Mysore man Raghu Dixit waited nine long years to get people to listen to his music of the earth. He tells BHUMIKA K.no musician makes music for himself
When a deep, throaty, and fresh voice bursts forth singing a Shishunala Sharif song urging you to smoke the hookah of life, after the blues guitar notes have already got you hooked, you know you’re onto something in the world of music.
The album, eponymously titled “Raghu Dixit”, doesn’t give away much. But the artwork, (which shows him in miniature-painting style with his guitar) and the photographs hold out enough hope for you to snoop around the album.Once the music rolls, with the energetic and folksy-rock “Hey Bhagwan”, you know you’ve reached a new destination. Of course, the old faithful of Bangalore know him and his music from the trailblazing band Antaragni and later the Raghu Dixit Project.
Raghu Dixit is a microbiologist and a trained Bharatanatya dancer who now charmingly sports a goatee, and strums a guitar wearing colourful lungis and beads, looking every bit the wandering minstrel. Don’t miss the thick ghungroo in the video now running on MTV.
For all this, Raghu’s first brush with the guitar is one helluva long story, as he warns me. A classmate at Yuvaraja College, Mysore, pissed him off when he teased him for doing an unmanly thing as Bharatanatya for a programme in college. “So I told him that if playing a guitar and singing a rock song was considered being macho, I’ll do it, provided he learns some Bharatnatya.” Growing up in a traditional Iyengar family, he says he associated guitar playing with Christians and sought out someone who would teach him for free, and give him a guitar too! He found his way to a seminary on Mysore’s outskirts where he found kind brothers who gave him a guitar, a chord book and a place to play. “I got hooked to the sound of the guitar and it felt great as a teenager to hold a guitar and sing out loud,” laughs Raghu. After two months he played the classmate a country song, which he passed off for rock.
When a friend gifted him a guitar for his next birthday, he realised he could start playing his own tunes, and even read newspaper headlines to them! “We didn’t have a tape-recorder at home…and those were the days of Phil Collins and George Michael.”
He’s now composed about 70 of them in English and Hindi, though he insists he exhausted his Doordarshan-induced Hindi vocabulary in two songs flat! But it’s taken Raghu nine long years, to cut his first album. It was one of the reasons why his successful first band Antaragni, that was the rage at college festivals and music tours, and shows, finally broke up in 2005. “We were always on the edge of something great. That itself was a great turmoil. Despite all this, we would perform mostly for free or very little money.” They walked out of a couple of music record deals. “There was no respect for the music. Most record companies don’t give the artist their due and expect you to do everything. I’ve heard every possible arbit reason to make you feel demoralised.” He was even told to pay up Rs. 15 lakh to promote him on TV because he wasn’t good-looking.
“I confess I was desperate to get my songs heard. When a musician says ‘I play for my own joy and satisfaction’ I don’t believe it one bit,” he says.
After Antaragni disintegrated, he decided he won’t have a fixed band. The Raghu Dixit Project today is a floating group of musicians who play together, with each song left to the musician’s interpretation. “It’s like each song gets a rebirth every time it’s played and we never sound the same at two concerts.” The album, finally produced by Bollywood musician duo Vishal-Shekhar under their nascent label Vishal & Shekhar Music, has all the old tracks cooked to perfection, and new ones, with all the musicians who’ve played with Raghu coming together for the tracks.
The album has eight tracks, including two Kannada ones by the 19th century saint-poet Shishunala Sharif (others are in Hindi). “I can beat my chest proudly and say it’s one of the first Kannada songs to go national. Shishunala is so satirical and anyone can listen and smile and connect to the deeper message. There’s a beautiful treasure of Kannada poetry and I next want to work on a world music scale with an anthology,” says the Mysorean, who’s considering moving back home because “any artist’s music is because of his environment and it’s too precious to lose now”. The folksy, simple songs have been sung from the soul and will definitely take you on a trip like no other. It features acoustic and slide guitarists like Bruce Lee Mani, Prakash Sontakke, Anirban Chakravarthy, bassists Gaurav Vaz and Keith Peters, ‘Darbuka’ Siva, violinists Manoj George and H.N. Bhaskar, and many others.
Raghu listens to everything from Carnatic classical to heavy metal and says he still can’t figure out his influences. He confesses he ‘steals’ sounds from the earth. “No folk musician is trained or taught. The melody comes spontaneously from people who are grinding in the kitchen or working in the field.” For more on the musician and the music log on to www.raghudixit.com.