It was a moment, a performance that was brilliant in its improbability.
In December 2010, a very “South Indian Looking Fellow” (as a North Indian colleague observed) who looked like a microbiologist, dressed in a lungi appearing on the Jools Holland Show on BBC2; he proceeds to stun the audience first by singing in Hindi and then launching into an impassioned plea to an unseen love: “No man will ever love you like I do…”
It’s been almost three years since that day Raghu Dixit and his eponymous ‘Project’ of folk musicians dazzled British fans with a late-night appearance on the venerable music show.
In the interim he’s been back several times, winning fans the length and breadth of Britain – from the Royal Festival Hall on the Southbank through Glastonbury to an Apple store in Scotland, taking in Ed Miliband, Andrew Marr, Queen Elizabeth and the BBC’s hallowed Maida Vale studios along the way.
The Project’s music was an unusual treat for music lovers; a unique fusion of classical Indian music, ancient South Indian poetry and Bollywood with blues, funk, popular music and folksy drums and guitar all thrown in for good measure.
At the centre of it all was the larger-than-life Raghu Dixit (actually a former classical dancer-turned-microbiologist-turned-Jingle Writer-turned-self-taught musician); blessed with a versatile, earthy and soulful voice and enough stage presence to rouse from a stupor even the most sluggish member of the audience or the most hardened folk music cynic.
And now the Project has released its hugely anticipated sophomore album ‘Jag Changa’.
The record has been in the works for nearly six years – Raghu is a notorious perfectionist, be it a new album or a wonderfully caustic Rasam mix – as the band toured the world and evolved, and it shows.
Their debut album ‘Antaragni’ was unique for its multifarious fusions. ‘Jag Changa’ takes things up several notches and is utterly resplendent in its eclecticism. It’s far more experimental, confident and often immensely personal.
It is also the result of a plethora of collaborations featuring musicians and inspiration from at least four different continents.
For British fans, the eight-track album isn’t wholly new.
‘Lokada Kalaji’, a sing-along favourite at several Alchemy Festivals, uses verses penned by 19th Century Kannada poet Shishunala Sharif. For the album, the composition has been updated with a distinct blue grass feel and features the gifted banjo player Abigail Washburn and saxophonist Brendan Kelly from English folk music band ‘Bellowhead’, long-term collaborators with the Raghu Dixit Project.
‘Kodagana Koli Nungitha’ is another familiar tune that’s prompted plenty of jumping-up-and-down at various venues around the UK and again uses verses by Sharif and sounds at once like something you’d hear at a North African wedding or a flamenco club in southern Spain.
It’s an incredibly complex number with myriad instruments and talents on display, from Bhaskar’s incredible violin to an exceptional lead section by guitarist Bryden Stephen Lewis.
The collaborations continue with the ‘Rain Song’ which shows off Raghu’s vocal range and Soumik Datta’s terrifically evocative Sarod; the haunting, brooding melody wouldn’t be out-of-place in a classic Hollywood western.
Title track, ‘Jag Changa’ is from the opposite end of the melody spectrum; upbeat and optimistic but layered with instrumentation, from banjos to violins to flute to the infectious acoustic guitar.
Whilst ‘Jag Changa’ is the title, ‘Parasiva’ is the album’s anthem, starting off with a stirring percussion set and continuing with big guitar riffs and soaring vocals.
Things are dialed down once again for ‘Amma’ and ‘Sajana’, two love songs in two distinct languages pledging love to two very distinct women.
The highlight of the album is, without a smidgen of a doubt, ‘Yaadon Ki Kyaari’, a melancholic reminiscence about childhood memories. It is the least buoyant and least complex composition in the album and, perhaps for that very reason, is an instant classic. The kind of song that you will look back in twenty years time and recall the exact moment of first indulgence.
Raghu’s voice is a perfect fit for the melody; wistful and nostalgic.
‘Jag Changa’ is a fantastic folk music album that expertly combines multiple languages, myriad influences and genres and yet retains a very classical, Indian feel.
My word, the wait has been worth it.
Now all that remains to be done is for someone to once again bring the Raghu Dixit Project back to the UK so that we can hear these songs live; an experience even this exceptional album wouldn’t be able to top.
– Viji Alles
‘Jag Changa’ is available on iTunes.