With people such as Deeyah and Jay Sean breaking through and various unsigned acts snapping at their heals, 2005 will see a host of new Asian talent bring a fresh flavour. At the top of his game is Raghav who scored top 10 hits in 2004 with "So Confused" and "Can't Get Enough". It's "Angel Eyes" which looks set to be his biggest hit to date and prior to his appearance at the Cardiff Millennium Stadium charity gig for the Tsunami victims, Designer Magazine editor Alex McCann caught up with Raghav to chart his path to international success
Q: You started to get involved in music at such an
early age. When people start this early it's usually the tradition that
they're following a grand musical family heritage. Was that the case?
Q: No one in my family is musical, in the sense that they perform or anything, but music it always was a very important part of our household. It was played all the time so I was encouraged to listen to music and eventually it translated into wanting to perform it. And in Indian culture, especially in my family, everyone knew all the songs and films, they were very clued up on the indian side. From a very early age I had access to all that information.
Q: You started performing initially in Canada and there's
a lot of cultural identity going on there (For example Indian-Canadian
or French-Canadian). How important was the cultural mix on your upbringing?
A: Very important. The diversity of Canadian culture is something that I grew up respecting big time. In schools it's something we were always taught about and it was kind of always encouraged to be different. Having said that we didn't have the indian community we have over here with East Indian, Asian and Pakistani communities. It's more visually apparent that they're part of the mainstream society just cos there's lots of us over there (in Canada).
I always grew up with, and this goes down more to family
than actually Canada itself, fiercely proud to be indian. But at the same
time it wasn't until I came to England that I really discovered that good
balance between my indian music side and my more western upbringing.
Q: What was the first song that really made an impact
A: We had a tape deck in our Ford Granada back in the early 80s and all our family was over from India. Everyone could do something, and this was when I was 5, and there was a song from an Indian film by an actor called David Ardu. This song got stuck in our tape deck and kept playing over and over and over again. With our family it was like "What can Raghav do? Can he do anything?". My mum's like "He's only 5. He doesn't really do anything". So I took deep offence to that and started singing the song from beginning to end...and that was kind of the first song that made me think i'm gonna stick with this.
Q: And from that one brief moment you started taking
seriously and ended up in various music schools across America.
A: Yeah. When I was in High School I had a great High School music teacher who taught me that a career in the performing arts was very viable. The only kind of ruck that you have in Calgary is it's a big city, but still has a town mentality. So the problem then was if you wanted to follow a career how do you then go and do it, cos I didn't have the benefit of growing up in New York with a ton of producers and artists around you. And then of course I picked R&B and indian music and those were probably two of the least accessible aspects of music that you'll find in Calgary, Canada.
So I went to LA and the thing about music schools is they
allow you to be surrounded by other musicians. At the same time if you
just stay within that boundary it's tough to get out of it.
Q: Knowing that he'd worked with legends such as Michael
Jackson and Madonna, how was it working with Seth Riggs?
A: Seth was great, I don't know whether you've met him or seen any documentaries about him, but he's an eccentric character. On any given day you'd be in the rest room and Stevie Wonder or Natalie Cole could be on the phone. I was just this geeky nerdy 17 year old Indian-Canadian kid with no concept of any of this stuff other than owning the albums. He really took me under his wing and could have easily dismissed me as someone who didn't have a chance. But he didn't dismiss me and in retrospect that was crucial to me believing in myself.
Q: In indian music there's a crucial difference between
that and western music in the fact that the musical scales are different.
How did you bridge the gaps vocally?
A: I used them to my advantage. For every 8 notes on the western scale we have 64 indian notes. When I started singing music it was Hindi music and so some of those notes naturally came to me when I was younger. I was in musicals in junior high and people would say "You sound weird, you sound like you're singing in a different key. It sounds good, but it's not the right key" and it's very difficult to quantize that. When I started song writing I realized that if I don't think about and I just sing whatever sounds right to me - it comes out sounding a little bit different I hope.
Q: When did you actually move from singing to song
A: About 14 or 15. In Calgary we grew up around a lot of country music. I was a big fan of country music in my teenage years, which made me even weirder. Here I was of Indian origin and I loved country music - it was like what's wrong with you. The reason I loved country music is, that although I love R&B and hip-hop, country music always had a story and I could connect to them. There's the stereotypical I lost my wife, I lost my truck kinda stuff but some of the stories with them are the reason why people like Ronan use them as pop songs now.
I thought I want to write songs with stories. I don't
just want to write "hey gal, you got a nice booty", that kinda stuff's
cool too. I write stuff like that as well, but I like songs that have a
story with a beginning, middle and end because if people get sick of the
music, rhythm or the voice they can't get sick of the story and the lyric.
Q: On the album the songs are stories and have a bit
of a twist that you wouldn't have on your typical R&B track. Is it
quite hard to come into a saturated genre and put your own stamp on things?
A: I think if you tried to do that it would be very hard, but I think if you just remain totally true to who you are and don't go into a studio and go "How can I come across really urban? Or how can I come across really indian? Should I put a hindi lyric in there?" If you try to that, which I have done in the past, the songs sound really contrived.
Q: You've got a couple of tracks with Sly & Robbie,
but most of the album is co-written and produced by Mushtaq (Damage, Misteeq
etc.). How did you go about choosing the producers?
A: Mushtaq's got about 5 tracks on the album and Sly & Robbie are actually on about 5 or 6 tracks. I've been with my manager for 4 years and he goes "I think I have the best people available in the world, in reggae music and jazz. And you sit down with them and if they respect what you do write some stuff together". We did and that's the bi-product of some of the stuff on the album. I feel that artists have their one producer that they feel very much at home with: Michael had his Quincy, Stevie Wonder has Stevie Wonder cos he does everything himself...and I have definitely feel like I have my Mush.
Q: I've read in a lot of reviews that there was a battle
between creating a pop album and your album. A lot of people who preferred
the two bonus tracks on the album didn't like the rest of the album and
A: Critics and people have the right to think whatever they want and that's why you put certain tracks on an album. If they sit back and look at the mentality of how the album was made, it wasn't like we just tried to put a bunch of different ingredients together. The one thing that makes sense from the 2 Hindi tracks all the way to "So Confused" and "Can't Get Enough" is they're all songs written with a purpose in mind. I feel strongly that in different markets all the tracks on there are potential singles. It was a case of how do I define myself as an artist over 16 tracks...and it took 16 tracks to do it. If you look at other albums out it's pushing the envelope a little in that it's got 16 songs on there. But I feel that in order to get myself across as a total artists I needed to do that. If I did 16 tracks just like the last 2 you'd only be seeing one aspect of me and I don't think that's right.
Q: And then "Ain't Nobody" comes in right at the middle
as a straight up soul track and is something again you don't expect
A: Thank you. It went through our mind that it really breaks up the album. "Ain't Nobody", even more than the Hindi songs, is the most indian song on the album because the scales are very indian, the beats are indian, but I don't want people to think about it. I just want people to think this is a banging R&B track.
Q: And I guess going back to working with Seth and
the people he's worked with - you've got a real commercial head on you.
You know what tracks will work on the radio
A: I hope so. Radio play, especially in the UK, is so important in maintaining a career. "Angel Eyes" is the catchiest ditty on the album. The fact that it's on the "Murder She Wrote" rhythm, which is probably the most standard biggest reggae rhythm of all time. Simultaneously I don't want it to just get onto the radio - I want it to get into people's hearts and soul. I hope people will listen to these tracks in 5 years time.
The single "Angel Eyes" is out on February 7th
The album "Storyteller" is out now
For more info
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