How Divine Raaga is showing the way forward for emerging music bands in India
There are music bands. There are friends. Then there is Divine Raaga.
Friedrich Nietzsche, a German philosopher, poet and composer once said,
In music the passions enjoy themselves.
When I met the Divine Raaga band members on a Sunday afternoon, I could see these people living each word of the above line.
Divine Raaga is a Hindi folk-fusion-rock band based in Bangalore, India. Their compositions draw influences from multiple genres rooted in Indian music, amalgamated with rock. Their music contains a sort of soulful rendition, heavenly connect and lyrical depth.
There is much more to the band than the music they play. Their individual stories, backgrounds and vision for the band is no less inspiring. Running a band is almost like running a company where profitability, ego, scaling up, branding and customer satisfaction define the future of the band. There are a few who sustain the test of time and Divine Raaga is certainly one of them.
The band formation
Buddha and Ashraf got together during their engineering college days at MSRIT in 2009 and started doing live performances. It was then that the thought of forming a band with their ideologies and understanding of music stroked them. They found their drummer in Mrinal after an online hunt. Within a year of Mrinal’s entry in 2011, Kishore, Ashish and Jai joined them to form a full-fledged unit ready to unleash the divinity of music all across.
We were clear that we wanted to produce original compositions rather than performing to others’ music. In fact, our first gig itself was our own composition. We knew that we’re there for our own music and this is the best way to stay connected with the audience.
Adds Mrinal, “We all share an unconditional love for music, and are not in it for any personal gains. Each one of us represents Divine Raaga.”
The ‘Divine’ family
Most of the band members are second generation musicians/artists with a few being the first in their family to get into music. Buddha’s mother is a vocal artist at All India Radio while his father is a theatre artiste. Buddha, an engineering graduate, leads on the band’s vocals. Their guitarist, Ashraf, has also studied engineering and claims to be a self taught guitarist.
Drummer Mrinal’s case is slightly different as he recalls jamming with his great grandfather in devotional music and his maternal grandfather in folk music. He also draws his inspiration from his mother who’s trained in classical music but most of his learning has come from everything he has been exposed to. He finished his engineering from BITS Pilani and is now an MBA candidate at ISB Hyderabad.
Bass guitarist Ashish had absolutely no background in music and started practicing only seven years ago. He had left multiple jobs and even his home because his family was against him getting into music. But with his power of goodness, he has managed to turn things around and even make his mother learn classical music.
Keyboard player Kishore has been playing the instrument since his childhood and is trained in Carnatic music. He is an engineering grad from NITTIE. Another engineer Rahul, is a trained vocalist in Hindustani classical music, but he was diverted to playing the guitar in his college days at BITS Pilani Goa campus, and does the same in the band now. Prithwin has been a good addition to the band and his flute’s magic can be felt in the songs. He has been learning flute for the past seven years while engineering, gym and software job happened in the background.
The band members had performed without the band name in the beginning and when they reached out to their first few fans with the name Divine Raaga, everyone loved it and so the name stuck.
Divine Raaga, (one word from Sanskrit and the other from English), perfectly portrays the sense of fusion in their music; while their ‘ambigram’ logo showcases the concept of symmetry in nature!
Mrinal said, “It sounds good and has a nice ring to it. Since we are making Indo-western music, the name Divine Raaga made sense.”
Roots of music and philosophy
Divine Raaga plays a fusion of Indian classical and folk music. Everyone in the team loves to perform on the stage and make people fall in love with their compositions. In the last three years, the band has performed at 40+ gigs in cities like Pune, Mangalore and Vellore besides being a regular performer in Bangalore. The band feels that their story is still a work in progress and the journey has just begun.
While most of the bands which start in college participate in competitions, Divine Raaga was not one of them. Ashraf says,
Music is not competition and we never wanted to prove anything.
However, Divine Raaga took part in the Global Battle of Bands, organized by the Hard Rock Cafes around the world and emerged as a winner with the maximum downloads from Bangalore (second year in a row) and eventually finished at the 30th place globally (the only Hindi act in the world top 50).
Buddha says, “It was because of the stage and the audience. We couldn’t have got such an opportunity anywhere else, so we chose to take it as a learning experience where we went and played our gig for the music lovers. Rest just followed. We’re proud of the friends we’ve made and the maturity we attained by those performances.”
Divine Raaga also enjoys the distinction of following a unique process for writing songs. Ashish and Rahul echo, “On stage, we assign different responsibilities to ourselves, but while writing a song anyone can play anybody’s part. We push for suggestions and there’s no ego attached.”
Challenges to beat
It has not been easy task to come up to this level, and Divine Raaga had its fair share of challenges in the journey. Any emerging band in India will encounter the following issues:
- Finances: It’s very crucial to keep a track and plan for finances. Fortunately, after two years of performing, Divine Raaga band members did not invest from their pockets.
- Getting the right platform: Though college festivals are plenty in number but to jump to a professional level or to reach out to the target audience, there’s still a scarcity of channels and platforms.
- Perception: Many people still think that by paying for a gig, they do a favor to the musicians. While music is for entertainment, it’s a service as well and similar to any other profession in the service industry, the artists deserve their fair share.
- No free
lunchmusic: A lot of venues ask bands to perform for free which most of them agree to. While the venue makes money by offering other services, the music band gets nothing out of it. This is not good for the artist community and should be discouraged.
However, in genuine causes of charity it’s a different case. In fact, Divine Raaga performed at one such event in CMC, Vellore, and donated INR 50,000 collected from the gig.
- Getting people to listen to your music: Like cricketers endorse hockey, badminton and other sports in India, similarly Bollywood musicians should encourage the emerging bands of India. Coke Studio with its exclusivity still remains a niche. Divine Raaga believes that ‘there is class, but not mass’ in emerging artists music.
And the solution lies in…
- Acknowledging the elephant in the room.
- Giving a chance to local artists and bands rather than calling international artists every time (by event organizers/managers).
- Treating musicians more professionally. And discouraging free performances.
Buddha states, “An artist energizes the audience while performing. There is a faith between an artist and his audience. A responsible audience will play a vital role in the future of all the emerging bands in the country.”
The band is launching their debut album in June this year. It’s called ‘I’m Divine Raaga’. The album’s genre is ‘folk + soul + progressive rock’ and themed around an earthy Indian music fused into rock. Kishore and other band members explain, “Earthy because we have not compromised on melody; the Indianness comes with our origins and we have packaged everything in a contemporary style of rock.”
The album features 7 songs which have been written and performed over the last 3 years. One of the songs even features the maestro of esraj, Mr Arshad Khan. The music will be launched across all platforms and will be available on iTunes as well.
Divine Raaga signed off with the following message for all emerging artists and their ‘Teen Bandar’ song exclusively for our readers:
Be ORIGINAL. Whatever sounds silly has the potential to sound good. Keep making music.
Visit Divine Raaga’s website for more updates on ‘I’m Divine Raaga’