How dance came into my music

Singer Raghu Dixit recalls how, pushed by his father, he learnt Bharatanatyam for 18 years

Singer Raghu Dixit

I grew up in Mysuru a typical, strict, orthodox Tam Brahm family where the mornings would start with Suprabatham, followed by Carnatic classical music played on the transistor. That’s really my upbringing in terms of music.

My mother was an avid listener of Carnatic classical music. She had learnt music but never really performed it on stage. Whenever her elder sister came down from Chennai, the two would sing together. That was the atmosphere at home. When I was eight years old, my father misunderstood me when I was imitating my cousin practising dance and pushed me into classical dance. I learnt Bharatanatyam for the next 18 years till I moved out to Bengaluru for work. He thought I was talented and didn’t want it to go wasted. I almost took up dance as my profession but things changed at home.

Whatever I am today as a musician has a lot to do with my days as a dancer. The sense of music, rhythm, sense of stage production, choosing my costumes for performances and working around creating an image or an aura - all this comes from Natya Shastra and a certain Rasothpatthi (invoking the emotions in the audience). When an artist is portraying a certain emotion on the stage, it should be done in such a way that it evokes sadness or joy in the audience. They should be able to feel what the dancer is feeling.

This also explains why I dress up the way I do and my interaction with the audience is different. I constantly interact with them, taunt them and cajole them, just to get them involved in my performance and become one with the performer. The bells on my feet is a reminiscence of my time as a dancer. The idea that I should wear a certain costume that represents who I am is also something that I picked up as a dancer. I wear a lungi or a kurta because I want to represent the place where I come from and the contemporary folk music that I play. These are the influences that I picked up from dance.

I have had no formal training in music, but I have these melodies coming out of my head. I choose to call my music as contemporary folk because I sing just like a folk singer
from a rural setting would. I sing songs of happiness, sadness and celebration. What I follow is not a tradition but a culture which has been passed down generations.
I also haven’t had any formal guitar lessons. My parents were strict and wouldn’t allow me to embrace anything Western. I would go to a seminary called Krupalaya in Mysore, where I was taught the basic five chords by two brothers. They told me that if I mastered these five chords, I could play just about any kind of music. And I did so.

I was also pushed to being a perfectionist right from my childhood. That perfection has taught me a great deal about the struggles in life. Valuing these struggles has brought me to where I am today.

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How dance came into my music

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