Indian folk-pop frontman Raghu Dixit prepares for his Abu Dhabi Festival gig by telling us about his remarkable rise to fame
The Raghu Dixit Project’s path to success
The Raghu Dixit’s Project goal is clear, and that’s to spread joy. This means a committed and interactive show and a set list full of uplifting tunes. “We don’t play any sad songs or anything that has a negative vibe,” says the frontman who gives the band its name. “We just want people to come out and for those two hours they can let their hair down and forget their worries. They can always come back to them later.”
Abu Dhabi is next in line to soak up the Indian pop-folk group’s sunny vibes when they perform on Thursday night at the first day of the two-day Festival in the Park. Held at Umm Al Emarat Park and part of the Abu Dhabi Festival, the gig’s international stature is ideal for Dixit who thinks of himself more as a world music artist than a Bollywood act.
In fact, it took a long time for his homeland to accept his brand of music. Born in the south western state of Karnataka, the 43-year-old grew up on a strict diet of classical Indian dance and intense academia. His studies resulted in a move to Belgium, where he landed a job as a microbiologist.
It was there that his landlady was intrigued by the sound of acoustic folk songs from Dixit’s flat. “She wanted to know what CD I was listening to,” says Dixit, recalling that 1999 encounter. “When I told her that I was in fact singing, she asked me for a demo. She took my cassette and gave it to the local [radio] station and people responded.”
Dixit’s soulful songs, which are in the smooth veins of Ben Harper and Jack Johnson, were a hit with Belgian indie stations and, within days, he was a guest of Flemish- and French-speaking broadcasters. A week later, he decided to give this music thing a real try. “It is strange because everything kind of happened in 10 days,” he says. “I packed my bags and went back to India and I wanted to be this popular full-time singer.”
But when a pumped-up Dixit arrived home, he was met with a dose of harsh reality. With record labels only interested in Bollywood music, he pinned his hopes on Indian music television channels as they were the only outlet for independent artists. However, at the turn of the millennium, channels such as MTV India and Channel V succumbed to the tidal wave of reality television sweeping the globe.
After years of struggle, Dixit was resigned to notion of returning to the lab but the trailblazing music production duo Vishal-Shekhar offered an alternative. After spotting Dixit play a solo concert in Mumbai, they signed him up as their first act to their music label, Counter Culture.
The 2007 self-titled debut album, with its multi-lingual selection of breezy tunes including the favourites Ambar and I’m in Mumbai Waiting for a Miracle, was an immediate hit amongst the sizable Indian college circuit. It was enough for the record to receive an international release which shot to the top 10 of the iTunes World Music Chart.
Ever since, Dixit and his band have been touring internationally. In addition to the release of their 2013 follow-up Jag Changa, the band has conductive tours of Europe, North America and Australia, in addition to performing at the Glastonbury festival in the UK.
Dixit acknowledges his career rise wasn’t typical of the industry. “Before, it would be just down to pure enthusiasm and this desire to play to as many people as I can. This meant saying yes and playing in all kinds of stages,” he says. “Looking back, I can only say there is a certain sense of destiny to my path. I really had no idea and I was simply following a path that was laid down for me.”
One can understand his decision not to tempt fate once again. With a new album in his sights, Dixit is determined to bring a sense of organisation to all his endeavours in the days ahead. “I am going to dedicate next year to backpacking, seeing the places I love and collaborating with local musicians in the hope of making the new album,” he says. “When we make that album we will be more marketing savvy and we will set goal posts that we can reach. Until now, our group has been all destiny based. Now it’s time for some strategy, so let’s see if that works.”
The Raghu Dixit Project perform on Thursday at Festival in the Park, Umm Al Emarat Park. The first act is on stage at 6pm and The Raghu Dixit Project perform from 9pm