Raghu Dixit is well on his way to becoming the latest sensation to hit the music scene—at the Eastwind music festival in New Delhi this February, his genre-melding compositions had everyone talking. With the recent success of his self-titled album, the 33-year-old microbiology graduate, Bharatanatyam dancer and self-taught singer spoke to Lounge about the Raghu Dixit Project, performing in a lungi, and the upcoming Roots Festival.
How did you get into music?
It started with a dare. While removing my make-up after a college Bharatanatyam performance in 1994, the college ‘dude’—you know the guitar-playing rock star type—came up to me and started making fun of me. He taunted me saying you are not a man—you wear kaajal, dance and are effeminate. Well, if playing a guitar made me a rock star then, I said, give me two months to do it and the dude had to learn basic Bharatanatyam in the same time. Two months later, after lessons from the brothers at a neighbouring seminary and an old book of guitar chords, I played 500 Miles, which is not even a rock song, but it was all I needed to get hooked.
Playing the field: Dixit’s music is a fusion of many genres.
Do you still dance?
Well, I have a beer belly now, so I guess I can claim to be a belly dancer! I gradually lost touch with dancing after I moved to Bangalore for my job in 1998, as after 17 years with one guru in Mysore, I could never find anyone else to replace him.
Has microbiology helped you with your music?
Microbiology helped me get a decent job to support myself, so, I was never a desperate musician. It kept my head straight. I could choose when I wanted to play instead of playing everything. Also, the discipline and time management came only with my education.
How did the Raghu Dixit Project start?
In 2005, my band, Antaragni, split up. I realized that managing a band was an emotional, physical and mental burden. You needed to be able to keep everyone happy. So I decided that I would rather play with musicians who wanted to play with me and whom I wanted to play with. Everything became a project—every song, every concert—and each time, the sound changed. Hence, the name.
You sing in Kannada, Hindi and English. Is singing in different languages ever a problem?
Sometimes the accents get jumbled. That is a challenge I have set for myself. It requires practice and imbibing the culture of the language I am singing in. There is no point just faking the accent; you have to learn not just the language, but also the culture, to sing it with conviction.
Is wearing a lungi a style statement?
I have always believed in holding on to my roots. The lungi is the truest representation of the folk music that I play. I have just made it more colourful and funky. Playing on stage isn’t just about the music, but also a visual treat.
Are you excited about performing at the Roots festival which will be held in the North-East?
I have never been to the North-East before and I am extremely excited. I feel like a kid with a new toy. I met Rewben Mashangva, a musician from Manipur, in Mumbai recently. And we played Let’s Purify together. He sang in a dialect from Manipur, Pangkhu, and I wrote the lyrics in Kannada and sang. It was great, and I look forward to doing more of that.
What do you expect from there?
The North-East is a very musically aware part of our country. They can imitate and sing any rock song from the West and sometimes better than the originals themselves. But as Rewben was complaining and I feel the same—they have also lost some of their own folk culture. Rewben wants to sing songs his forefathers sang and his grandchildren will sing. I support this and am trying to do the same thing down south.
Has your lungi ever come off onstage?
(laughs) My music has always been appreciated, so I have never had to resort to a wardrobe malfunction to get attention.
(The Sixth Annual Roots Festival Tour 2008 runs from 3 May to 25 May. For more information, visit www.rootsfestival.co.in)