For me, that is hope, no matter how horrible things are, we will come forward to help each other.