Why a lungi- and ghungroo-wearing troubadour from Mysore could become the face of contemporary Indian music
It could be the opening sequence of a Bollywood film: a young man from a conservative Brahmin family is ridiculed at college for pursuing Bharatanatyam. The bright 19-year-old is endlessly teased for his “uncool” and “effeminate” hobby, by the cool, long haired, guitar-wielding college heartthrob, who taunts: “You wear make-up. Women wear make-up. Look at me with my guitar; this is how you feel like a man.”
Eventually the shy guy snaps and the red mist descends. Before he’s had time to think, these words are homing in on the wannabe rock god. “Give me two months and I will learn how to play the damn guitar and play you a rock song. In two months if you can show me a decent Bharatanatyam step, then you’re a man and I’m not,” says Raghupathy Dixit.
And so to prove a point, Raghu Dixit picks up a guitar for the first time. Little does he know that years later he’ll be India’s most famous folk-rock export, his music personifying young, middle class India’s pride in the motherland, outward gaze and increasing adoption of global youth culture. Less than a year after striking out in foreign lands, Raghu has clocked up fans in Britain, Australia, Canada, and America, at a bewildering rate.
The momentum Raghu’s built since I first saw the “healthy,” thickset thirty-something Kannadiga enchant London indie-rock institution The Water Rats, in May 2010, is remarkable. He’s worked tirelessly, turning out rousing performances at the Nehru Centre (for India’s High Commissioner), industry showcases The Great Escape (Brighton) and SoundCity (Liverpool), and toured over 20 UK festivals last summer.
So it’s no surprise eponymous debut album The Raghu Dixit Project (released domestically in 2008) was snapped up by Peter Gabriel’s (of Genesis fame) Wrasse Records, for UK release, garnering effusive praise in The Guardian (“he has an exceptional, relaxed vocal style”) and world music bible, Songlines (“a debut solo album of swaggering confidence”).
To round off a spectacular calendar year, in November, Raghu was invited to the BBC’s most high profile live music TV show, Later”¦ With Jools Holland. He travelled to London to perform just one song (”˜No Man’) on the show that also featured Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, and white-hot Canadian band Arcade Fire. The air-miles were worth it as following transmission Raghu’s CD topped iTunes’ World Music chart in Britain, and ”˜No Man’ reached Number Two in the Singles equivalent. It helped raise his profile considerably, and this year he has been invited to play on the prestigious John Peels stage at the Glastonbury festival next month.