Rajeev Raja’s boyhood passion, like millions of others in India, was cricket. Unlike many who had to sacrifice it at the altar of academics, Rajeev got to pursue it, thanks to his family that was crazy about the sport. Rajeev’s younger brother, Arjun, went on to play for Karnataka with Rahul Dravid. His 267 versus Bengal is among the highest scores by a Karnataka batter in the tournament. Rajeev’s cricket career, however, was beset by a back problem. After being the opening batsman for his college, he left the game when he was just 17.
The heartbreak of quitting cricket was soon healed by another love he discovered: music. When you hear Rajeev’s story of how he got into music, it is tempting to believe that he was destined to get into it.
“Apart from cricket, my family was into arts. My dad was heavily into theatre. My mom was a good Bharatanatyam dancer before she got married. So, we were surrounded by classical music and Kathakali (we are from Kerala). Though I have sung occasionally in school, I never knew I had the talent. After the back injury, I was dabbling with music in college. I used to play the mouth organ and someone came up to me and said, ‘Hey, why don’t you check out the flute?’”
These casual suggestions can sometimes begin life-altering journeys. Rajeev checked out the flute that day. Today, he is a well-known jazz fusion flautist in India, apart from being a veteran advertiser. In hindsight, Rajeev believes the back injury that prevented him from pursuing cricket was providence. “If I had been a cricketer, I would have stopped playing by now. So, I am glad that I can still play the flute.”
His jazz fusion band, The Rajeev Raja Combine, based in Mumbai, has come up with a new project called ‘Jazzplorations’, 10 years after their maiden album, Cosmic Chant.
The band emerges for their first live concert in a while with a brand-new repertoire of original compositions inspired by their collective influences and experiences over the past few years. The compositions pay tribute to the cornucopia of musical forms, sub-genres and cultural nuances that form the universal fabric of jazz. Creating in their wake an organic and seamless fusion that blends elements of Blues, Rock, Funk, Latin and Indo-fusion music.
Rajeev, in a series of live concerts in Bengaluru, will be accompanied by some of Mumbai’s finest musicians including Hitesh Dhutia (guitar), John Jaideep Thirumalai (bass), Arka Chakraborty (piano/keys) Vaibhav Wavikar (drums) with special guest artists Chandana (vocals), Vinayak Netke (tabla).
Rajeev wants to take his music beyond jazz aficionados. “What I have been doing over the past few years is to merge all the elements of jazz and create my compositions, and express them in a way that is much more meaningful to our audiences,” he says.
The Jazzplorations concerts will serve the same purpose. For Rajeev, who now lives in Mumbai, it is also a homecoming.