Are You Ready for Raghav 2.0?
Sholeen Damarwala · November 06, 2018 · 3 Minute Read
You thought he went away, didn’t you? “But I was just busy zigging while everyone was zagging,” says Raghav, who released “Maayera” last year. Seated in the lounge of a hotel in Midtown Manhattan, the singer-songwriter is gearing up for his second act. He might be older and wiser, but that boyish charm and soft, yet powerful voice are intact.
For many of us, Raghav and his style of music marked an era in the early aughts, when it was a glorious time to be young and musically inclined in India. We still had music channels and radio stations that supported global independent artists, music videos were a thing of beauty – sometimes even more addictive than the music itself. It felt as if there was a major shift taking place, with Indian and Indian-origin musicians from diaspora communities around the world, creating a brand-new sound, rooted in Indian aesthetics, that was distinctly different than what we were used to.
In the very center of this movement was an Indian-Canadian singer: Raghav. Painfully good looking, his music videos were always fresh and young, and his sound, a sublime blend of reggae, soul, and hip-hop with a nod to vintage Bollywood he grew up listening to, from the golden era of Kishore Kumar, Mohammed Rafi, and O.P. Nayyar.
His 2004 debut album, “Storyteller”, had three major hits that, for many of us, defined an era of our childhood. “Can’t Get Enough”, “Let’s Work It Out”, and “Angel Eyes” were all chart toppers, and if you close your eyes and try hard enough, you can probably still remember the lyrics and picture the singer in a white t-shirt, with his perfectly spiked hair, seductively bobbing his head to the catchy tunes. “I had my “Despacito” moment right there,” he says.
Four years after the debut of his first album, Raghav released another international album called “Identity”. He followed it up with a third album, “The Phoenix”, that was only released in Canada. “People always ask me where I disappeared after “Storyteller”,” he says. “I was right there, but what had happened was that pop music scene in India just fell off.”
While Bollywood primarily dominated airtime on music channels, pop artists like Raghav either gave up solo careers to collaborate with Bollywood music producers or simply did their own thing. Raghav chose the latter. He collaborated with A.R. Rahman and Shilpa Rao for a song in Jab Tak Hai Jaan in 2012, but for the most part, he focused on his core fan base in Canada and the United Kingdom. “My greatest achievement and joy artistically is that I felt I was at the front end of creating something unique,” he says. And then I had my baby girl two years ago, and I thought I want her to see me do that again. And if I’m going to do that again, then I need to be an innovator.”
Backed by Artist Originals, JioSaavn’s in-house label and artist development division, Raghav is back with his latest single, “Maayera”. Firmly rooted in his original musical sensibilities of creating a fresh contemporary sound by mixing old Bollywood melodies with reggae and hip-hop elements, “Maayera” is a more complex version of his older work. “I think there’s nothing sadder than an artist who desperately wants to re-engage with the same moment they had in the past,” says Raghav. “With “Maayera”, I have done something different that allows my voice to really come through.” It’s softer, resonating with familiarity, yet a decade more grown up. The song is a soothing ballad about distance, inspired from his own grueling tour schedule that forced him to spend time away from his family. “When I was working with Akshay Shinde, the lyricist for this song, I told him I wanted to convey the pain caused by distance, and he took it into this mold of relationships that is wonderful and has a broader appeal,” he adds.
The singer hopes that his latest music has the same lasting impact as his older work, allowing him to eventually collaborate with music producers like Pritam, Amit Trivedi, Vishal Bhardwaj, and A.R. Rahman, who are constantly pushing boundaries and experimenting with sounds, much like Raghav himself. “The idea of art being a meritocracy is really important. And it’s important that the audience should have equal ability to hear songs they may not normally get exposure to and then decide whether they like it or not,” he says. “It’s slowly getting more democratic and now, thanks to JioSaavn, people finally have the power back in their hands.”