Raghu Dixit is a former microbiologist and classically trained bharatanatyam dancer who’s bringing his mother tongue, Kannada, to stages all around the world. The lead singer of The Raghu Dixit Project — one of India’s highest booked bands — has played for the Queen of England, festival goers at the Glastonbury Festival, and most recently, audiences at the Sydney Opera House. Raghu describes his energetic and infectious sound as a fusion of “happy folk music” and “rock and roll”.
Raghu was raised in Mysore, “the centre of culture” in Karnataka, where he was introduced to the performing arts at a young age.
"I learnt bharatanatyam for 18 years. I did my examinations and almost took it as my profession."
When he was 19, Raghu decided to take on a challenge from a classmate to learn how to play the guitar.
“He made fun of me and he said it was very ‘effeminate’ of me to be do Indian classical dance and wear make up on my face,” says Raghu.
“I was angry at his stupidity. I told him to give me a couple of months and I’ll play that instrument of yours and I’ll sing a song to you.”
“For me, coming from a traditional Indian family, meant that the guitar was associated with Christianity. I hunted down my Christian friends to help me out. I learnt on my own after their initial help.”
After picking up the guitar, Raghu naturally discovered singing as well.
For the next seven years, Raghu decided to only sing in English.
“Growing up in Mysore, I was listening to Metallica and singing in English was the coolest thing to do.”
But it’s only when he started singing in Kannada, the mother tongue of his home state of Karnataka, that he felt truly comfortable.
“When I was 26, I picked up a poetry book from Karnataka. I picked up my guitar and started humming those words. And realised there’s a sense of complete joy in singing in my mother tongue."
Fans were also enthusiastic and encouraging about his potentially risky decision.
“I wasn’t sure if it was going to work but it was amazing how it expanded the fan base."
Watch The Raghu Dixit Project perform at the Sydney Opera House. YouTube: Confluence A Festival of India
So what’s the secret to singing in a language that audiences might not understand, whilst still having worldwide appeal?
The Raghu Dixit Project is currently in Australia for the 2016 Confluence: Festival of India in Australia.
Playing at the Sydney Opera House was a dream come true for Raghu but also an opportunity to reflect on the ability of his music to cross borders.
"The greater cause is the relationship between India and Australia. There's more to the relationship than just cricket. Art is the last tool we can use to bring people and culture together — to identify the common ground and realise that we are different but still similar."
Listen to the song 'Lokada Kalaji' by The Raghu Dixit Project, which is based on the writing of Kannada poet Santa Shishunala Shariff. Soundcloud: The Raghu Dixit Project