Tag Archives: Gaurav Vaz

The Raghu Dixit Project at Brooklyn Bowl, London

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The Raghu Dixit Project at Hard Rock Cafe, Hyderabad

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The Raghu Dixit Project at Opus, Bangalore

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The Raghu Dixit Project stands out from other bands because of the absolute ease with which they connect with the crowd. Christmas Eve saw Opus Bangalore packed to the hilt with no space to take a step and the undeniable warmth of the Christmas spirit made its presence felt immediately. The densely packed tables placed close to the stage seemed awfully inappropriate for such an energetic show, but given the guest artists who graced the stage the past 7 days – Opus was definitely the place to be this Christmas. Raghu Dixit – almost a household name now, took to the stage at half past nine, with a considerably changed lined up – Wilfred D’moz on Drums / Percussion, a very youthful looking Parth Chandiramani on the Flute and Bryden Stephen Lewis on Guitars.

Raghupathy Dixit brought folk music to the front lines of the music scene of a city that saw all sorts of influences – from western classical music to college rock to jazz and blues, the dominion being sounds from the west. But what he manages to do is entwine eastern sounds and infuse carnatic notes with western instruments and sing in three languages (English, Hindi and Kannada) that instantly strikes a chord with the people of Karnataka. After playing ‘Hey Bhagwan’ from his debut album, with which he opened the gig, ‘Masti ki basti’ was the new song that he rolled out.  The performance of this song saw both Gaurav Vaz and Raghu jumping in unison – the rhythm rising to a lively jig that brought a smile to many faces there.

Raghu manages to bring the folk genre of Bhagavathee to the forefront with his songs. A genre peculiar to Karnataka, Bhagavathee (literally means ’emotion poetry’) is a form of expressionist poetry and light music. Most of the poetry sung in this genre pertains to subjects like love, nature, and philosophy.

‘Kodagana Koli Nungitta’ was the next song he sang. Originally a Kannada folk song, (details of which you can find here), he turned it around to make it seem like a composition of absolute brilliance. It started off sounding like Jazz, moved into the familiar sounds of a folk song  interjected with Carnatic sounds from the flute, and culminated with Rock n’ Roll! For those of you who need an introduction to what Raghu can do to old tunes, here’s an example.

If you haven’t been initiated into the Raghu Dixit Project fan group yet, you must listen to the songs from his first album that he played at this gig – ‘Gudgudiya sedi nodo’, ‘Mysore se aayi’, ‘I’m in Mumbai, waiting for a miracle’ and ‘No man will ever love you, like I do’, the last one being a soulful melody that can tug at the heart strings of any lovelorn bloke.

What surprised me most was how the flautist supplemented the band after the departure of the violinist. I was glad to be introduced to the newer songs that he played – ‘Jag Changa’, which he said would be the title track of their next album. It had a nice rhythm and vocal parts and every member of the band sang the harmony to this song flawlessly. Another track – ‘Lokada Kaalaji’ had awesome riff lines and was fun to sing along to.

‘Yaadon ki kyaari’ was about Raghu’s childhood back in Nasik, where he was born. A laidback song where the guitarist uses a ukulele and the flautist plays the melodica. ‘Just maath maathalli’, ‘Munjaane manjalli’, ‘Neene Beku’, and ‘Mahadeshwara’ were the other numbers that they played. Considering that their first self-titled album came a full four years back, Raghu reassured the crowd that the second one would come out towards the end of January next year.

Their website proclaims the band as often being called India’s biggest cultural and musical export, and with good reason too because travelling frequently to play at countries like the US, Mexico, England (they played for the Queen on her 60th year anniversary since her accession to the throne) is no easy task. This band can only see greater success in the future!

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The Raghu Dixit Project at Cuba Libre, Hyderabad

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The Raghu Dixit Project at Turquoise Cottage, New Delhi

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Vibha Dhwani at St. John’s Auditorium, Bangalore

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I did not know much about Vibha.org, a charitable organization founded in 1991, when I entered the St. John’s Auditorium on Saturday. By the end of the evening, however, I developed great respect and admiration for the work they do. The event was called Vibha Dhwani where bands that strongly personify Indian culture – The Raghu Dixit Project (TRDP), Agam and La Pongal were invited to perform.

Until Saturday afternoon, I was to watch TRDP, Agam and Yodhakaa play; however, due to slight confusion, as it was put, La Pongal, a Tamil folk rock band, replaced Yodhakaa in the line-up. The band which contained two key members from Yodhakaa was in the middle of their sound check when I entered the disinfectant-smelling auditorium. The stage setting had a nice rustic touch to it, with kites and hay, certain to remind you about the fun times that you had as a kid back in your village. Considering how the whole evening eventually panned out, the stage design intent was spot-on. About an hour to go before the start of the event and Agam, except one member, was nowhere to be seen. Not really a bad thing, as I’ve known Agam to do their sound checks a day before the event, something they did at the Big Junction Jam back in June.

Vibha Dhwani at St. John's Auditorium, Bangalore

I had met Darbuka Siva backstage for a short interview. He talked about taking Tamil culture wherever he went, the importance of attire to a performance and musicians as entertainers. A while later, I was in the middle of my interview with the man who symbolizes the beginning of folk rock in modern India, Raghu Dixit backstage when La Pongal started their act. BANG on time! I took a seat in the front row as La Pongal dived into their second song ‘Killiamma‘. Pradeep on the vox and acoustic guitar and Darbuka Siva on the bass co-fronted the band. Pradeep who has a background in Carnatic is a real joy to listen to and was easily La Pongal’s stand-out performer that evening. In my book, he’s got the right voice timbre to become indispensable to La Pongal’s overall sound. The first few songs had a similar structure about them – an acoustic guitar start, bass-drums-tavil joining in and the lead guitarist Vikram providing the fills, a mellow interlude and a crescendo finish. I must also credit Pankajan on the tavil because the folksy touch of La Pongal would have been non-existent if it weren’t for him. David on the drums was having an absolute ball if the sound on the PA was similar to what he heard on his monitors. I assumed that it was, considering he executed a crisp drum solo (and by the looks of it, enjoyed it too) before La Pongal went onto their next song, ‘Vandiyilla Nella Varum’.

Vibha Dhwani at St. John's Auditorium, Bangalore

Later, La Pongal broke their song pattern to play a song derived from a Tamil folk standard known as ‘Kuravan Kurathi Aatam‘ which was relatively less hard-hitting and mellower. Thumbs up to this one! Pradeep improvised with a guitar solo of his own. At this point of time, I had noticed that the lighting of the stage was also neatly done as it reflected the soft nature of the song. One of their last songs which Siva said was borrowed from a kid’s game, had a nice reggae feel to it. The little inputs to the song were so apt that it did seem like children playing in the background!

Overall, La Pongal still showed signs of starting off as they suffered issues in tightness in some songs. However, of the three bands they had the most rustic sound and I daresay that, with songs like the aforementioned, they were the closest to the theme of the whole event.

After La Pongal made their exit from the stage, Vibha showcased their work through a short movie. I was impressed with some of their innovative concepts like School on Wheels. There were actual clips from how teachers teach the students, a few short classes in Marathi and interviews with the children’s parents. Having their children educated and display the confidence that it brings in their daily life activities put a genuine smile on their faces. Ten minutes after the movie, Agam were ready with their act.

Vibha Dhwani at St. John's Auditorium, Bangalore

Before you notice any likely bias from this point on, I must warn you that I’m a huge fan of Harish, the frontman of Agam. Trained in Carnatic, he was on that day, confident and charismatic. He does give the impression of being in a hurry though. But coming to the whole band, Agam were really tight, demonstrating great communication, sync and not to mention, loads of practice! They started off with ‘Brahma’s Dance’, a song in the raga Revathi and which incorporated the well-known ‘Guru Brahma, Guru Vishnu‘ shloka. Harish’s voice modulations and Vignesh’s slap bass were memorable from that song. They followed it up with a thillana in Raga Dhanashri. This is the same thillana, composed by Sri Swathi Thirunal and made popular by the evergreen voice of M.S Subbulakshmi. Pity not many realize how dry our culture would be if it weren’t for them, but I’m glad that the people took note of Agam’s extraordinary rendition.

Vibha Dhwani at St. John's Auditorium, Bangalore

Agam then launched into song they were performing live for the first time, a song in Malayalam called ‘The Boat Song’. Praveen, the lead guitarist, was at the center of this piece with some real good work on the guitar. The song was catchy and you should be able to hear more of it in the future. Agam went on to perform a song in the raga Nattai before launching onto an Urdu number called ‘Muqammal’. It seemed to bear a stark resemblance to the kind of songs A.R Rahman would compose. The song had a jazzy opening, with Agam breaking free from their hard-hitting openings and Harish alaaped in raga Ahirr Bhairav. Strangely though, following a dholak interlude the song threatened to end as ‘Lagan Lagi’ from the movie Tere Naam, but thankfully, the band ended it as the original piece should. I noticed a slight echo in Harish’s vocals, hopefully intentional, in their next song, ‘Bandurithi Kolu‘, a Thyagaraja Swamigal composition in the raga Hamsanadham. The song was interspersed with complicated proggy stuff and a good show of tightness and Harish’s vocals backed up by Vignesh’s were brilliant along with some accidentals in the overall song! Here, I could be a cynic and disregard the progressive stuff that a non-elite crowd seldom relates to, but I’m as happy as a frog in the rain that a rock band played Thyagaraja! More of that please!

Vibha Dhwani at St. John's Auditorium, Bangalore

And how can an Agam gig be complete without their ace song, ‘Rudra‘? Their second Revathi song of the evening, ‘Rudra‘ was a mind-blowing hit and it won over the crowd. At a point, it seemed that Harish overdid his vocal roller coaster, but it was a definitive display of skill, energy and stamina. To be at the end of a 90-minute show and still be able to stretch your voice better than minute one deserves applause. Their last song, ‘Malhar Jam‘, was where the crowd was able to recognize the prowess of Ganesh on the drums and Shiva on the percussions who indulged in a jugalbandi with various sounds that people instantly related to and enjoyed. Swami on the keys and Suraj on the rhythm guitar did not appear to take a central role, but I’m certain that without them, Agam’s sound wouldn’t be what it was that evening. Overall, I am overjoyed that a carnatic rock band exists, but a greedy person like me wants more. I would love it if they render more Carnatic compositions in a less hard-hitting style and experiment with other styles of rock. And before I forget to mention, they received a 20-second standing ovation as the curtains closed on an exhilarating performance!

Vibha Dhwani at St. John's Auditorium, Bangalore

If La Pongal received a huge applause and Agam received a standing ovation, then The Raghu Dixit Project went one level further. I’m not sure if people sat at all during his act! I especially loved the lighting during his opening song ‘Hey Bhagwaan’ wherein, we could only see silhouettes! When the song started, there was a deafening roar of approval from the crowd. Maybe it was the moment, but I did feel TRDP were the tightest of the lot. There was a surprise addition to the line-up as Slain’s lead guitarist Bryden Stephen Lewis joined the crew in his debut lungi attire. Sandeep on the flute was mesmerizing, his sound complemented the band perfectly and his solos were out of this world! He would occasionally step up to the podium where Wilfred played the drums and engage in a sort of a telepathic conversation while playing. TRDP kicked on with the Kannada number ‘Gudugudiya‘. Occasionally, Raghu would march with his ghungroos giving the songs an extra dimension. Then finally, TRDP became the first band of the evening, to engage the crowd in their song as everyone yelled out the lyrics to ‘Lokat Kalaji‘, Raghu adding his humourous touch to the explanation of the song’s meaning. Just off the stage, a crowd had gathered and they jumped and danced with gay abandon, while the crowd from the balcony seats gathered and stood in the tier below.

As happy I was when Agam played Swathi Thirunal and Thyagaraja, I was happy when TRDP played songs by Sant Shishunala Sharif, whose poems are widely compared to those of Kabir. Kids in Karnataka learn his poems in school and it was a trip down memory lane for the arguably not-so-many in the cosmopolitan crowd. Coming back to the band, Gaurav Vaz on the bass was impressive with some licks to keep the crowd grooving while Bryden’s solos were jazzy and he made it look absolutely effortless. As a frontman, you really have to admire Raghu. There’s a lot upcoming musicians can learn about carrying themselves confidently on stage.

Vibha Dhwani at St. John's Auditorium, Bangalore

TRDP went on to their next song, ‘Sajna‘, a softer number composed by Neeraj Singh in the 7/4 time signature (or Mishra Chapu for carnatic enthusiasts). This song was arguably TRDP’s standout piece of the whole act. People who came to dance near the front of the stage did not mind one bit to camp on the floor, soaking in the soft tunes of ‘Sajna‘. The crowd didn’t have to wait long to start dancing again and singing along to ‘Har Saans mein, Har Dhadkan mein ho Tum’ a song from Raghu Dixit’s work for a movie that is based on Facebook. Raghu cleverly started off with a hilarious jig of Sting’s stalker anthem ‘Every Breath you take’ before beginning the song. I thought it was impossible to accommodate more people near the now-crowded stage front, but I was proved wrong when more people joined in to dance to ‘Mysore se aayi Woh’ where Gaurav Vaz taught the crowd the never-before-heard dance steps of ‘put your hands together’ and ‘jump’. The band then did their trademark group bow before the crowd yelled out for more. And TRDP duly obliged with a last Kannada number before departing the stage. Overall, TRDP demonstrated great skill, sync along with trashing my baseless assumption that folk rock bands are a one-time watch. It would be fair to say that TRDP’s music is the music of the people and it brings out the child in you.

As an event, Vibha Dhwani did not disappoint, not one bit! In fact, those at the show were treated to a great display of music and entertainment! More importantly, the bands that performed, accentuated the message Vibha intended to spread. The event was a good thing to happen to society for more reasons than ten!

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Antaragni: The Fire Within by The Raghu Dixit Project

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The Dixit brothers should count themselves lucky. Both of them have been blessed with incredibly powerful voices, musical sense and an ability to speak and thus sing in a few languages. While Vasu, the younger of the two, plays for Swarathma, Raghu Dixit leads the hugely popular The Raghu Dixit Project. Raghu started his musical career with the short-lived Antaragni(sidenote: Antaragni = awesome) but they soon disbanded and Raghu went on to recruit noted musicians like Vijay Joseph and Gaurav Vaz to form The Raghu Dixit Project. Melding folksy Indian music with catchy guitar hooks, TRDP released their album in 2008 to massive audience response as the eponymous album became the highest selling non-film music album of the year 2008-2009.

Raghu Dixit studied and lived in Mysore and it is this period of his life that seems to have influenced his music. Serving as songwriter for RDP, his music is deeply influenced by Karnataka arts and also the writings of the Muslim poet Shishunala Sharif. Few of the tracks on this album were written during Raghu’s Antargani days. Take for instance the popular ‘Mysore Se Ayi’. This track was tweaked and the tempo was increased to make it to so upbeat that you can’t help but clap and dance.

Gudugudiya Sedi Nodo is RDP’s rendition of a famous Shishunala Sharif poem. In the poem, the poet metaphorically asks everyone to ‘smoke the hookah of life’. Unfortunately teenagers commonly use this song to justify their bad smoking habits!

‘Sorutihudu Maniya Maligi’ is another Sharif do-over. This track is more somber compared to Gudugudiya and has a bluesy feel to it. As strong as Raghu’s voice is, the other musicians in the album must feel shortchanged with the production values of this CD. Raghu’s voice completely overshadows the subtlety in the instrumentation. Whether this was a foresight on the production team or a creative decision (the official TRDP website has absolutely no mention of the other band members) remains to be seen but it does take away the sheen from what is otherwise a great album.

Ambar‘ is a soaring seven minute love song about a man in search for love. It is the perfect soundtrack to the climax of a fairy-tale love story. TRDP’s versatility is very evident as they prove they can write the radio-friendly stuff with the song ‘Well I’m In Mumbai, Waiting for a Miracle‘. An acoustic strum gives way to snazzy violins and a catchy chorus as Raghu talks about his times as a struggling musician living in Mumbai. Clocking in at five minutes length, it probably is a tad too long for your average radio station but everyone loves a violin solo! The material on the album does indicate a spiritual side to the band especially the crowd favourite ‘Hey Bhagwan‘. Raghu Dixit relies heavily on his vocal range to carry the album and luckily for him he has the chops to pull it off.

As Raghu has mentioned in interviews, some of the songs on this track have been 12 years in the making. It is thus no surprise that the songs are deeply personal and are about everything from his upbringing to his efforts as an upcoming musician. Throw in some Sharif influenced folk rhythms and great groove and you have a winner. Their live shows are extremely fun as well, barring the unruly crowd that shout themselves hoarse demanding him to sing his movie OSTs. A pity really because when TRDP are in flow, replete with colourful lungis and ghungroos they are a treat to watch. And they’ve managed to capture that energy onto this superb CD. Folk on!

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