Rocking with Raghu

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The Raghu Dixit Project performing at Parramasala 2013 was a treat for Kannadigas, writes SHRADDHA ARJUN

the band takes a bow

“Hey Bhagwan, mujko tu zindagi dobara de,” sang Raghu Dixit with passion to a multi-ethnic crowd at Prince Alfred Park in Parramatta on the opening night of Parramasala 2013. I could barely feel my feet on hearing his voice and the distinct sounds of his band. Quintessentially Indian, it almost felt like I had been teleported to a rock concert in Bangalore. That infectious energy and eclectic mix of Western rock, Latin, funk, reggae and Indian folk, made people in and around the venue get involved and start dancing to the catchy beats. Following the opening night’s fireworks, The Raghu Dixit Project began with a bang!

The Raghu Dixit Project has played in about 500 concerts in various parts of the world, and in extreme conditions and venues. The list of performances includes their stellar performance for Queen Elizabeth II of England and her husband the Duke of Edinburgh Prince Philip, at a spectacular Diamond Jubilee Pageant marking 60 years since her accession to the throne in 1952.

The Raghu Dixit Project, in Raghu’s words “Is an open house for musicians and artistes from different genres to come together, collaborate and create a dynamic sound and expression”. Raghu is the front man of the band and at Parramasala, the six member strong team included Raghu Dixit himself as guitarist/singer, Gaurav Vaz on bass guitar, Vinodh Dev on drums, Bryden Lewis on guitars, Parth Chandiramani on flutes and Vinod Bangera as sound engineer.

The audience at Parramasala was made up of some ardent fans of Raghu Dixit, and the rest who had never heard of him before, had absolutely no idea about what they were about to witness. The fans did make a whole lot of noise; but it ended up being a group right in front of the stage who were the loudest, who weren’t even his fans! Their behaviour was rather embarrassing as it did disrupt the performance for a brief moment. Members of the band were dressed in lungis and kurtas as usual, and the loud group in the crowd began shouting at Raghu, “Do the lungi dance!” for reasons only known to them! This was followed by, “Have you watched Chennai Express?” and “Say something like Deepika Padukone in the film”. Raghu’s reaction was succinct yet assertive, “This is my show fellas, I’m on stage… so thank you, we can manage on our own”. The group did not see this coming. The girl among them moved away and offered me her spot in the front row saying, “I don’t understand what he’s singing!” Slowly but surelyy, the group disintegrated and vanished.

Raghu then took over and as he belted out his popular Kannada numbers, the Kannadigas in the audience were euphoric. Most of Raghu’s Kannada songs are inspired by Shishunala Sharif’s literature (a saint and poet from the state of Karnataka). “Gudgudiya Sedi nodu…” he crooned, an interesting song with lyrics that quite literally translate to “Gudu gudiya sedinodo (smoke the hookah and see), vodalolagina roga toredu idyado (smoke out the disease inside you and feel good)”. Raghu made it a point throughout the concert to explain all of his songs prior to performing them, for the benefit of those who did not understand the language. He explained the deeper meaning of this particular song. “Open that small cloth bag called ‘mind’, pull out the hash called ‘lust,’ put that in a chillum called ‘faith’ and burn it with a fire called ‘intelligence’. Smoke that hookah and tell me how it feels!”

He went on to sing Lokada Kalaji, which involved interaction with the crowd. Patiently yet thoroughly, Raghu sang and taught us all the first line of the song. He made us all clap and sing along! The meaning of the first line in Raghu’s words is, “Don’t worry, and be happy! But if want to worry, I don’t give a damm”. He elaborated on the lyrics, saying “you want to worry all the time, earning a lot of money, building a palace, to live like a king riding an elephant. You can, however you eventually would need to get off that elephant and go six feet down under or maybe just turn into ash in the end, So why worry be happy, but if you want to worry and not sing, I don’t give a damn…!”

The cold night suddenly felt warm as people moved closer to clap and cheer as a single entity. You just had to be there to feel the excitement!

This was followed by a Punjabi song and then, by his not so favourite, yet superhit Kannada song Mahadeshwara from a film named Psycho! This song had a great resonance with the Kannadiga crowd.

The last song for the night was a Hindi song, Mysore se aayi who to which Raghu made us all dance along, well almost… Gaurav Vaz on the bass guitar had the responsibility of teaching us the dance moves. It was as simple and easy as it could be, all we had to do was jump with our hands up in the air, or clap. The tempo got faster towards the end, leaving the audience asking for more. Ignoring the shouts for an encore, Raghu wrapped up nicely by acknowledging the efforts of the band members, the organiser and the audience. The band took a bow and left the stage.

This was not the end though, as autographed copies of Raghu Dixit’s first album were on sale, and fans couldn’t just get enough of Raghu, clicking photographs with him, talking to him and refusing to leave!

Some came back for more the very next day. This time round the concert was indoors at the Chai temple, and it was packed!

The Raghu Dixit Project serenaded the crowd with acoustic versions of their mellow, mushy and romantic numbers.

They also performed at the closing night for Parramasala 2013 on October 7, where the song set was slightly different. Raghu offered a sneak peak into his forthcoming album, with a Kannada song, Kande na, which is about hope.

At the end of the concert, I briefly asked Raghu to comment about how he felt when performing to a disruptive crowd. He simply stated that a disruptive audience prevents genuine fans from enjoying the show. There was no bitterness, just concern that he expressed. So would he be singing in any other language in future? Well, we could soon expect to hear a Tamil koothu song as part of his forthcoming album. He will also be singing in Malayalam for a yet-to-be released film called North 24 Khaatham with Bijipal, composed by Govind Menon.

Independent bands such as the Raghu Dixit Project rarely come over to Sydney to perform. However, when they do it’s pure magic. In the hope that we see them again, I left reminiscing about the dreamlike concert and humming “Lokada Kalaji”.