For most artists, going platinum is the ultimate measure of success. It keeps the label happy, and ensures that the royalty checks will be rolling in. For Raghav, who is still an unknown among the mainstream U.S market, going platinum is already a done deal.
One of the few global breakout stars of this generation, Raghav has fans all around the world, consisting of mostly young people of Indian descent. The R&B crooner is Indian, or South Asian as they call it, and even sings in Hindi, Indias native language. His music is an eclectic mix, something new for American R&B fans.
With a touch of Pop-infused Jazz, Reggae, Soca, and even Hip-Hop, Raghav doesnt bother defining himself. He listens to everything from Notorious B.I.G to Bollywood music [Indian film music] and isnt afraid to experiment. Growing up in the small Canadian city of Calgary, he moved to LA to study music, and later to the United Kingdom. After five years of hard work, he scored his deal with Virgins UK branch, V2 Music, and released his Platinum debut album Storyteller in 2004.
His Reggae-flavored single So Confused garnered the UKs prestigious MOBO Award [Music of Black Origin], and set the pace for Raghav to achieve mainstream success. AllHipHop.com Alternatives got in some quality time with this international sensation as he prepared for his first U.S. tour [Grand Theft Audio Tour] in June.
AllHipHop.com Alternatives: Youve been really focused on taking over the South Asian market. Is that a strategy? And is mainstream success something your hungry for?
Raghav: Its not a strategy. I am Indian, and my fan base right now is predominantly Asian in most parts of the world. Thats fantastic, because that is who I am, and I feel a great sense of ownership because its my music and my culture. Maybe that hasnt crossed over to the mainstream yet, and Im eager for that, but its been Asians who were the first people to jump on it and feel that pride. Its just if you were Black, white or whatever. Your people will always have a sense of pride. This happened naturally, its not a strategy.
AHHA: Whats about U.S mainstream success? What do you hope for when you tour here?
Raghav: I just want an opportunity. People who say they want success, I cant completely agree with that because there are so many factors in life that dictate success. I just want an opportunity – a fair one – as a singer and musician to entertain you. If I can get that opportunity, I would hope as an artist that I can succeed.
AHHA: You grew up in Canada. Tell us about your home town.
Raghav: Calgary is small. When I was junior high it was hard enough to get a Blackstreet album, you had to special order it. We didnt have any urban radio stations. For me that was really difficult, but it opened me up to songwriters and forms of music that came from there like Country music. A lot of writers are storytellers and I believe 21st century poetry is Rap, you know? I always said to myself, when I have the chance and the ability to write songs, I want to be able to capture that storytelling part of it. I think growing up in Calgary, it was a different environment; it was harder to be a straight up R&B singer but it definitely helped me as a songwriter.
AHHA: When did you start to figure out you wanted to study music? And what made you move to L.A?
Raghav: Ive never really been a big fan of learning music; I think it just comes to you. I went to the States because, although Calgary was great, I felt no opportunity to pursue the career. I think there was one manager and one entertainment lawyer in the whole town. I went to Los Angeles and I studied with a great vocal coach out there, just trying to maintain my voice. Being in California taught me so much; its so different from the small town of Calgary. It was good for me because thats what being an artist is all about. If you just stay in your comfort zone then its just never going to happen. From that point on it took me five or six years to get my a deal. And getting a deal is just one percent of it. Im just glad that I can still be an artist and still do things on my terms.
AHHA: Why did you move to the UK?
Raghav: When I was working with my vocal coach he told me about this great music institution. I have always been hesitant to go to music school because I never felt great about them, but this school had all the top equipment and was funded by Paul McCartneys people. I came to the UK to study and I did it for about a year. Although I didnt really enjoy the school aspect of it, it was different because you had access to great tools as well the being surrounded by people who love music. That is the biggest benefit of being in a music school- youre surrounded by people who have given up their lives to do this career that everyone else, other than us, think is such a lottery. So you automatically burn the passion even more.
AHHA: So you moved to the UK especially to go to this school? What happened next?
Raghav: I joined a group that was like a Dru Hill, Boys II Men kind of crew. We had a great manager but he passed away. When he passed the group disbanded, but his best friend ended up taking us on as solo artists, and we spent five years waiting to get a deal. We finally got one last year.
AHHA: Do you think the UK scene influences you more than the L.A. scene?
Raghav: I think real life influences you equally. If I said I took more from L.A. then the UK or Calgary or India then it would sound too contrived. One thing I wanted to make was an honest album. Every single artist that I love, whether it was Biggie or Michael Jackson, the albums were so honest that I wanted to listen to it over and over again. Youd be thinking, How clever is that lyric? It had to be his own experiences. So thats how I wanted my music to be. I dont think its influenced more by any one place; its just a total amalgamation of who I am.
AHHA: Your music is such a mix of sounds and very heavily Indian-influenced. How would describe your music to R&B fans?
Raghav: Its hard to describe, because no matter how I say it, Ill say it wrong. To me its just 16 songs that Ive written – 16 stories. In terms of the Indian element, its been done in a very different way on some of the tracks on the album. I have two full Hindi songs. There is also a Jazz element, a Hip-Hop element, but it doesnt matter. I think we got a lot of different ingredients; Kardinal Offishall is on the album too.
AHHA: You say that you tell a story in your songs but your singles are very pop-orientated so what exactly is your message?
Raghav: Most of these songs have been written between the ages of 16 and 23. I look at myself as a very average 16-year-old and it was all about girls. Its all about relationships and different angles of that. Obviously now Ive experienced a lot more. Until I made the album I hadnt seen it as well as I have now, where I could articulate it and put it in a song. But Storyteller is what I knew then and my experiences when I finished the album.
AHHA: How come So Confused never became a global smash like it should have?
Raghav: Well, in the UK it was in the Top Ten for five weeks, which is considered a hit in the UK. It was never [officially] released in the U.S. – and even here it was released as a white label club banger. Weve never had a deal in the States, and thats something Im really looking forward to. I totally agree that its a brilliant song. Its the first song that was released with my vocals on it. I had a separate deal but I just jumped on the producers track.
AHHA: Angel Eyes would be a perfect song for the summer- its got a heavy Soca vibe to it with the Murder She Wrote rhythm. Any release planned for that?
Raghav: That would probably be the first single for the States, although we dont have a deal there yet so we are definitely working on it. It has to be the right deal, and hopefully this summer we can get it tied up and release Angel Eyes by the end of it.
AHHA: Any North American rappers who you would like to collaborate with?
Raghav: Absolutely. Im a big Common fan. What Ludacris has done in the past five years is amazing- hes such a character. I look up to someone like Busta Rhymes. Hes a Hip-Hop artist, but you can see in his blood there is a Reggae bwoi in there somewhere. It comes out every now and then. I can really relate to that.