Raghu Dixit – A Transcontinental Ambassador of Musical Ecstasy
His exuberance hides an evolved musician that is a rare commodity. Making a mark as one of India’s iconic cultural ambassadors Raghu Dixit, in a freewheeling chat talk about music, collaborating with artists, his longevity, and life as a touring musician
Q1) You picked up music rather late in life for such a successful performer after excelling at Bharat Natyam. What was it that propelled you toward music?
By my second year of college, I had trained for 16 years and was an accomplished Bharat Natyam dancer. A classmate who played the Guitar and sang English songs, I thought, made a snide comment that dancing was effeminate and pursued only by women. The comment stirred me and I averred that in 2 months I’d sing an English song as he did and also play the guitar. I challenged him to demonstrate 5 Bharat Natyam steps for me. With some assistance from friends, I learned to play the Guitar, sang the song with it, and won the challenge. That was it- the joy of playing guitar and singing is an unparalleled high for me and continues to this day.
Q2) How has your music changed over the years? Has the sound changed or is it that your thought behind the subjects you choose has changed?
What you go through in life plays a big role in shaping your life as an artist. For me, that is a big learning and has helped me reinvent myself as a musical person. When it comes to training, I’ve always been self-taught; have stuck to my strengths as an artist and haven’t been too adventurous. I can say that I started as a regular artist trying to build a fan base, make good material wealth and go on to make my mark in the music world. Over time the reason for pursuing music in its entirety has changed for me because I am more concerned about projecting happiness through my music. I want people and my friends to believe that we all are on a path of healing and are taking life despite what it does to us with the right attitude as we get better as humans like we are meant to be.
Q3) How do you pick your repertoire for different audiences across the world? Do you have a new set for your shows abroad?
The simple answer to the question is that my repertoire across the world is the same. I sing in Kannada and Hindi and explain the lyrics in English to those who speak other languages. The response to my work has been phenomenal and I am indeed glad that many in the audience see the larger message in the song and often compliment me saying that my music heals and uplifts them.
Q4) How did you guys come together to form the band? Can you tell us about the contribution of the other band members to your final product?
My music has largely been a collaborative effort and I depend on all my team members for my music. There have been instances where I have liked a musician and expressed my desire to work with them at the same time there have been cases where my music has reached out to them and with the right chords tracking, we hit it off. It would be erroneous to say that it is “My Music” because all my music has been a collaborative effort. I have a feeling that a single human cannot keep producing music all his life. Working closely with different musicians has nurtured me in discovering different emotions and musical styles that would have otherwise been difficult to explore. In reality, there have been too many musicians I spark off with which is why I call my band the Raghu Dixit project. I’m just the face of the band.
Q4) As a band, have you in any way followed or looked up to any international or Indian band for their presentation?
Among our influences are too many bands to name. My musical tours have given me all that I need to keep an open mind about any genre of music without it influencing us to overwhelm our identity. There have been some incredible musicians I’ve come across from all over the world. My Music festival gigs have been a great source of inspiration for my music. It’d only be fair to say that many incredible musicians from across the world have influenced me and my music. To single out one musician or band would be a distorted representation of what the Raghu Dixit band stands for.
Q5) What if at all are the social/personal issues you’d like to invoke to your music as a band?
Every melody I’ve composed has been a part of my personal experiences which explains why I’ve been very selective in producing my music. I wait for the experience to sink in and write music for it. It also happens that my experiences lead me to a tune that I write about and then involve a lyricist to give it a proper melodic shape.
Q6) What part of your performance is impromptu and how much is pre-decided before taking up a gig?
We have a ready song list that we perform at most times but then what would a live performance be without audience interjections for their choice of songs? We happily comply with these requests. Our practice sessions every alternate day are intense. We’re prepared for search requests from the audience at all times. After all, it is the audience that we play for and want to please. For the impromptu performances, musicians are given a free hand to come up with their solo special moments and yes… they are totally spontaneous.
Q7) What is it that inspired you apart from your varied musical influences from Sting to Freddie Mercury to Ilayaraja to ARR?
Apart from them, there is life to draw inspiration from. There are so many teachings emerging from our life experiences. For me, as I mentioned, life is about getting better every day and becoming more compassionate as a person. My new album is also about coming back strongly in life in spite of all the events. It is about rebuilding your faith and becoming a better person. My music has to heal and spread happiness.
Q8) Your songs Mysore Se Aayee and Amma have struck a chord with audiences? Please take us through the making of these.
“Mysore Se Aayee” is the first tune I was ready with but for some reason for the longest time, there were no words to it. My producer felt that I should record it instead of the one I was going to. With some effort, I managed to write the lyrics for it in Hindi as the tune was a folk-based melody. That was “Mysore Se Aayee” …the song is going strong even 30 years after it was first produced and is the high point of our performances to this day.
“Amma” is a tribute to my mother. I always felt guilty that I could not reciprocate my mother’s love. I realized that I haven’t thanked her enough for all that she has done for me and for making me a better person. I involved a Tamil lyricist to write the tribute as it was her mother tongue which turned out to be the right call. She welcomed it with her loving tears.
Q9) What is your experience of working in films in Bollywood and South? How different is it from your independent work in terms of sound? Do you use different music arrangers for them? (If you do or do not) What is the reason for this?
Film music is very different as compared to independent music because film music depends on various factors apart from the one music composer. The storyline, the characters, the visuals, the situation, the director’s vision, everything needs to be looked into and then while confining yourself to the boundaries you have to deliver a hit. The experience of seeing this come together on screen is exhilarating. Music has to add emotional value to the film while taking the story ahead. Composing for films is a challenging job and I adore it
My experience of composing music for South films and Bollywood has been unique in its own way. Bollywood is corporate and professional in its approach to film music. Everything is ready by the time you enter the studio. The composing process in Kannada films, I find is more organic. Musicians get involved in the story sessions and the composer becomes a part of the discussion from an early stage. My suggestions are taken in the right spirit and often implemented.
My experience of working for the film Chef was very good. The director knew what he wanted and got me involved in the creation of ab initio. I quite like the work I did for the film.
Q10) Helping young artists record their demos is a great way to promote music. You do that for several artists. Can you throw more light on this rare attribute you possess?
Kindness is a virtue I cherish and I try to carry it forward in my own way. You see, I remember the days when I was struggling to make my demo, and a gentleman Mr. Hariharan who saw me perform offered me INR 30000 to make my demo. It helped me quit my job and take up music full-time. How can I forget that? Music composers Vishal and Shekhar have also been kind enough to record and promote my first album without expecting a penny in return. It was purely appreciation for my music like an artist having regard for another that led them to this. When there is so much kindness, I have received I have to give it back in some form. My studio is open for young musicians to record their demos free of cost. I also give them the right industry contacts as it helps them save time and gives an impetus to their career.
Q11) What is the secret of your longevity as an individual and as a band?
It is difficult to put a finger on the reason for my longevity, but given the fact that I have survived for 20 years based on just two albums it is a surprise to me. Happily, I am now ready with over 40 new songs that I wrote during the pandemic that would be material enough for around 2-3 albums for the next couple of years. I am really looking forward to that.
Another factor that could be largely responsible for the longevity could be my emphasis on energetic live performances which I think is my core strength. I drive my musicians to their limits and try to get the best out of them on stage. That to me is mandatory. My live performances are laced with humor and a high entertainment quotient. I also believe that my training as a dancer helped me become a better live performer thus to a great extent my live performances are the secret to my endurance.
Q12) What would be your advice to upcoming artists and bands?
Actually nothing. I believe in giving advice only to those who come to me with specific problems. I also do not mince words when it comes to judging a piece of music that comes to me. This is perhaps something that comes from my belief that I have to be brutally honest when answering something as critical as that. Some musicians are exceptional but somehow are not aware of their virtuosity. I do my bit to encourage them. Then there are others who are wasting their time I think and tell them so. Honestly, I think if you have a calling for any art form as a youngster, consider yourself blessed and successful. Be persistent and hardworking at your calling. Worldly success for you will arrive at the right time. The idea is to find your love and pursue it, that is where the joy of your life lies.