Archive for November, 2007

17
Nov
07

Jodhpur Riff – A Liberating Experience

How often do you come across a situation that in a matter of a few hours you are a changed person! How often do you meet people who make you feel blessed about this life, broaden your mindset and make you realise that your heart is indeed bigger than you give credit for it! How often do you get to make music that uplifts your spirit higher than you could ever think of and for a blissful few hours make you feel one with yourself! Not very often, indeed! If I can describe the whole experience in one word – it would be ‘liberating’. I felt I have broken down all the chains I had wound myself with all these years.

It was about a month back that I had got an email from owen from British Council asking if I would be interested to take part in The Rajasthan Internation Folk Festival in Jodhpur. I didnt even bat an eyelid. The whole idea of the festival was to bring together about 40 musicians from around the world and let them live, collaborate and finally perform with local folk musicians of Rajasthan. Though the festival was for a week, I could make it only the last two days because we had MTV Style Awards to perform for. Add to that a missed flight and we were left with one and a half days to meet the musicians, figure out what to do, compose, write, practice and then perform a 45 minute set!

As I embarked the flight to Jodhpur from Mumbai, I was filled with strong doubts of being able to make something out of 1 and 1/2 days. I tagged along Gaurav with me. We landed much later than we should have and were rpomptly escorted to our hotel where we just about managed to have dinner and sleep. In the morning we were ‘given’ the only two native rajasthani folk musicians left to ‘work’ with – who were not ‘taken’ by anyone else!

The first couple of hours went into trying to figure out what each one is saying….the language is far away from Hindi…but yet with a lot of effort and extreme miming by me and gaurav we kind of figured out a new language that could help communicate…but that was only till we pulled out our instruments and started playing music…we didnt need any other language.

The first musician is Kohinoor Langa, a man in his early 40s. He was given that name by the Queen of England after his performanace in London when he was just 10! Later we discover that the man has travelled more than 40 countries!!! Kohinoor Langa performs on Khartal – a pair of wooden pieces held in each palm of the hands and played like castenets. He is probably the best in the business and plays like God! He is proud of his achivements so far, his legacy, his homeland, his village, his camels, his wife and his son!

The second musician is Manphoolji…a man in late 40s performing on a very crudely hand constructed string instrument called ‘ravan hatta’ which is similar to the sarangi/violin. Manphool had never ventured out of his village before this trip to Jodhpur! It was his first trip without his wife and his first encounter with aliens like Gaurav and I! He is a soft speaking, gentle, ever smiling – dented with a constant hint of confusion in his face! manphool has always played the ravn hatta accompanying only his wife, who is a brilliant singer. Playing the Ravn hatta when someone else is singing – in this case me – was a little offending for him! And he didnt lose a single opportunity to let us know how much he was missing his wife’s singing.

We barely got to know each other when were called for lunch. Half a day gone!

Post lunch we started to sing to each other what we know best and we realised that our music was so similar and it seemed that all the ongs had the same origin – the heart – and therefore they had similar feel. From then on we did not look back. In two hours we had nailed 5 songs. We did a brilliant version of Mysore Se Ayi with the ravn hatta backing my vocals and playing the solos ending in a utra-high-speed Khartal solo.

The second song was what made me completely change my perspective about singing songs in a language unknown. Manphoolji sang a song called ‘banjaariye’ (Gypsy Woman), in which the singer urges the gypsy woman to stop worrying about the material things and instead speak words of love and spread the message of love because in the end all that matters are good relationships with people who will remember you as a good person! It struck to me that the words were similar to those written by a 19th centure saint poet of Karnataka ‘Saint Shishunala Shariff’ in one of his songs ‘Nishchintanaagabekanti’. But what was more amazing that the melody that I had composed for Nishchintanaagabekanti was in a similar scale to that of Banjaariye! I was blown with amazement at the coincidence!

We also did another song called ‘Pani Haari’ which was about a young woman walking miles everyday to fetch water for her home. She laments and wonders how different life would have been if only her dad or brother were rich enough to dig a well in their courtyard. In one of her dalily trips to the water source, she meets a man from a distant land who promises her a good life if she came along with him. But her proud soul refuses to go with him. The song ends in a beautiful verse saying ‘No matter how difficult my life is – my land, my country and my loved ones are my wealth and nothing else can be richer than I! I inserted english verses in between the song compimenting the song. This seemed like the real ‘Desert Rose’!!!

The other songs that we did were Lumma Jhumma and No man will ever love you, like I do.
The second day morning, Khinoor brings a friend-musician along who played on Dholak, Bhutte Khan. Suddenly we had a complete sound! Bhutte Khan didnt need a second listening….he was grooving with us as if he has known these songs all his life!

The same night we performed at the midnight hour in the courtyard of the Mehrangarh Fort. The full moon lit night sky blessing every performer on stage and every listener. We were not perfect on stage…but its probably the best moment of my life so far. Kohinoorji, Manphoolji and Bhutte Khan Sab performed like Gods and we earthlings didnt have a chance to complain. Among the audience were the King of Jodhpur, Arundhati Roy and yes, not to forget, Mick Jagger.

Its an experience I know will never repeat but will always remain fresh in my memory and I know that some cosmic connection will bring us together again with Manphool, Kohinoor and Bhutte Khan. Someother place, someother time…under a moonlit sky, the space and souls filled with music of the gods.

12
Nov
07

Lycra MTV Style Awards – a dream that became a reality:

I would always wonder what it takes to be on TV and more so in one of those award shows where bands/artists would get to perform. Among the many many award shows that have infected the idiot box, the Immies and the Lycra-MTV Style Awards have been on the top of my list mainly because they were about music. I have watched these shows for the past many years and always dreamt of performing in one of them someday. I always thought that you would need an album out first, and then you would need to be very popular so that the TV channels won’t worry about TRP ratings and therefore would love to have you perform in one of those shows.

Its amazing how things just fall if the so called ‘time’ is right! I still have not got my album out – I am still not on TV with a video and the country is yet to know who the hell Ragu Dixit is. But here I am among the glitz, the glamour, the stars, the latest fashion and their gurus and not to forget the gorgeous models. For a small town guy from Mysore, this was all too much to take and frankly I was so numb that I didn’t realize when I got in there and when I got out of there! It all seemed like a dream and now on hindsight, a reality.

The truth is that the big guys at MTV were very, I mean very very, apprehensive to have an unknown artist called Raghu Dixit performing at the Style Awards and that too as the opening act. But then there were a few guys at MTV who had heard me live who kind of campaigned really hard for me….even asking me to go to their office with my guitar and give a live demonstration of my musical skills. I think that kind of wrapped it! But I knew that a lot of heads would roll at MTV if ‘the Raghu dixit project’ failed to deliver as the opening act! It was a lot of responsibility, but I was super confident that me and my band will pull it off and pull it off just fine!

Siva and I had to travel to Mumbai to shoot for the ‘Performer Profile’ two weeks before the style awards and that promo would serve as the dope for people to know that some Raghu Dixit will be performing at the style awards. Little did I know that the promo would help my band so much…people now recognize us in restaurants, streets and yes in the flights too. The promo also has helped in increasing our monthly website hits from about 60k to nearly 100k.

MTV decided that we should perform ‘Mysore se Ayee’ for our act. I agreed. The line up was Gaurav on Bass, Siva on Drums, Jithin on Violin, Bhavani, the latest entrant into the band, on percussions and myself on acoustic guitars and vocals. The idea was to send a recorded track much earlier so that the designer, dancers and the models know the song and choreograph the stage act accordingly. Just that the challenge was to perform exactly like the edit we sent…which for us as a live band was a new thing. We have always performed keeping the song structures free and open for spontaneous improvisations on stage and now we were required to stick to the edit we sent. It meant no chance for on stage mood swings, improvisations, free playing, deleted or extending parts of the songs which is so common when we perform live!

Enter Assistant Professor of Computer Science: I think the guy who found the entire experience overwhelming than any of us was Assistant Professor Bhavani Shankarji. When we were practicing in Bangalore, our man didn’t even have a clue how big a stage it was gonna be for him! He comes from a small town in Mangalore called Kundapura and is an assistant professor of Computer Science at the Canara Engineering College! We had met him a year back at a concert for NITK, Surathkal. He had joined us on stage with his tabla for an impromptu jam. I wanted him to play the Dholak and the Daffli for the style awards. He had never played in a band set up ever before till now. He had mainly been playing for classical and light classical concerts in his home town. He had to be literally hand held and taught the etiquettes of being in a band including that of taking lesser time in the bathroom ;). He was paranoid with the whole thought of traveling in a flight, the security check and if his Dholak will be safe and so on…..his famous line was ‘Raghu, please tell me the do’s and don’ts’ about everything – be it for the flight, or getting into a lift or staying at the hotel….everywhere I had to hold out a manual to him ;). But on stage the man gave his hundred percent. He has a long way to go to fit into the band but I know he will mould himself double quick time.

Me and the Assistant Professor at the Mumbai airport

We reached Mumbai on 23rd morning. We were received well at the airport and transported promptly to the Intercontinental Grand. Our rooms were all in a single service apartment which meant we got to be together and continue listening to non-stop nonsense from Siva and Gaurav as always. 23rd evening was for sound check and we did that promptly well within the time allotted for us. We were not convinced entirely with the sound check – there was just no thump on stage and the sound engineer Bruce somehow could not get out of his console for a few minutes on to the stage to listen to what he was mixing on stage. The enormity of the event overwhelmed us so much that we didn’t think of putting our foot down till we got the right sound. I could barely hear the dholak and the drum kit, the bass was flying in and out of my monitors and we all were terribly deprived of the energy that we usually feel on stage. I knew it was a wrong move to walk away from the stage unhappy, but we thought we will get it right the next day when we get to the tech run… which never happened since it was only a tech run and not a sound check! This fact was at the back of my mind till we got on to the stage for the performance next day on 25th.

We were stunned by the whole movement of activity happening around us……the stage was being painted, the setting was tried and tested, the cameras were practicing their movements, the models were smoking and walking their walk, the dancers were getting yelled at by the choreographer, the lighting engineer was positioning the lights, and then there was a battery of media people…I was thrilled in anticipation of the experience of giving interviews to the various channels…they all asked the same questions with the same bored expressions…and I tried answering the same questions differently and singing different songs in each one of them…but still by the end of it, I was not as thrilled as I was at the start of it all! It was even more disappointing to know that none of those interviews I gave were eventually aired!!!

Singing to a Stadium – Even a sound check was a huge high!

But what was fun was the day of the show. We were escorted into the venue by 4.30 pm and were guided to our own trailer van!!!! We got our own bloody trailer van with ‘Raghu Dixit’ written on it!! We felt like real rock stars! Gaurav and I got into one half of the van while Bhavani, Siva and Jithin got into the other half. The white van actually was a green room with air conditioning, a toilet, a couch, a huge mirror with lights, 3 chairs, and to top it all, a TV! This felt bloody good. We felt ‘arrived’. A couple of vans next to ours stood another long trailer van on which was written ‘Shahrukh Khan’. Sigh!

Trailer Vans

We had an hour to spare to sink in the whole experience! Gaurav was trigger happy on his camera. I was still half worried about the incomplete sound check we had. But soon we had no mind space to worry. We were asked to get ready for the red carpet welcome. Well, in reality, it’s a ‘fake red carpet welcome’. What actually happens is that you are already inside the venue, then you get dressed up, and then they take you out from the gate behind, make you get into a swanky car, drive you all the way to the front gate where you get out and walk towards the red carpet leading to the main gate of the venue. At the entrance is a battery of cameramen hijacked our walk with their ‘bhai saab, this side please, bhai saab …smile here please…bhaiyya one more please….’. We didn’t have a clue where to look…I think all three of us (Siva, Gaurav and I) ended up looking at different directions as the cameras flashed mercilessly blinding us for a moment. But we held on to our baffled smiles. This was too much of an experience. The first time is always the best time! Here we come baby! Bring it on! Once done with the photographers, next were the TV channels in line…all shouting at the same time for some sound bytes…I just stopped somewhere in the middle…sang a line of my song loudly and everyone clapped! That’s it…move on baby…. Nikhil Chinnappa with a cameraman stops us in the walk for the official MTV Red Carpet chat. Obviously our lungis are drawing all the attention…and Nikhil wonders if we wear them for better ventilation! Oh yes, that’s just one of the reasons! Next year we should win the Most Stylish Artist of the Year award! Long live lungis!

Red Carpet – Looking Everywhere

As soon as we got into the venue, we were told that we had 12 minutes left to get on to the stage. We quickly tuned our instruments and were backstage where a production person, a sweet smiling lady by name Priyanka, lets us know that the show will be delayed by 20 minutes more since people were still trickling in. We sat on the chairs provided, clicked pictures with Priyanka, made jokes with the boys, huddled together and whispered a prayer, spunked each other and promised to stay together on stage, and then suddenly someone just screamed…. ‘guys you are on’!!! The voice over had already started and Priyanka hurried us on to the stage… the huge stage industrial looking set rumbled and roared to life…I was still fixing the plectrums to the mic stand when the lights flashed and the voice over ended with ‘ladies and gentlemen, The Raghu Dixit Project’. I was numb…I felt paralyzed for a moment. I felt as if I didn’t know why and what I was doing there! I have been on stage all my life but this time it felt different. It was not planned but I broke into a small speech…explaining who we are…don’t know if it was really necessarily, but I was doing it as if it was a ritual…and then came the blooper which even my band mates were baffled with… ‘we would like to dedicate this song to the gorgeous lady from Bangalore who is now making waves in bollywood, Deepika Padukone’ ….hell…where did that come from? I could feel the stares from Gaurav and Siva! As expected, thankfully, the whole blooper of a speech was cleverly edited by MTV when it was shown on TV. Before I caused any more bloopers, I did what I do best, break out my voice into the alaap that leads into ‘Mysore se ayee’….the crowd roared as the lights brightened and my voice grew louder…I don’t know if it was the song or the lungis and our attire, the crowd was cheering us throughout the song….and I felt in my elements again! As soon as I finished playing the first guitar intro, we were all in for a shock, none of us could hear the Dholak which was meant to enter at that point…I turned towards Bhavani, surprisingly I caught him furiously thumping it….but damn where as the sound? The mics were off? Or was the dholak not on our monitors? What happened for the next few seconds was completely on the basis of our hea movements…we couldn’t hear ourselves, but we could see everyone keeping the rhythm intact….till Siva entered, none of us could hear the tempo of the song. We were shocked, confused, but kept our smiles on and of course the head movement. The crowd roared. Siva entered with a huge thump, and we rocked on. Jithin looked as if he has just seen Godzilla but played extremely well and half way through the song, we all were finally comfortable…I even moved towards the crowd and shouted to get their hands up in the air and doing my usual high energy dance. While all this was happening, the models wearing Jathin Kocchar’s line of clothes entered the stage with their heavily practiced cat walk. The clothes were all mostly in black and white. But while we were performing, these models didn’t even seem to be there…we were so focused that we didn’t get distracted! Ha ha ha….

I think we held our fort amazingly well considering the fact that we couldn’t hear each other…and held it completely on the basis our body movement and language. Thanks to my ghungroos and the ever dependable Siva’s tight groove, we could keep the tempo intact and stuck together. And before even we realize, it was all over. Our 5 minutes of glory ended in a flash and when we reached the typical tihaayi ending of Mysore se Ayi, the crowd roared an approving applause. The voice over took over politely letting us know that it was finally over and it was an indication for us to exit. Once back stage, there were hugs and handshakes from everyone we knew and did not!

 

We had not expected such a big stage and expected nothing from it either but when the show was finally aired on MTV on Nov 3rd, the whole of country got to know that we kicked ass! 🙂