| 19 May 2024
A rollercoaster ride! - Gaurav Vaz

Looking back at things that have happened with the band over the past few months, I am just amazed! It's been one crazy rollercoaster ride that we have been on and all along I keep thinking, "This is the stuff dreams are made of! and it's happening .. for real!"

There was a lull for some time in the beginning of this year with the band doing a few shows here and there, until we got wind of the 'Roots Music Festival Tour' that was going to change our lives. We never really thought that it actually would.

Halfway through the tour, Raghu met with a very bad accident where the driver of the car carrying him, slept while driving on the highway somewhere between Diphu and Itanagar and the car was thrown off the road into a pond some 50 feet from the road! Raghu, Keith and Anung (the organizers of the Roots Festival Tour) somehow crawled out of that slush and made it to the roadside where they had to wait for over an hour for any help to arrive.

We ultimately found that Raghu had dislocated his left shoulder and had a hairline fracture on the arm as well. But Raghu being Raghu, was crazy enough to go on stage the next night, less than 20 hours after his surgery and do a full length show with his arm in a sling and his heart on his sleeve :) It was one of the most emotional shows I have played in my life and the 7000 screaming fans in the audience that night transported us to a whole different plane. It took a lot of persuading from the whole band to convince Raghu, especially after such a brilliant show to head back and give his injured shoulder some rest!

Fast forward four months and a few more shows and 'The Raghu Dixit Project', now empanelled by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) was headed out on a tour of South East Asia. To four countries that we have never been to in our lives including places we din't even know existed! At the very beginning of the tour, we knew it was an experience we would never forget, but how much we would come to love the life on the road was something we could not even fathom.

We started our journey from Hong Kong and our first show was at the RTHK which is the national radio / TV station in Hong Kong. Now, traditionally, it has always been 'traditional' musicans from India going abroad and representing India at various festivals and concerts. So for a band like ours, which is anything but 'traditional' in its true sense, it was a whole different playing field. Firstly, when we went there, we were not a name that was already well known, and neither were we a band that conformed to people's idea of an Indian Folk Rock Band. Infact, I don't think many people have an idea what a 'Indo-World-Folk-Rock' band like we classify ourselves even means!

So when we reached the venue for our first show in Hong Kong, we heard the station head prepping the audience and telling them that it was "okay" to get up and dance and shout and scream during the performance, and that the artistes would not mind! In fact, when we went on stage, we insisted that they jump up and dance and have all the fun they can when they heard us.

Another interesting thing that happened throughout the show was that we always needed a translator since most of the audience that came to see us was not Indian. This posed a very unique but interesting problem because Raghu is used to explaining the meaning behind the songs and how the songs came about in different ways on each night. Now, the translators had asked us for a brief much earlier and little did we know, had translated that verbatim and were ready to say it on stage. Now when Raghu went off on a completely different approach to explain the song's meaning, the translators were perplexed on stage especially when it came to finding equivalents for some words like 'Hookah' to explain which, they had to finally mimic a huge pipe with some water being smoked!

One thing you realize when you tour like this is that some of the things you take for granted in India, like every restaurant you go to will have curds, are not really things you can find there! And this is especially true when it comes to food. So on stage, Raghu jokingly (but really hoping someone would take a hint) mentioned that we South Indians can't really complete a meal without eating some curd and wished that he could get some curd rice to eat when he was on tour. To our surprise, quite a few people heard us and took it upon themselves to make curd rice at home and come give it to us or just invite us to their homes for breakfast and then take the trouble to cook special food for us there. It's just amazing to have someone invite you over into their home and take the trouble to make something special for you after having just met you the previous day and seen one concert!

From Hong Kong, we went over to Vladivostok in Russia, which was probably the eastern most part of the world we have ever been to. They are one hour ahead of even Japan which is the 'land of the rising sun'. Once in Vladivostok, we were taken to the University there to meet students learning a course called 'Indology' which is a study of Indian culture and language. Now these people study for 3 years about India and in great detail! So when we went and met them, it was more of an experiment for them! Every one of them was trying out their Hindi on us, and coming up and finding an excuse to speak all the lines in Hindi that they knew, but little did they know that half the band din't speak even as much Hindi as them!

They were very keen to know what it was like in India and if we all knew Shah Rukh Khan and were infact quite surprised to hear that each state in India has its own language and that there are so many different languages here. (All of Russia speaks one language and has one script to write it) I should say, I have been paying a LOT more attention to Indian culture and traditions and even Bollywood after that experience.

The concert in the 'Philharmonia' in Russia was probably the best one we've played on the whole tour because it was just a crazy party there. There were about a thousand screaming Russian kids and their teachers, members from the Indian embassy and distinguished invitees, and other civilians that made up the audience in a brilliant and beautiful hall that had such exquisite architecture and just gave out this brilliant feeling just being on stage there. And all of them were screaming and dancing along with us as we got through the concert!

Japan was our next stop and personally, after all that I had heard and read about Japan, it was the place I most wanted to see! It lived up to all the expectations I had of the place and most of all the people. I should mention that the Japanese are one of the most friendly bunch of people you will ever meet in your life. They are just happy and smiling .. all the time! It was great fun to walk on the street and everyone would smile at you and just be extremely helpful just in case you needed anything.

Mr. Hasegawa, our contact for anything and everything in Japan was just the coolest and he took wonderful care of us and made sure that we imbibed the whole Japanese experience! Infact, at one point, Siva (our drummer), Vijay Nair (our manager) and me were singing from the Backstreet Boys greatest hits collection and doing the 'Barbie Girl' routine whilst being cheered on by a very encouraging Japanese crowd in a Karaoke Bar in Tokyo! You can never get an idea of how much the Japanese love their Karaoke until you go to an actual Karaoke bar in Japan!

The Korean shows were a complete mystery till 2 days before we arrived in Korea. We just had no clue what was going to happen and where we were even supposed to go once we landed in Korea. But everything got confirmed a day before we landed in Korea and we ended up playing 4 shows in 3 days in one of the biggest music festivals in Korea, the 'Jeonju Sori' festival.

When I talk to anyone about Korea, I must mention the food. The Koreans just love their food and for us it was one big experiment. Every dish we had was accompanied by about 10 side dishes. And in most cases, we had absolutely no clue what those side dishes were and what they would taste like. After a while, we just stopped asking what they were and just dug in! If you ever get the chance and don't mind experimenting with your food, I completely recommend trying authentic Korean food! You will not be disappointed!

Since we were playing as part of a world music festival, we got to see a whole lot of artistes across genres and performing styles and the entire experience was just brilliant! It was entirely unique and infact, at the closing ceremony where we got to play, we were put in front of about ten thousand in one of the biggest open air theatres I have seen and along with some of the most varied of performances you can watch!

In all, this is a trip that was a true 'cultural exchange'. I am indebted to the ICCR for facilitating this and for the Indian Embassies of all these countries for making this such a brilliant experience for us. I realize that we are among the lucky few artistes from India who have gotten do this and trust me, we are completely grateful for the opportunity and are richer from the experience. We come back to my country India, with a renewed sense of pride and with this lovely feeling of having spread through our music to a small part of the world, in our own little way, the diversity and the richness in culture that India has to offer.

- Gaurav Vaz is one of the pillars of The Raghu Dixit Project and founder of RadioVerve, Bangalore