Delhi-based band RaagLeela feels combining genres is like fitting a “plug into a socket”

On a day that saw the highest rainfall recorded on what has been an already unusually wet monsoon for Delhi, it was a long battle with traffic on just about every street to reach the popular lounge Bluefrog at Qila this past Saturday night. The general consensus among those who reached Bluefrog was to be regaled, and berejuvenated with good music. Delhi-based fusion band RaagLeela provided the perfect foil to the turmoil outside.

One of the finalists of the recent ‘Leapfrog to Coke Studio’ contest, RaagLeela, fused Indian Classical music with Jazz, Psychedelic Rock and Funk. They have their base in Indian Classical music but at the same time have no boundaries, and constantly experiment and push musical horizons, hoping to sound better, tighter, more innovating. Consisting of vocalist Prateek Narsimha, Sagar Chawla on keyboards, guitarist Sarthak Joshi, bassist Niloy Ghosh, Sarthak Pahwa on percussions and drummer Vaibhav Ahuja, the band has only recently completed a year in existence, but has the camaraderie and finish of a group that has been playing together for a much longer time.

“We don’t think of ourselves as just a band. We think of ourselves as a movement,” said Sagar Chawla during a chat before the performance. “Indian Classical music, as a genre, is something that is loved and held in awe by a plethora of people, not just in India but across the world. Our aim is to translate this music for everybody so that it can be appreciated by everybody.”

The band bases its songs on ragas in Hindustani Classical music, with the excellent Narsimha providing a spine to the song with a musical flavour of Benaras, and the rest of the band adding elements from other musical genres. They usually also perform with a number of guest artistes.

At the Bluefrog event, the six-member band performed with 14 other musicians from bands based all over the city, including performers like Srijan Mahajan — the drummer for Parikrama; Arsh Sharma — the guitarist for The Circus and Pranav Pahwa — the guitarist for Jester, among others. The band started off with their signature song, the eponymous “Raagleela”, with Ghosh’s talent with the bass particularly standing out, complementing guest artiste Dhruv Bedi’s sitar perfectly. And from there on, the band progressed well, producing tight, well rehearsed songs, including their rendition of British musician Nitin Sawhney’s composition “Nadia.”

“To be honest, we never really have any problems bringing two different genres of music together. They fit like a plug into a socket,” said Chawla. “If one looks carefully, even bands like Led Zeppelin had so many seemingly Indian Classical elements in their songs, as do many of the Jazz greats.”

Chalwa said the band too worried about dealing, on the whole, with original compositions. “We feel that if a song is good, it will sell. At the end of the day, it is the music that matters.” Ahuja added, “Live performances matter a lot. Audiences can be very unforgiving if the music is not good enough. How they respond rests completely on the artiste on the stage.”

Music, they underlined, ‘is so personal.”

“I can’t produce music without adding a personal touch, personal style to it. That does not mean I don’t enjoy western music,” said Chawla. Pahwa agreed, saying, “I can’t play music like someone else without putting a little bit of myself, a little bit of my own element into it.”

And upon completing a year as a group, RaagLeela has nothing but gratefulness for audiences, in Delhi and all over the country. “We know life as a musician can be very, very harsh, but perhaps we were just lucky, because our journey so far has been nothing but sweet,” said a smiling Chawla.

The only complaint one could have with their performance at Bluefrog was that every time a new guest artiste came on to the stage, there would be a break of a couple of minutes taken to adjust their instruments and/or microphone, which prevented the show from having a continuous flow.