Tochi Raina, the ‘O Pardesi' singer, is now training his energies on a Sufi-jazz band. Shalini Shah speaks to the singer

There are certain films that cannot be isolated from their music. Dev D was one such. When composer Amit Trivedi was looking for someone to render the classical-jazz, sitar-meets-electro ‘O Pardesi', he picked up the phone and called Tochi Raina. They knew each other since their struggle days in Mumbai, becoming friends just six months after Raina moved to Mumbai. A little before that Raina had made his Bollywood playback debut with “O Bulleshah” in A Wednesday, and Raina — with an earthy, soulful voice that also seemed suitable for a percussion-based number like “O Pardesi” — seemed a perfect fit. As it turned out, it was.

Raina's other songs include “Saibo”, a duet with Shreya Ghosal from Shor in the City, “Gal Meethi Meethi Bol”' from Aisha (the film bombed but the number did fairly well) and “Ik Tara” from Wake Up Sid.

Recently, the singer was in the Capital, at Hard Rock Café in Saket, to perform at a Coke Studio @ MTV mini concert along with other artistes from the project.

Born in Darbhanga in Bihar, Tochi spent some time in Nepal and then moved to Patiala in Punjab. For the past nine years, he's been in Mumbai. He learnt to play the tabla for 10 years, before an accident made him take up singing. Among his gurus are Pandit Vinod Kumar, Ustad Bhure Khan and Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. For six years now he's been learning Western classical guitar.

Also, Raina's taste in music offers an interesting mix — Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Barkat Ali Khan and Nazakat and Salamat Ali Khan to Britney Spears, Yanni, Peter Gabriel and John McLaughlin.

“I started singing since I was 16; it's been 20 to 22 years since I've been learning. I want to do something on a global scale and see to what extent I can take it, what message I can convey through it,” he says. It is as part of this mission that Raina has formed his band Bandagi, which he plans to formally announce soon. With 15 members so far (including his sister Kaveri) Bandagi, Raina admits, is a big band, and it's still in the beta stage in terms of research.

A unique aspect of Bandagi will be its genre of ‘Sufi jazz'. “Nobody here sings Sufi jazz. My forte lies in Sufi jazz; 20 years of hard work have gone into it,” says Raina, who claims to do riyaz at least seven hours a day no matter what his schedule. “Within a year we should be out with an album. There will be five vocalists. It's not an album for myself, it's a message.”

There's something else that Raina would like to tick on his wish list. “It is my heart's desire to work with A.R. Rahman,” he says.

Despite the pre-eminence of Bollywood and little or no scope for non-film music (compared to what the scene in India was a decade ago), the singer insists it's still the music that counts and not the context. “The audience will listen if you have something nice to offer. ‘Ik Tara' was an example. People accepted it. Then ‘Saibo' from Shor in the City came up gradually. If you have something nice to offer, the youth will take to it, no matter what package it comes in.”