We're entering a new dawn of what being Indian in music means: Raghav Mathur

We're entering a new dawn of what being Indian in music means: Raghav Mathur

Bengaluru, Nov 16 (PTI) Indo-Canadian pop singer Raghav Mathur, known for hits like 'Angel Eyes' and 'Desperado', says best is yet to come for the Indian-influenced soundscape in global pop music.

Mathur, who has just released 'Chingari', his second single this year, featuring Mumbai-based rapper Divine, has been one of the pioneers to introduce Indian-influenced hooks and samples from old Bollywood songs, redefining the sound of global pop music.

'I think we're entering a brand new dawn of what being Indian in the arts means. The Western record labels are threatened by the impact of the numbers and the way our culture can take a record to the top of the charts around the world. I think the best is yet to come for us,' Mathur told PTI in a Zoom interview.

In 'Chingari', Mathur has also sampled a couple of lines from Kishore Kumar’s song, 'Aadmi Jo Kehta Hai' from the 1974 film 'Majboor', starring Amitabh Bachchan.

'Divine is the most instrumental artist in the subcontinent in terms of legitimising hip-hop as a sound that is the future of pop music. It's such a privilege to work with him,' says Mathur.

In the beginning of his career, Mathur says it was not easy to incorporate Indian sound into pop music. His first single, 'So Confused’, released in 2003, in fact, had no traces of his Indian roots. But it gained a foothold for him in the pop music world by reaching number 6 in the UK Singles Charts.

'On the back of that, I was able to put out some of my more Indian-centric work, starting with 'Can't Get Enough', which samples 'Kabhi Aar, Kabhi Paar' from 'Aar Paar'. A few more singles and an album kind of changed my trajectory,' says Mathur.

In ‘Angel Eyes’, which he released as a music video in 2004, he found his groove – and what he says is known as 'Raghav sound' among his fans. Instead of sampling old songs, he says he opted for Indian-influenced original hooks and tabla beats.

This method, he says, came handy in the late 2000s, when sampling Bollywood songs became a complicated affair. He also collaborated with other artists – reggae singers Jucxi and Frankey Maxx – for the first time. Later, collaborations, mostly with hip-hop artists, became his signature approach to a song.

'I think hip-hop is the most influential genre of our lifetime. I grew up listening to Snoop Dogg and Dr Dre and later, Eminem and Tupac (Shakur) and Biggie and those were such a big part of the soundscape of who I was. But I could never perform that on my own. So, I started collaborating,' says Mathur, who grew up in Calgary, Canada.

The success of his brand of pop music, unfortunately, opened a Pandora’s box for him, he adds.

'The industry changed so much in the mid 2000s. There was a reaction to the success that a few of us had, particularly NRIs, in the Indian market. It was quite a shake up to the scene,” says Mathur. It meant that working with Indian labels to sample records became difficult, says Mathur, especially as he is not a remixer. While remixing, or what is referred to as 'Jhankaar' beats in the music industry, exploits legal loopholes, Mathur says incorporating original recordings involves copyright hassles.

The perfect example to understand the difference between what Mathur does and the regular remixes is the handling of the song ‘Kabhi Aar, Kabhi Paar’ from the film ‘Aar Paar’. While Mathur sampled snatches of it seamlessly into his song, without missing a beat, in the remix version it is merely overlayed with an additional soundtrack of catchy beats and lots of base.

'Post 2006, it became cumbersome to take something that was part of my signature sound and put it into a piece of work that would create exactly the kind of the sound that I'm known for,” says Mathur. For a while, says Mathur, he was just keeping his head above water, even taking up Bollywood offers – he sang a duet with Shilpa Rao, ‘Ishq Shava’, which was composed by A R Rahman, for instance.

But Covid turned the tide for him again, he adds.

'Some of my old songs were trending again. This reunited me with Mushtaq (Omar Uddin), who produced 'Storyteller', my debut album, and now we've come up with these new songs – ‘Desperado’ with fellow Indo-Canadian rapper Tesher (of ‘Jalebi Baby’ fame) and ‘Chingari’,” says Mathur.

What also changed in his favour is the explosion of platforms to showcase musicians and their work. Mathur says it gives more power in the hands of the listener. “And for someone like me, that's great. To remain independent, I just have to make sure that I connect with my fans through these platforms,” he adds.

These platforms have also paved the way for new artists who are taking it very seriously in the arts, says Mathur. “Well into my 20s, I was the only brown guy in the room, especially in Canada, and that has changed now,” says Mathur.

He also believes that there is a viable career path in the arts.

“Those of us who've had some success can really do a lot to help folks find what that career path is. There weren't many people that could help me with that when I started,” he says. PTI JR BK BK

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