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The Rolling Stone Interview: Raghu Dixit

“Last year we spent about Rs 39 lakhs and earned back about Rs 11 lakhs…”

Bobin James May 03, 2011
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Then in November you performed on BBC’s Later”¦ With Jools Holland show.

It happened in November, but the seed was sown in May, when we invited the A&R of Jools Holland to come watch our showcase at Bush Hall. He loved us and sent an email saying he was definitely looking to slot us.

Did you realise how big this was?

Frankly, I didn’t know what the whole bloody hype was about. I had no clue about Jools Holland show was about. I was cursing my management. I was cursing Robert and Paul, [saying] “You made me spend three and a half lakhs to come all the way and perform for just four minutes.” And that too was a song that I didn’t want to perform. They wanted me to perform ”˜Khidki’ first, and ”˜No Man’ was the second option. They wanted me to bring a tabla in, and that is not my natural instrument, simply because as soon as you say Indian music, a tabla will happen. I have always wanted to avoid that cliché and simply not use the tabla because of that. And here I was, being forced to use the tabla. And my management was saying, “Please, Raghu, for once, just cut out the ego and trust us.”

Till I entered the BBC studios, I was completely clueless, and I was in a negative frame of mind, because I had gone all the way there giving up gigs here. I entered the studios, and there were sounds coming in as I walked through the corridor. I then opened the main door and there were thousands of lights blowing you away. And there was Robert Plant, doing his sound check [laughs]. I just dropped my bags and I was like, “Wow! This is it. If I don’t perform I am okay with it, but I just got to see Robert Plant perform right in front of my eyes.”

And we did pretty well in that show. I’m glad that they let me choose ”˜No Man’ over ”˜Khidki’ simply because it had one English line which encompasses everything that the song says. I think that really helped make people understand what I’m talking about. Soon after our site went mad with traffic from around the world.

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When did you come to know about that?
See, I shot for the video and immediately the next morning I flew back to India. The show got aired only the next Saturday. The main show on Friday is only half an hour long. What we recorded was on a repeat telecast, which is a one hour show. So after Saturday midnight, I am sitting online and suddenly messages are coming in, our Facebook page is going crazy and our website traffic is gone up. It was just beautiful to be sitting there in the middle of the night all alone, just getting all that attention and response. I wish I was there right in front of the TV watching it, but nevertheless, that really pushed the album up, on iTunes [UK world music charts]. It became the most downloaded album and ”˜No Man’ became the second highest downloaded single.

What happened because of Jools Holland was that a large faction of industry came to know of us. Since then festivals have been writing to our management. It pushed our performance fee from nothing to a significantly larger sum. That I think is a great achievement for us, that there are festivals willing to pay that to us”¦

That also helps cover a lot of your costs. I remember you telling me last year that you had spent a lot of your money”¦

Last year we were in the negative. And this year we are breaking even. My management had predicted, that I would need about three summers before I could become a formidable enough name for them to put their foot down and say “This is the fee. And you need to pay for his local transport and backline and hotel stay etc.” Right now, I’m paying for it and that’s what’s costing me a bomb.

When did you realise that your music was meant for a bigger stage?

The affirmation happened when we performed at Lovebox and WOMAD. I think that tour was very crucial for me to believe that I could do it. For example, Lovebox was a very surreal experience. When we came up on stage, it was 2 o’ clock in the afternoon, and it was drizzling and there was only one woman with two kids in the audience. And I came up on stage and again I was cursing Vijay Nair [laughs] “You fucking put us on a festival like Lovebox at 2 pm in the afternoon. It is raining and I have one woman and two kids in the audience.” [laughs]. But as a band, we’ve learnt that no matter who is listening to you or how many people are there, there is always one person who can change the world around you. So it’s a genuinely beautiful part of the band that we really love what we do. We really are happy playing our music. It’s nothing fake. And that, I think, gets across to the audience. That I think is the best thing about us. It’s not the music. It’s not what we play. It’s just that when people see us, they see, “Fuck, this is a happy band.”

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So we started the show, and halfway through the song, I could see people are walking, running from the main stage, towards our stage which was a smaller stage. And by the end of the first song we had about 100 people. Then slowly the crowd grew to about 3000. And it’s still raining. It was the most beautiful experience for me. As I got off the stage, I told Gaurav [Vaz, his bassist and manager], “I think we’ve got it.”

WOMAD was also similar. What seemed to be a 400-500 crowd soon became 8000. And when ”˜Mysore Se Ayi’ happened, all 8000 of them were jumping in the air. It was beautiful. The sun was setting and it was one of the most romantic concerts for me personally. We sold about 220 CDs after the gig. That was more than enough to cover my living cost in the UK.

So those two shows completely made me believe that I should put my money behind this. It was not because I said that my music is great. I still feel that there are hundreds of artists out there who are much better musicians, much better songwriters. There’s only so much I can do with my voice. I’m not a trained singer.

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