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Raghu Dixit on online concerts: ‘It is definitely not satisfying for an artiste to perform in front of cameras and laptops’

"An artiste thrives on interacting with a live audience. So, performing in front of cameras, laptops and phones was a very insipid way of expression, especially for an artist like me who really loves being on stage. It a was terrible time and it affected me mentally," the musician added

Raghu Dixit, Raghu Dixit band, Raghu Dixit music, Raghu Dixit songsSouth Indian music is being heard, which otherwise the younger generation would probably never hear, Raghu Dixit said. (Photo: PR handout)

One of the most well-known contemporary folk musicians in India, Raghu Dixit needs no introduction. His soulful melodies, as a playback singer and also an independent artiste — from Ambar to Khidki and Darmiyaan — feature on most playlists. But, ask the artiste to pick one, and he promptly shares that playback singing does not excite him much.

Back on stage after a gap of two years, Raghu recently enthralled the audience at the Red Fort Festival – Bharat Bhagya Vidhata, a large-scale cultural event conceptualised as part of the Government of India’s “Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav”, under the aegis of Union Culture Ministry along with Red Fort’s Monument Mitra, Dalmia Bharat Limited –– an experience he equates with breathing. Talking about it and much more in an exclusive conversation, the musician shares more about about his journey, online concerts, challenges, and his future projects.

You recently performed live on stage after two years. How did it feel?

It was surreal; literally like receiving oxygen. It was our first gig in about two years, and to perform live on such a prestigious stage was an amazing experience. Every concert is such a blessing. Earlier, we took it for granted. But now I realize how beautiful it is to be alive, be on stage, and be able to do what I do. It gives me so much happiness. Now that things have opened up and we are back on stage, it’s been a great experience and puts things into perspective.

For us, the pandemic was probably the toughest thing because an artiste thrives on interacting with a live audience. So, performing in front of cameras, laptops and phones was a very insipid way of expressing oneself, especially for an artist like me who really loves being on stage. It a was terrible time and it affected me a lot mentally.

The last two years, as you mentioned, made online concerts quite popular. What is your opinion of the same?

Well, it is great because it kept things in motion for us. We played quite a few gigs and that brought in some revenue. We suffered a lot financially. But apart from the financial support these gigs provide, it is definitely not satisfying for an artiste to perform in front of cameras and laptops.

You lead one of the most sought-after bands in India. How would you describe the evolution of the independent music scene in India?

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It’s amazing how music has evolved, with teen pop becoming popular. The pop scene earlier, when I started off, focused mainly on Indian folk fusion and rock. But now, tastes have changed. Varied electronica music has taken precedence over everything else. Hip hop has come on its own — from being underground to mainstream. So, a lot more genres have come forward and artistes have expressed themselves in forms they’re comfortable. There is an audience for everything.

Also, thanks to the internet, the connect with your audience is more direct now, without any middleman. Even the audience has now realised that there is more to music than just Bollywood. I think it’s a great scene right now. But so much opportunity also means clutter; and only if you are really unique and can actually perform live on stage and hold an audience for an hour or more, will the cookie not crumble.

Apart from being an independent artiste, you are also a playback singer. What excites you more?

Actually, playback singing doesn’t really excite me much. I’ve done it for friends, and for my own films on the insistence of the producer and the director. But otherwise, I’m not too excited about singing in films.

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What is the most challenging thing about being a musician, especially an independent artist in India?

It would be being heard, and having a lot less opportunities compared to Bollywood-music playing bands and artistes. Indian audience is queued on to something that they’re already familiar with, and independent music takes years before it gets popular. For example, my songs Lokada kalaji and Mysore se aayi are being played on stage since the last 30 years, and its only now that people recognise it. So, it takes a long gestation period and constant bombardment of the song to get them heard.

Whereas with film music, you don’t have to really worry — probably the actors help make it popular. I feel, often, even rarely average songs become extremely popular simply because they are from a very popular actor’s movie. So that’s the challenge we fight, as even radio and television seldom play independent music. But the Internet has definitely brought us closer to our audiences. Being an old timer, I can say that learning the same was a challenge I faced — to become internet savvy. So yes, I’m trying to learn and catch up with whatever is happening right now in terms of technological advances.

You have performed globally, which has been your most memorable performance to date?

It’s a very criminal question to ask, so to say. But abroad, among all the performances, I would definitely list Glastonbury as my highlight because it is one of the biggest festivals in the world. Apart from that, performing at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, at the Southbank Centre has always been a privilege. Performing on BBC London, on Later with Jools Holland, made us an instant hit in the UK, which is incredible. But nothing beats performing in my hometown, Bengaluru, in front of my own people. I would always rate performing here far ahead that any other concerts, anywhere else in the world because when you play in front of your own people, the love and bonding is just incredibly strong.

What are you currently working on?

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Currently, I’m working on a pet project. In movies, I’m doing a film called Orchestra where I’ve composed music, and also become part producer. It’s about a young kid, a natural singer, who is working as an office boy in a band called ‘Cleaning’. He aspires to sing in a roadside orchestra during the summer festival in Mysore. So, it’s very local and a very heartwarming film, and it’s like an underdog wins against all odds kind of a story.

Apart from that, my own album which will be out in July 2022. I will be releasing one after eight years. then there are collaborative projects that I’m looking forward to through my travels in Karnataka – in search of unheard rural voices. There is also an album I’m personally writing about based on the stories of soldiers who have fought Indian soldiers who fought as a part of the British Army during World War One. So that’s another interesting project that I’m involved in.

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First published on: 06-04-2022 at 12:30:51 pm
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