REVIEW: RAGHU DIXIT – SHAKKAR (2024)

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Raghupati Dwarakanath Dixit is an Indian singer-composer, producer, and film score composer who is the frontman for the Raghu Dixit Project, a multilingual folk music band. Dixit prominently works in Kannanda cinema as a soundtrack composer and is often hailed as India’s biggest cultural and musical export. His unique brand of infectious, happy music transcends age, genre, and even language. Raghu releases his latest album this month entitled `Shakkar` which is subtitled #SongsAboutStayingAliveWhenYouDontWantTo and follows on a decade since his previous release, `Jag Changa!`. 

The album opens with ‘Shakkarpari’, meaning ‘Sugar Fairy’, and is a story about a little girl who steals sugar from the market only to distribute it to those who have never experienced sweetness. Raghu has shared that: “Sugar is a metaphor for happiness, and sharing one’s happiness will only make one’s own happiness multiply. It’s about being kind, compassionate, and considerate towards people who are facing challenges in their lives. The idea to write a song about ‘Shakkarpari’ came from my therapy sessions.” The song ambles along gently with vocals shared over a gentle musical backdrop which includes handclaps before multiple Grammy-winning banjo legend Bela Fleck joins around two minutes in and the number takes off at a faster pace which continues for the rest of the song. Indian veena player Rajhesh Vaidhya adds his talents to `Alemaari` or Nomad which is almost a rock out of sorts and rolls along with a delightful foot tapping texture. It gains a slight traditional Indian flavour before a brief reggae tone then resumes it`s more rock like path. It does however blend more traditional aspects into the composition on route and has some enticing percussion.

`Priyotoma` appears to translate to Sweetheart and is a delightful alluring love song which will really draw you into its deep beauty. John Paul, a versatile multi-instrumentalist from Kolkata collaborates on this track. Indian sitar maestro Purbayan Chatterjee adds his magic to `Khud Se Naina Chaar`. It opens with a kind of gospel choir before melding into a piece that sounds almost like bhangra but shared in a more relaxed setting.

Brazilian Rafael Rocha arranges and performs a horn section on the following two cuts with initially `Cheenta` or Cheetah, a reggae-tinged soulful outing then `Kudilikke Hatthidyanna` which is a real crossover of sorts and is quite jazzy, and soulful where the horn section not only compliments Raghu`s vocals but almost competes with them at times. Two thirds of the way through we enjoy a shredding guitar solo, along with hand tapped percussion before the brass section resumes and leads us out of the number.

`Geeya Geeya` opens gently with guitar riffs and drone chords that sound as if they animate from a shruti box as the track takes off with some delightful gospel like harmonies and heads into a arrangement that sounds as if it could be the focal point in a Bollywood epic. American composer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Michael League from jazz fusion band Snarky Puppy features on this charming creation. This album concludes with `Do Saanson Ke Beech` which features Casey Driessen an American bluegrass fiddler and singer. It`s an enchanting stripped back piece with Raghu`s aching compassionate vocals sprinkled over the tender strings.

I read that this album reflects the period during which these songs were penned: a time when Raghu was on the verge of giving up and suffering from deep depression and after listening to these songs, `i’m delighted he came through this dark period as the album is almost bewitching.

Jools Holland described Raghu Dixit when he appeared on ‘Later…’ as simply, “A Beautiful Sound from India” and it would be hard to disagree. After listening to `Shakkar` its obvious to see why Raghu and his band have appeared at festivals such as Glastonbury[the first Indian band to play the John Peel Stage], Lovebox, Latitude, and Celtic Connections.

Rating 9/10

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