Going onstage (www.esplanade.com).


Now Hear This: Ragha of RaghaJazz

The jazz fusion whiz on the band’s diverse influences.


Published: 18 Nov 2020

Time taken : >15mins

Homegrown jazz fusion band RaghaJazz has been making waves in the Singapore music scene for their modern take on classical Indian music infused with jazz and funk influences. We speak with Raghavendran Rajasekaran, leader and flautist of RaghaJazz, on the many musical influences that make the band’s unique sound and the tunes that have shaped him as a musician.

When did you first learn to play the bansuri (carnatic South Indian flute)? Can you remember the first song you learnt?

I was 11 years old when I first played it and the first song I learnt well enough to perform was Raghupathi Raghava, a popular hymn from India in praise of Lord Ram.

Your band RaghaJazz’s signature sound blends classical Indian music with pop, funk and jazz elements. How did this come about and is there a song or performance which inspired you to start experimenting with these genres?

I would like to say that although the compositions have elements of such genres, I do not consciously include them as part of the movement. It is usually a process of determining what groove and mixture of ideas can drive the song to succeed in a performance.

I was very much into learning metal music and pop with my guitar and also making hip-hop rap songs during my teenage days. I would say that these influences have become a cumulative inspiration.

What are three words you would use to describe RaghaJazz’s music?

Global, Singaporean & Palette-able!

Who are some of your earliest jazz influences?

More than the music, I was very much inspired by the philosophy of jazz, especially through the readings, musical transcriptions and interviews of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter and Marcus Miller!

What are you currently listening to on your playlist?

As a keen lover of music, my current playlist features a wide variety of songs that have been introduced to me by my students, friends and colleagues. I don’t have a specific preference and I listen to almost everything under the cloud that streams. I have enough music in my everyday life, so a lot of times outside of music, I love finding inspiration from books and documentaries just to stay grounded. That being said, I would say my current favourite album has to be Bumi Tak Diam by NADI Singapura.

Who is a classical Indian artist or musician that has continued to inspire you throughout your lifetime?

Hariprasad Chaurasia! The Indian classical flute is a difficult instrument to play and there is an extensive amount of discomfort in realising the notes. To watch this man perform with grace even as his arms shiver to grab hold of the bansuri! I’ve learnt that the fighting spirit of a musician requires him to push his personal barriers away, and therefore achieve an accomplishment for his love for the art.

In one of your earliest performances at Esplanade, you performed two original compositions, Saraswathi and Freedom Principles. What was the creative process behind these two songs and does that apply to your other original compositions as well?

Every time I compose a song for RaghaJazz, it fires up a memory of a particular time in my life; where I learnt to adapt and change for the better. The songs of RaghaJazz are not commissioned work; they are works of my life’s journey. Therefore, a narrative and reflective energy is given to the song. Every song encapsulates the sounds and influences of my current surroundings. 

In terms of creative process; I’d like to say that there were magical moments where I said yes to every string of melody that followed and also times where I sat in deep contemplation for weeks to help my melodies and harmonies sit balanced and equalised. Every song is still being improved on and they evolve with every performance as different friends and colleagues play and listen to them.

What is your favourite song to play live?

I love to play Saraswathi by RaghaJazz; as it is the song I am most comfortable and confident to perform live. It is usually my opening number and helps calm my nerves and anxieties before any performance.

How much of your live sets are improvised and what are the challenges that you face when blending musical instruments from two different cultures?

With our sets, you can expect 40% improvisation, 40% rehearsed and another 20% of unpredictable moments that we never anticipated. We like to practice enough to keep us conscious on our feet and alive at every song.

When you perform with very competent musicians; the challenges are usually far from the technical or theoretical concepts of music but more philosophical and also working to identify what the music needs and doesn’t need.

So, the challenges are usually communicating the sonic dynamics of the song; because every time we perform, we realise there is a new part of the song where we feel has been overlooked and could have been given a more conscious dynamic. It’s a never-ending process.

There is usually an educational aspect to your performances with your band. Can we expect the same in your upcoming performance at Kalaa Utsavam?

Definitely. I can’t wait to share more about the ragas* and jazz and also letting our audiences know how we got to where we are learning through the little elements of Idioms of Freedom.

*Ragas: A melodic framework for improvisation akin to a melodic mode in Indian classical music

Experience the diversity

Kalaa Utsavam – Indian Festival of Arts

Immerse yourself in Indian arts and culture during the festive period of Deepavali, with Esplanade's annual Indian festival of arts.

20 – 29 Nov 2020
Find out more
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