Watch: Rajeev Raja talks about his Indo-jazz band and how the genre is all-inclusive

The Rajeev Raja Combine is an Indo-jazz band founded by flautist Rajeev Raja in 2011 and aims to make jazz more accessible to the common public.

Phalguni Rao December 15, 2017 17:46:00 IST

It’s been a long day for flautist Rajeev Raja.

Despite rehearsing with his band for more than six hours, the atmosphere in the rehearsal studio is still electric. The seven-member band sits together to perfect the original compositions they are set to perform at a concert themed ‘Jazz Beyond Borders’ on Friday, 15 December.

The band, called the Rajeev Raja Combine, is an Indo-jazz band Raja founded in 2011. He worked in the advertising industry for more than 25 years and was the creative head at DDB Mudra before he decided to quit and pursue his longstanding passion: Music.

Raja was an avid cricketer during his college days in Bengaluru. However, due to a back ailment, he was forced to give up the sport for two years. It was during this time that he picked up the mouth organ, moved on to the bansuri, and then eventually took up the concert flute. Jamming with other musicians, he developed a love for jazz and the blues.

“Jazz is a music form that always explores newer territories, tries new things with its structure and form. It absorbs the music of different cultures, and is a very democratic form of music,” says Raja. The reason he calls jazz democratic is because he believes it is a very collaborative form of music due to its improvisational nature. “There is a feeling of equality among all musicians. It’s not like other forms of music where there could be a superstar and all other musicians are merely backing you. Every musician gets his spotlight, his place in the sun,” he explains.

“It was only after I stepped off the corporate machine that I was able to concentrate and put together a bunch of musicians and launch my first album three years ago,” says Raja. The band’s first album Cosmic Chant came out in 2013 and topped the iTunes charts for several weeks.

The Rajeev Raja Combine comprises an eclectic bunch of artists between the ages of 20 and 50-plus. The band, fronted by Raja, also includes Carnatic vocalist Chandana Bala, guitarist Hitesh Dhutia, jazz pianist Rahul Wadhwani, drummer Vaibhav Wavikar, tabla player Vinayak Netke, bassist John Jaideep Thirumalai and a US-based saxophonist Tala Faral.

It is evident that the musicians in the band hail from very different musical backgrounds. So how does it all fit in together? “We believe in a very organic kind of music where you really can’t feel the division between whether it is jazz or Indian or Latin. It’s just sort of all fits together, like a summation of our individual experiences,” says Raja.

Speaking of his upcoming concert 'Jazz Beyond Borders', Raja seeks to showcase the diversity of jazz and express all the different elements that go into the music form to the common public. “A lot of people have the perspective that jazz is the kind of music one doesn’t understand, and seem to treat it like a musician’s music. We believe jazz is for everybody. We really want to present the universality of music and how it cuts across all sorts of barriers of cultures, geography and upbringing,” says Raja during a break from one of his rehearsals.

The concert promises to be unique, experimental and joyous, and aims to highlight how all-inclusive jazz is in a world that is turning increasingly polarised. One can expect to hear fun jazz standards and original compositions. The performance will also feature New York-based jazz singer Kavita Shah, famed bass guitarist Karl Peters, Rhys Dsouza on saxophone and violinist Sarah Meeran Cave. Additionally, it will also include a bunch of kids from Dharavi who will play on plastic drums and bottles and perform a hip-hop act and rap in Hindi and Tamil.

Raja believes jazz in India still attracts a niche audience. “Even in America, the home of jazz, it is not mainstream in terms of listening habits. Here, it is even more difficult because we have our own culture and music, so jazz will always be an import in that sense,” says Raja. He goes on to say that 'Jazz Beyond Borders' is to bring more and more people into the jazz fold and demystify the music form.

Jazz Beyond Borders will be performed at the Tata Theatre, NCPA, Mumbai on 15 December, 2017 at 7 pm. 

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