Guwahati singer-songwriter Rahul Rajkhowa at a show in Manipur. Photo: Allen Robertson
In 2012, Guwahati singer-songwriter Rahul Rajkhowa was covering Punjabi artists like Honey Singh in his bedroom, but then he turned to rap with a message. His video against the issues plaguing New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (J.N.U.) in 2017 received major press and he realized it was spawning public discussion.
Earlier this year, Rajkhowa – the frontman of pop rock band Paperboat – released a song against the contentious Citizenship Amendment Bill, which dealt with issues of illegal migrants in his home state of Assam. He says, “That (video’s) comment section is filled with regular right-wing followers coming and openly claiming they had no idea what this bill was and it was so wrong. That’s my one mission now, educate and make ‘em dance through music.”
His latest is “Let Me Explain,” a live staple that he’s also performed with Paperboat. The video depicts a female relationship (portrayed by Sharon Pradhan and Sonam Bhutia) interspersed with shots of Rajkhowa and producer Sudeep Sinha in Sikkim. It marks the beginning of Pride month, and opens with the message: “Dedicated to those who fought against Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.” Sinha puts together a calming, lo-fi hip-hop beat for Rajkhowa’s verses about love.
He’s been angry and despondent when he talks about social issues, but Rajkhowa takes a different tack with “Let Me Explain.” He adds, “I was dropping aggressive rap songs about what’s going wrong in society that was instigating a lot of anger for some reason, so I thought what if I made chill music like this too, that put the people in a relaxed-groovy headspace and also gave them an important issue to ponder upon.”
The song comes after two years of touring across the country, as well as a short run of shows in Thailand in February this year. Rajkhowa adds there’s a show in Bhutan in the works for August, plus two more music videos that will form his upcoming EP. One thing’s for sure, the artist now knows the importance of a strong message. “If you can sing about an important relatable issue over catchy verses and groovy music, you can’t possibly go wrong,” he says.