He travels the world with his band The Raghu Dixit Project, bringing his utterly unique brand of world music to audiences all over the planet. He’s been on the cover of Rolling Stone, played live in front of thousands at the famous Glastonbury Music Festival, and appeared on the prestigious UK music show Later with Jools Holland. Now Raghu Dixit is set to conquer Bollywood, having brought his eclectic and original range of musical influences with him to his first Hindi film soundtrack for Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge? Raghu Dixit’s story is film worthy in itself: the tale of how a microbiologist ended up an acclaimed, world-famous musician!
We asked him to fill us in – and seriously – someone should snap up the film rights!
Presenting Raghu Dixit in depth!
Did you always want to make music?
No! I got into music quite late when I was 19. Till then I was a serious student of South Indian Classical Dance form called Bharathnatyam. It all started with a silly spite with a classmate who used to play guitar and sing English songs. One day, he taunted me that it was very effeminate of me to be pursuing classical dance and instead I should play a guitar to look macho! In an angry response, I challenged him that I could learn to play the guitar and sing an English song in couple of months. I did learn to play the guitar in those two months, but I also discovered a new found joy. It was a liberating experience to just suck in thin air and throw it out in the form of a song! I was completely consumed by the thrum of the guitar and the vibrations of my own when I let my voice out loud with an unbridled freedom.
I grew up in a very conservative South Indian family and we did not have a tape recorder at home those days. All we had was a transistor and my mother would play South Indian classical music on it all her waking hours. Western music was looked down upon and I was not allowed to tune into any western music. Therefore, I could not borrow tapes from friends and bring them home to listen. I would keep strumming the guitar and hum along over the chords. I soon realised I could come up with melodies which I would remember the next day! With time I started writing my own words and made songs out of those tunes.
In a way, I was forced to compose my own music and since I never really could listen and learn most of the popular songs, I guess my music never got influenced by any particular artist or form. My music was an expression of the environment I grew in. While I wrote words in English (because I thought it was cool to sing in English), my melodies were heavily based on Carnatic Music and folk which I would listen to all the time, thanks to my mom’s transistor and my classical dance.
Tell us about your journey from those first notes until today.
It’s been phenomenal and my story is worth a movie script! From winning that first challenge to pick up the guitar and sing a song, to finish college with a Masters Degree in Science (Microbiology) with a gold medal and top rank from the University of Mysore, to working as a pharmaceutical researcher in Belgium, to leaving it all behind and coming back to India to pursue music, forming my own band ‘Antaragni’ and then ‘The Raghu Dixit Project, to being rejected by the music industry in India for nine odd years, being discovered by Vishal and Shekhar – the biggest Bollywood music producers, launching my first album in 2007 which went on to become the highest selling non-film album in India, to playing Glastonbury, Later with Jools Holland Show on BBC and now making music for a Bollywood movie produced by one of the biggest banners in Bollywood – Yash Raj Films, my journey is nothing short but trippy and overwhelmingly dramatic! I feel I have been blessed. God has been very kind to me and always been there to protect me whenever I had lost all hopes and nudged me in the correct direction. I have met some amazing people who have been evangelists of my music and helped me to get across every time I thought it was the end of the road!
You have such a unique cool sound. How would you classify your music?
I think my music is the truest representation of what India is today. Deeply rooted in its tradition and culture but at the same time embracing, adapting and adopting cultures from all over the world, thanks to the internet revolution and globalization. My music too at the core is very Indian, very rooted, very raw and folk but at the same time I steal sounds from all over the world and mix them into my Indian melodies and people have been calling me ‘original’!
What inspires your music?
My only inspiration is my beautiful country where culture, language, food, lifestyle changes with every 200 kilometers! There is so much to get connected with and get inspired! There is no dearth of inspiration in India for any artist to last a lifetime!
You recently made your first foray into Bollywood as musical director for the Mujhse Fraaandship Karogee soundtrack album. Tell us about the brief they gave you for the project.Did you enjoy creating the songs for this film?
Ashish Patil, the producer of the film and head of Y-Films, knew me and my music from his time at MTV, and he called me to be a part of the project. From the very first meeting, it was clear that they were giving me a lot of space to work, and make something fantastic for the movie. They must have loved my sound and the song ‘Har Saans Mein’, which is now a big part of the soundtrack for the movie, and that must have convinced them to get me on board.
There never was a brief! I was given the script on day 1 of my meeting with Y Films and asked to read through it and come up with something that will fit into the canvas of the film. I did have a one-on-one meeting with my director, Nupur Asthana who gave me a narration of the script to understand the characters and the atmosphere of the movie better and from then on it was really up to me to get inspired by the script and situations in it to come up with the songs!
Did you enjoy creating the songs for this film?
The experience was incredibly smooth sailing, and composing the songs were a breeze. I didn’t have to re-compose any of the songs; the first options were approved. The only thing is that I was composing the background score for the film while I was still on the UK tour, which was crazy. I used to sit and write music bits at the airport or green rooms and hotel rooms at times while the rest of the band was having fun and doing touristy things!
Give us a little insight into the creating of the songs.
MFK’s music has been written for the movie specifically. It has been composed for a teenage rom-com, based on Facebook and social networking. The songs therefore are not deep and introspective, but are instead fun and lively from happy pop to rock and love ballads. The overall sound of the album is minimalistic with very little programming. The album is more like a live gig, with live instruments. It’s very simple, playful, energetic music, and not at all intense.
I have also introduced the south Indian percussive dance and music form of Tapanguchi in one of the tracks, ‘Dheaon Dheaon’. I did this mainly because Bollywood’s association with dance music has also been as far as Bhangra or disco. So through this song, we are introducing a whole new form of dance music in Hindi film music. It was a way to showcase something about where I am from. I am very grateful to Vishal Dadlani, Aditi Singh Sharma and Machas with Attitude (rappers) for their contributions and also Anvita Dutt for the mad-whacky lyrics!
This was supposed to be the romantic track of the film, but then it turned out to be a cute happy hummable pop song with a dash of British folk influence, thanks to my frequent visits to the UK!
This song was based upon the guitar hook contributed by Vijay Joseph, the guitarist on this song. I think we took about 5 mins to wrap composing the song soon after I heard that hook! This song just fit perfect for the situation where the two protagonists start chatting on Facebook!
This was the first song I composed for the film and sealed my deal with Y-Films and more so with my director who started jumping on hearing the song for the first time. Suraj Jagan did some incredible grungy vocals yet adding that perfect emotional quotient that the song demanded.
’Har Saans Mein’
This Qawwali-Rock fusion song is what triggered Y-Films to invite me to make music for this film! This is the song which I have been playing with band for 5-6 years now and has been a huge crowd favourite for a long time. I am glad it got this huge platform of being included in a Bollywood movie.
Your favorite song?
‘Har Saans Mein’ of course!
Is it different composing for a movie?
Composing for any commercial jingle or movie is completely dependent on the music that is required for the project. Yes, I do get to express my creativity, and add my own touch to my own interpretation of the requirement, but at the end of the day, it is made to order. If the scene requires a light hearted dancy number, then that is what I have to compose and not have deep insightful lyrics for that bit! And at the end of the day, it’s not just the music that matters in a film, it is the whole product that needs to work, so you do your very best and trust everyone else to do their best, so at the end of it, it becomes something that you will be really proud of!
How does it feel to have the music so well received?
Let’s do it all over again kind of feeling!
Your thoughts on remixes.
No thoughts! Very few really work for me! I prefer a different version of the originals than just laying a huge-ass beat on top of the existing melody just so that it gets played in a club. But then it sometimes becomes the necessary evil. MFK was not an exception!
What is your opinion on the state of Bollywood music? What about Indian music in general?
I have always been apprehensive about Bollywood, but over the last few years the directors, scripts and music of Bollywood film have slowly evolved. This new Bollywood felt like a place where even a musician like me could thrive and be creative. I have always said that Bollywood is a medium, and one of the best platforms that a musician can use to show off his / her talent. I wouldn’t categorize ‘Bollywood’ as a genre of music. At least not in today’s scenario, where you have new music directors experimenting with new sounds and that music being used in movies that have original and unique story lines. There will always be the commercial side to Bollywood, with the item numbers and ‘formula’ movies, but then I see a new sound emerging and I think that is going to get a lot louder very soon! I think Bollywood is at a fantastic place today, musically, where new directors are willing and experimenting with sounds either which have been forgotten from the past or looking at the fast growing Indian independent music scene for new sounds. I have always been told that my sound is not along the lines of ‘traditional Bollywood’ and I think now is a good time for me because Bollywood itself is changing now.
Well, to be honest, I don’t think all Bollywood music sells anymore as much as it used to! The music sales industry is still very confused in India and we need to cross through various hurdles before any meaningful sale of music happens. However, having said that, There are indie musicians that are starting to make records that are receiving mainstream airplay, and after having played for over 15 years and having sold my CDs at gigs personally, there are a lot of people still willing to buy original music, and its our job as people in the music business, to make that process of buying music easier for them.
I think Indian non-film music is reaching a tipping point very soon, it is going to cross over to the mainstream in a big way and we are right now at the beginning of such a revolution, and it is only a matter of time.
Any other film projects lined up?
There are a couple of projects I am still under discussions for. If anything works out, I shall be loud about it!
Tell us about your new album you are working on now.
We have just started recording the album and its way too early to blurt out the plans. All I know is that there are huge expectations from it and we will do everything possible to meet those or even exceed them!
The Raghu Dixit Project has played all over the world, including at the iconic Glastonbury festival in the UK earlier this year – what was that like?
Well, this was our first time to Glastonbury and what a blast that was! For any musician, performing at Glastonbury is on the ‘must do at least once before I die’ list, so being able to scratch that off my list was a fantastic feeling. And to top that, we performed 5 shows there and were one of 15 artists from over 300, to be featured on a compilation of songs recorded at Glastonbury. Also, we were mentioned positively in almost all the reviews of the festival and that was a great feeling!
Tell us about your process of creating a song. Does the tune run through your mind for days or do you sit down and just write?
It is very much like the Nature’s call!! You make a song when you get one in your head on its own!
Are lyrics or melody more important to you? Which comes first?
It always has to be a perfect marriage between the two! It could be either way. These days since I work mostly on ancient poetry written many years back, the process is that I make music to the existing lyrics or poems and its quite challenging to keep the integrity of the poetry and yet at the same time compose music that is catchy and attractive.
What do you most hope for people to take away from your music?
Joy, Happiness and Smiles!
With contributions by Stacey Yount and Vanessa Barnes