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The Raghu Dixit Project (Finally) Ready To Release Second Album

Bigger jams and more personal stories have all been packed into the new multilingual album

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Lalitha Suhasini Nov 15, 2013
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The Raghu Dixit Project's new album releases on November 23rd

The Raghu Dixit Project’s new album releases on November 23rd. Photo: Prashin Jagger

For almost six years now, Bengaluru folk rockers The Raghu Dixit Project have been racking up their air miles, touring the coun­try and the world, and steadily gaining new material for their second album. If there was ever any doubt what an exact­ing musician the Bengaluru folk music band’s frontman is, this album should set all doubts to rest. Titled Jag Changa, the album will be launched this month at the Pune edition of Bacardi NH7 Weekend­er festival (the launch was postponed to November and the album will now be released at the Bengaluru edition of NH7 Weekender). The vocalist reasons that the band needed time (their debut Antarag­ni – The Fire Within released in 2008) to find its groove and its audience. “India discovered us only by 2010 probably,” says the 39-year-old vocalist and music com­poser when I meet him at Yash Raj Films Studios, in suburban Mumbai, where he has just wrapped up a day’s recording for a yet-to-be-titled film. Dixit explains why the second album could not be recorded on a deadline. “Call me arrogant or ada­mant but only I knew what the final ver­sion of the second album should sound like and it was very difficult for me to translate this to someone else,” says Dixit, “It had to grow with the band, the tours and experi­ences that we had. Now, if we look back and see how it has shaped up, it is a collection of all the experi­ences and all the amazing musi­cians that we’ve met.”

Brit folk music band Bellow­head is on this list of artists who have shaped the album. “Jag Changa,” the album’s title track, which is Punjabi only in name, includes a surging horn section featuring Bellowhead, and Dixit recalls meeting the 11-member folk band at the Alchemy festival in London last year. He adds, “We nailed four songs in one evening and went on to perform them together the next day. My songs can sound bigger than they are and I realized we have space for a horn section after we collaborated with Bellowhead.”

Clawhammer banjo player Abigail Washburn and Rajasthani folk musicians Manganiyars have also played on the title track, which Dixit refers to as his new song of hope. So the story of “Jag Changa” begins in the UK, travels into the home of country and bluegrass music in Nashville, Tennessee and winds up in the deserts of Rajasthan. While The Raghu Dixit Proj­ect began collaborating with the Manganiyars as early as 2008, after their debut performance at the Jodhpur International Folk Festi­val that year, teaming up with Washburn is yet another memory from the band’s packed tour diary. Dixit met Washburn when he was at the Windsor Castle in 2012 to perform at the diamond jubilee cele­brations of Queen Elizabeth II. His first meeting with Washburn came about by ac­cident. He says, “While everyone was being prim, proper and stoic, there was one lady in a gown, who was walking around Wind­sor Castle as if she were at an amusement park and as if she didn’t care where she was. That really comforted us because we were really worried whether we were saying or doing the right thing. So I just went up to her and spoke to her.” When Dixit introduced himself as a musician from India, Washburn brought up another link ”“ her husband and inf luential banjoist Bela Fleck’s long-time friend, collaborator and tabla ge­nius Zakir Hussain. Dixit seized his moment the next day. “I found these 10 minutes when she was free, knocked on her trailer van and sang ”˜Ambar’ for her. We struck a great friendship and we’ve been in touch since.” Dixit traveled to Washburn’s home in Nashville to record her parts for his album and Washburn’s sliding banjo lines can also be heard on the buoyant Kannada track “Lokada Kalaji.” which has already been road­tested by the band.

Dixit with Bellowhead's Andy Mellon

Dixit with Bellowhead’s Andy Mellon

The Raghu Dixit Project has been playing some of its new material for a year now includ­ing the Kannada track “Kodagana Koli Nun­githa.” With tongue-twisting lines by Kanna­da Sufi saint Sant Shishunala Sharif, the song is one of the highlights of the second album. “It’s a song about crushing your ego and find­ing that the better person that you’ve always wanted to be within you and I wanted the track to have an Arabic feel,” says Dixit. Of course, there’s a twist to this story too. The singer had booked a Turkish orchestra to re­cord a string section on this song. “But just before I could book my flight to Turkey and apply for my visa, their management told me that they had quoted the wrong fee and dou­bled it,” remembers Dixit.

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In retrospect, it seemed to have worked out well. Dixit took up the challenge of re­cording the parts without the Turkish or­chestra and called up an old friend for help. Violinist HN Bhaskar, who co-founded the fusion band Antaragni with Dixit in the late Nineties, stepped in as a one-man orchestra. “He was the first violinist that I ever collaborated with and wrote the violin parts for “Hey Bhagwan” and “My­sore Se Aayi,” so he knew exactly what I was looking for,” says Dixit, “We spent half the day listening to Arabic music on the inter­net. Finally, Bhaskar lay­ered 15 different tracks of violin parts with just one violin and I shifted pitch around to make them sound like cello, viola and violin. Bhaskar just turned the song around in half a day.” And it was this version that Bellowhead worked. Adds Dixit, “When we were in London, I recorded with Brendan (Kelly) on sax and Andy (Mellon) on trumpet. Andy arranged the entire horn section.”

The new album is also more personal. The tracks “Yaadon Ki Kyaari” and “Amma” in par­ticular draw from Dixit’s childhood. Dixit does some soul baring on “Yaadon Ki Kyaari,” a cathartic experience for the singer, who lost his mother when he was just five. Adds Dixit, “It’s a song where I remember my parents in a positive manner because I was still very angry about why my mom died, why she committed suicide and left behind two kids.”

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On “Amma,” Dixit switch­es to Tamil, a language that he em­braced only recently. “It is a tribute to my stepmom, who is Tamilian. For some strange reason, I refused to build that bridge all these years. When I look back, the only reason why I’m standing tall today and performing around the world is because of her. She was the only one who supported my family, raised my brother and me, never had kids of her own, pushed me into ev­erything I ever wanted to do and never stopped me from doing what I wanted to do.” Both slower and more soulful, the songs expand the group’s repertoire, establishing that they can tackle evocative compositions as effortlessly as boisterous crowd pleasers. “Sajna” with fusion act Advaita’s Suhail Yusuf Khan guesting on the sarangi is another slow burner.

Maybe it’s the knowledge that most of the new material has been received well at shows that has reassured Dixit about the fate of Jag Changa. He says without a trace of anxiety, “I don’t know if people will say ”˜Wow I love the first album better than this.’ That’s irrele­vant feedback. For me it was more about liv­ing in that particular moment and saying, ”˜I’m sitting in front of Bela Fleck and his wife Ab­igail is playing banjo on my album.’ For me, it was like, ”˜Shit I cant afford this Turkish orches­tra but here’s Bhaskar playing Arabic music like he owns it.’ Those have been milestones for me.”

Pre-order Jag Changa here. 

This article appeared in the October 2013 issue of ROLLING STONE India.

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